The September Issue

08/20/2009 4:00 AM |

My best friend in New York left the city about a month ago, and we were recently discussing plans for her to come back and visit. I was dead-set on a late September trip: “We can frolic among the leaves, sip coffee in cafes and wear blazers!” I cried. She couldn’t help but laugh. “Laurel,” she said. “You are truly in the right profession. Everything is about fashion.”

Well, it’s true. Vacations are about what to pack, weddings are about what dresses to wear—but mostly it’s fall that has always held fashion’s focus, from back-to-school uniforms to a coveted pair of boots one catches sight of in a boutique in late August and then wears until the following February. And the harbingers of all that wistfulness have always been the September issues—hefty, hopeful playbooks packed with “I can be someone new this year, someone fabulous” sentiment in the form of luxurious layers and rich textiles.

By the time you read this, the majority of the long-awaited September issues for the major fashion magazines — Elle, Bazaar, Vogue, et al — will have arrived on doorsteps across the country, preaching the same hope-filled aspiration they always did… but the bloom is off the rose. The current issues are slimmer than in recent years (Vogue is running 30 percent fewer ads than last year, for example), and quite frankly, the prevailing mood seems to have shifted against something as frivolous as reading about what $1,000 handbags to buy right-now-right-now. Tough news for an industry that has long viewed the September issue as a litmus test for a magazine’s vitality.

Plus, as if to rub salt in an already-stinging wound, filmmaker R.J. Cutler is releasing a much-anticipated documentary about the inner workings of Vogue — specifically, the work that led up to the heftiest Vogue of all time (September 2007, weighing in at four pounds with 725 pages of ads). Almost everyone agrees that watching the film now is like witnessing a bygone era. As Cathy Horyn wrote in The New York Times: “The issue at the center of Mr. Cutler’s film… has all the gaiety of the ‘Titanic’ two miles out to sea, with a spread on Sienna Miller in Rome, pages of models leaping in the new fall clothes, and a reflective piece by Plum Sykes on brooches.” Now, of course, Cond√© Nast is hiring outside financial consultants to stay afloat as the culture of print media itself slowly (and painfully) reins itself in.
Amid all the lip-smacking schadenfreude of watching the ship sink (or at least take on quite a bit of water), I find myself more mournful than I might have expected. Not because I used to work for the glossies (I did), but because as snooty as they are, they have always been about hope — providing this glimmery counterbalance to the slow fade of summer into the luminous colors and dusty light of fall.

Now it’s all meant to seem frivolous — and maybe it always was, wanting some snappy red pair of heels or some buttery leather satchel. But lately I find myself thinking of Yves Saint Laurent’s funeral — how the event seemed to expand in time and encompass everything we were trying to say about the end of one era of fashion. Similarly, this September will likely serve as a watermark for a bygone glossy era, and one deserving of a moment of respect as it passes.