When I was growing up in Connecticut, two things were true: Vogue was good, Russia was bad. I knew Vogue was good because I had a cousin who wore black turtlenecks and Capri pants 365 days a year, carried a Yorkshire terrier in an alligator shoulder bag and worked at Vogue as an illustrator in New York City, where the trains went. Each month, Vogue was inspected for her drawings of long ladies with slim, if any, waists. We’d turn the pages of the glossy bible with characters named Babe and Slim and Gloria. Meanwhile, on the black-and-white television in the parlor, Nikita Khrushchev banged his fist during the nightly news.
The love of Vogue and all things like it, and the fear of Russia, from whence my father had fled, defined us then. Now in my hands I hold the hefty first edition of Russian Vogue . Here’s Amber Valletta and Kate Moss, photographed by Mario Testino in Red Square, wearing scarlet-hued Christian Dior ready-to-wear frocks. Even though I can’t read a word of it–save brand names and the masthead, which is translated–it’s clearly a fashion moment.
But when the debut issue is published in Moscow on Sept. 1, Russian Vogue’ s 110 ad pages and $1 million in revenue will put a pretty face on a challenging situation. These are not easy times in Russia, and even before the current fiscal debacle threatened to slow down the Westernization process, editing a fashion magazine in Russia required a missionary’s zeal. Red tape is the navy blue of Moscow.
“Well, yes, there is a little economy problem,” smiled editorial director Anna Harvey, the British Vogue veteran who has spent the past year godmothering the launch of Russian Vogue . “We’re slightly nervous,” she said during a recent chat in that wry, stiff-upper-lip way that makes you want to arrange to come back British in the next lifetime. “The ruble might hurt us, but we’ve won a lot of battles since we got to Moscow. This is just the next one. We’ve gotten so far down the line we might as well go bravely on.”
Never mind the bad news about the Russian economy, said Ms. Harvey. “No one who picks up the magazine will know, nor should they, how difficult getting things done still is in Russia, with all the bureaucracy and red tape. Spending six hours trying to persuade a Russian official why two suitcases of commercial samples are not a threat to his country?” she laughed.
“But I know how difficult it was. For us at Russian Vogue , the sense of achievement is enormous. Absolutely enormous.”
The magazine is put together by a team of European editors, most with prior Condé Nast experience. The glamour of their earlier posts extends to their new office in Moscow, a modernized penthouse atop a pre-Revolution fur depot. After that, it’s another story. Taxis are hard to come by, and the language barrier confronts them on the subways. So the editors have found the best way to get around is walking. In flats! Manolo Blahnik heels are carried in handheld felt shoe bags.
The editor in chief of Russian Vogue is Yelena Doletskaya, a Muscovite and former academic whose résumé includes public relations executive and Russian translator of such books as Alex Haley’s Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X . Describing Russian women to a reporter for The Sunday Telegraph Magazine on July 26, Ms. Doletskaya said, “They are soft on the outside–they say Yes and No and they dress sexily for their men–but inside they have this fist, a strong fist. That is what makes them so alluring–it is this character , the character of the woman on the street that Vogue wishes to portray.”
The September issue of Russian Vogue has ads from companies such as Estée Lauder, Clinique, Cartier, Gucci, Chanel and Revlon. There’s a fashion story shot by Kelly Klein, a pictorial history of Vogue , a story about Russian models in Paris, 26 pages mostly of Western fashion photographed by Mario Testino in various locations in Russia, and typical features covering the arts, interior design, health and beauty, as well as more fashion news.
The fashion world has always been fascinated by Russia. Come the evening of Sept. 10, some 400 people will attend a black-tie party at No. 1 Red Square in Moscow to celebrate the magazine’s launch. Among those expected to attend are Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, John Galliano, Anna Wintour, S.I. Newhouse Jr. and Mario Testino.
Just this past July, Oscar de la Renta’s couture collection for Pierre Balmain had a sort of cotillion-in-St.-Petersburg theme. When the doors of the Soviet Union opened several years ago, Grace Coddington and Arthur Elgort did an extensive photo shoot there for American Vogue . But it was Diana Vreeland who was the most besotted by Russia, and American Vogue published the diary of her trip to Moscow in June 1976.
“What is Russia? Russia is a land of splendor! It has a high, enormous sky–it has beautiful houses–it is immaculately clean … The Russian champagne is delicious–and I’m not at all a champagne drinker–very light, very dry. Of course the vodka is divine,” Vreeland wrote. “I had lunch one day with the Minister of Culture,” she enthused, “and of course my name card was in Russian and I could not read my own name … it’s another alphabet, another lettering, another size. And I sat next to one of the ministers and said, ‘Look here, my name is Mrs. Vreeland–now why in the world should it look like this? I mean, shouldn’t we get together in some sort of way? I mean, this really is keeping us apart.’ But then perhaps it’s better that we are apart. Perhaps we have more to offer each other. We don’t want to be all one big old village.”
Of course, a global fashion community is what Condé Nast, the publisher of Russian Vogue , is counting on to give the new magazine its financial pizzazz. “Russia has a highly educated, rich cultural tradition which until 10 years ago was cut off from any kind of Western-style consumerism,” said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, on the phone from Italy. “They have been making up for lost time. There’s a tremendous interest in learning about products, services and luxury goods.”
The target circulation is about 100,000 readers, and Mr. Newhouse said revenue goals have been met. “We’re over $1 million in revenue–far exceeding our targets for the issue.”
Alas, besides the troubled ruble, pricing the magazine for newsstand sales may complicate matters for the Russian edition of fashion’s bible. “They do things a little differently in Russia,” Mr. Newhouse explained. The distributor, not the publisher, establishes the price of the magazine each month. After the devaluation of the ruble, the wholesale price for Russian Vogue was about 12 rubles ($1.68 on Aug. 23), and it was expected to retail for about 25 rubles ($3.50).
Billy’s List: Quiz time!
1. Who designed the indigo jeans Cameron Diaz wears in There’s Something About Mary?
a. Anne Klein.
b. Todd Oldham.
c. Helmut Lang.
2. Rick Owens is:
a. the pro who designs Gianfranco Ferré’s line of golf clothes.
b. the trendy Los Angeles fashion designer.
c. the new Calvin Klein underwear model.
3. Just testing: Who designed the much-discussed tie Monica Lewinsky allegedly gave President Bill Clinton?
a. Salvatore Ferragamo.
b. Bruno Magli.
c. Ermenegildo Zegna.
Answers: (1) c; (2), b; (3) a.