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Australian Fashion Magazines Are Dying And The Symptoms Run Deeper Than COVID

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This year Australia has witnessed a media extinction event like no other. Eight long-standing magazines have been tossed into a pandemic-induced abyss, with the fallen including reputable titles such as Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. In the months since, it’s been a quiet rumination on what will come next and what this all means for traditional fashion media and fashion at large in Australia.

It’s no secret that print media has been floundering since the explosion of social platforms. The heady days of the traditional gatekeepers of fashion have met a crossroads, where dynamites of print seek relevance through celebrity magazine covers and relatively inappreciable attempts at social media. Australian fashion media is at a juncture where consumer expectation is exponentially growing, global information is accessible 24/7, and the “collective we” no longer need to rely on sources outside our phone screens for industry news.

What does this mean for the likes of editors, art directors, and advertising executives, all the way through to interns in the wardrobe department? What becomes of the Australian fashion industry as a whole? Will we have a place in this new territory, where it’s a perpetual fight for clicks and eyes? The answer to that, in the Australian context at least, is both a potential yes and a potential no.

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In Australia, the fashion industry is notoriously small. The talent pool that we do possess often ship themselves overseas to the United States or somewhere in Europe. Our own fashion hubs, situated in major cities such as Melbourne and Sydney, are no realistic rival to fashion capitals such as New York, Paris, and Milan. Fashion, unlike our national sporting pastimes, is often relegated to a fringe section of the Australian cultural narrative. With our already small fashion industry, it’s no wonder that fashion magazines were among the first axed by Bauer Media, which has since been acquired by Mercury Capital for a rumoured less than $50m.

Any of our continuing or emerging fashion magazines need to take into account their tenuous existence, and the disappointing fact that fashion is undervalued in our country. International fashion media far outstrips our own, the Australian audience is no longer limited by geographical separation from the rest of the world, and writers are no longer reliant on the printed page when they can create a blog, gain traction on social media, or freelance online. The Internet has upped the ante when it comes to managing and fulfilling great expectations, and highlights the importance of pivoting to survive in chaotic times.

A great case study for pivot and survival is Vogue US, captained by the inimitable Anna Wintour. Known for her ferocity as an editor, particularly through her implied portrayal in The Devil Wears Prada as well as her history of business acumen in fashion media, she is a study of effectively fusing curated public figure, proactive strategy, and swift organisational learning. Whatever people may think of her, the way in which Wintour operates is first and foremost from the perspective of addressing changing and challenging times. She is a figure that unfortunately has no obvious parallel in Australia.

Australian Fashion Magazines Are Dying And The Symptoms Run Deeper Than COVID, Ballin' on a Budget
Image: Anna Wintour in the documentary The September Issue (2009)

In the early months of 2020, Vogue US launched Vogue Conversations, a strategy which has since been picked up by the new Vogue Singapore. Bringing industry heavyweights to the centre, advertising on social media, and providing live candid conversations with famous fashion personalities free-of-charge is, quite honestly, a stroke of genius. It’s one noticeably not reproduced in Australia and the dragging silence and thumb-twiddling from our side of the pond is eerie to say the least.

Perhaps the Australian fashion industry needs a revamp in the form of a cultural investment via a next generation Anna Wintour or an Australian iteration of Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing? Someone who will step up for both fashion magazines and the larger Australian fashion scene, not just to ensure its survival but to entrench Australia in a global multi-billion dollar industry. If there has been any time in recent history more important to activate the Australian industrious mindset of legend, it’s 2020. We’ve already infiltrated Hollywood (hello, Hemsworth brothers), now it’s time to take over fashion.

This article was originally published on The Fashion Graduate www.thefashiongraduate.com

Rachel Gallagher is a freelance writer and model living in Sydney, Australia. She has competed in international pageants and modelled in the US and China, and writes for her blog The Fashion Graduate. Rachel has a Bachelor of Teaching, a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Education (Educational Leadership and Management), and is currently completing studies in fashion business.

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