New trends: fashion covers reflect the era of coronavirus

Physical distancing and editors’ attempts to strike right tone are set to transform glossy magazines

A single red rose on the cover of Vogue, hospital car-park shoots rather than exotic locations, celebrities captured without makeup, supermodels relegated in favour of nurses and doctors, and amateur selfies usurping professional photography. This summer’s newsstands and billboards are set to look unlike any other season in the history of fashion.

The logistics of physical distancing and a zeitgeist paralysed by the pandemic are combining to turn fashion upside down. Glossy magazines are scrambling to figure out what faces should be on the covers of the magazines that will hit stands during the crisis – and how to generate new imagery while travel and physical contact is curtailed under lockdown.

The celebrity on the cover of the July issue of Harper’s Bazaar has been shot “by someone isolating in a remote location with the celebrity we had already booked”, said the magazine’s fashion director, Avril Mair. With no fashion editor allowed to visit, clothes were sent direct to the subject at home and styling guided by the magazine team over Zoom.

A fashion story in the same issue was shot by the photographer Erik Madigan Heck at home with his wife, Brianna Killion, as model, without styling, hair or makeup. The theme of the issue is “that great creativity can come out of times of great crisis”, said Mair.

“Everything is different”, said Albert Read, managing director of Conde Nast Britain. “We’ll see that in the upcoming issues: the editorial production, a tonality and vision that is appropriate to the time.” Its leading title, British Vogue, will focus on supporting healthcare workers in upcoming issues.

Vogue’s stance was reflected in its decision to cancel an interview for the August issue with the singer M.I.A. in light of her anti-vaccination stance. Last week, the singer posted a screengrab of a message from the magazine which reads: “Considering our August is an issue where we’re chronicling the struggles of the NHS to cope while a vaccine is tried to be made we don’t feel we can have her involved. It just wouldn’t be right. All of our issues July-September will be supporting the frontline heathcare workers and we need to be respectful of them and all they are doing until a vaccine exists.’’

Grazia was quick to transpose into a different key as the crisis unfolded. “I’ve always believed that you should be able to look at a Grazia cover and it be obvious what week it hit newsstands,” said the editor, Hattie Brett. “The first week of working from home, it was clear we should focus on NHS workers – so we ripped up all our pre-existing plans and shot four medics for the cover.” Earlier this month, Elle ran a digital portfolio of portraits of women doing essential work in supermarkets, on trains, and in schools and homeless shelters.

“The smart editors will make magazines that reflect this moment,” said Jefferson Hack of Dazed Media. “Fashion with a capital F is on pause right now.” But magazines that have traditionally served their readers escapism and glamour are struggling with how to balance this historic role with the need not to appear out of step with the times.

Tonal challenges are compounded by the logistical issues of producing imagery under social distancing rules. Imran Amed, editor-in-chief of the Business of Fashion, said “editorial and advertising shoots have come to a virtual standstill”. Carol Hayes, who helms an established agency for makeup artists and hairdressers, reports business having “ground to an almost immediate halt”. The June/July cover of American Vogue is an Irving Penn close up of a rose, the magazine’s first still-life cover in 50 years.

Other workaround strategies include models putting selfie skills honed on Instagram to good use by shooting self-portraits, often on smartphones, and photographers who co-habit with a spouse, partner or adult child model offering ready made at-home creative teams. “The few shoots we are doing at the moment are like none I’ve ever worked on,” said Brett. A recent cover shoot with the British TV presenter Laura Jackson was fortuitously made possible because Jackson’s husband, Jon Gorrigan, is a photographer. Zara’s latest campaign features self-portraits by models including Malgosia Bela wearing clothes delivered directly to them at home.

Domestic in setting and lo-fi in execution, the resulting images may capture something of the spirit of the moment. Johnnie Boden is currently sourcing photographer and model couples to showcase the Boden summer range with the duos managing styling, and hair and makeup. and “the photographs reflect the current climate - out of necessity, more than anything.”

Clare Hornby of the Me+Em womenswear label has enlisted her teenage daughters to model. “The idea came to me as I was trying to juggle work and kids. The sun was out, so I asked them to go and create content.”

Fashion photoshoots are “a hands-on business”, said the photographic agent Anita Grossman. “A stylist will want to adjust the clothes to make them look right.” Makeup artists and hairdressers are in the eye of the industry’s economic storm right now, but short term logistics look likely to impact on many. The film-set scale fashion photoshoot – fully staffed with a team including catering, set design, runners and assistants – may never return.

“This is going to be a financial issue as well as a cultural and a logistical one,” said Amed. “Analysts are talking about a 30-40% drop in advertising revenue, and that may be the real long-term driver in slimming down the scale of the shoots. Even if the physical constraints are lifted, the financial ones will be there.”

The Harper’s Bazaar celebrity cover for July, shot in isolation, has “a beautiful intimacy which you don’t generally achieve with a big team on set”, said Mair.

“High-production shoots are going to look old-fashioned, after this,” predicted Hack. “People will want the dream again, but it will be about poetry, not artifice.”


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Marcus Rashford scores cover of British Vogue's September issue
The footballer is recognised for his activism in the magazine among 40 ‘faces of hope’

Caroline Davies

03, Aug, 2020 @8:00 PM

Article image
British Vogue pulls plug on star photographers over sex abuse claims
Condé Nast magazine stops employing Mario Testino and Bruce Weber for foreseeable future following allegations of sexual exploitation of male models

Robert Booth and Sarah Marsh

14, Jan, 2018 @7:21 PM

Article image
Brighton photographer charts life under coronavirus lockdown
JJ Waller captures people behind closed doors to document hope and fear in face of crisis

Henry McDonald

02, Apr, 2020 @6:10 PM

Article image
British Vogue covers celebrate black joy with sculpted hair
Resurgence in gravity-defying dos follows Black Lives Matter movement

Priya Elan

05, Mar, 2021 @6:00 PM

Article image
Locks down: buzzcuts become the coronavirus craze du jour
With barbers closed, actors and footballers have resorted to shaving off their hair - but experts warn it isn’t for everyone

Priya Elan

30, Mar, 2020 @5:22 PM

Article image
Cancelled shows and designer masks: Paris fashion week wrestles with coronavirus
Protective face coverings have become this season’s must-have accessory among showgoers

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

28, Feb, 2020 @2:42 PM

Article image
Artists struggling to work amid coronavirus, says Rachel Whiteread
Sculptor is backing UK fund giving upcoming artists £5,000 as lockdown takes its toll

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

14, May, 2020 @10:10 AM

Article image
Six Nations to Stormzy: which events could be cancelled by coronavirus?
Following postponement of World Athletics and Ireland v Italy rugby match, as well as cancellation of Mabel and Stormzy gigs, could the Olympics be next?

Lucy Campbell, Sachin Nakrani, Andrew Pulver, Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Oliver Wainwright

26, Feb, 2020 @4:05 PM

Article image
Worldwide fashion industry urged to show support for Ukraine
Some brands and designers have already issued statements and stopped Russian revenue streams

Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

02, Mar, 2022 @5:08 PM

Article image
Glastonbury and Hay festival organisers press on despite coronavirus fears
Most UK events, theatres and museums yet to be affected by outbreak

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

08, Mar, 2020 @4:05 PM