If you asked the general person what they picture when they imagine a Vogue cover, for many the same portrait would spring to mind: a perfectly shot photograph printed on glossy paper, peeping through the other magazines at the airport or newsagent. However, Vogue Italia has totally shaken up this image with their January 2020 edition, scrapping the photoshoot for one edition only, instead filling the magazine cover-to-cover with illustrations. Conde Nast, Vogue’s publishing company, announced in a press release that the purpose of this move was sustainability.
Vogue asked seven artists, David Salle, Vanessa Beecroft, Cassi Namoda, Milo Manara, Delphine Desane, Paolo Ventura and Yoshitaka Amano to each draw a cover. The resulting images are vibrant, exploiting a range of creative techniques from traditional painting to comic book design. They are able, in my opinion, to convey a sense of the subject perhaps even better than photography could deliver.
Whilst early editions of Vogue were solely illustrated at the beginning of the 20th century, once photography arrived as a creative vehicle, editors made the switch which seemingly became permanent. However, the Italian branch of Vogue, Vogue Italia, has never had an illustrated cover in its 55-year history. That is until editor-in-chief Emanuele Farneti announced this environmentally-conscious January issue, this bold move is in keeping with Vogue Italia’s reputation as the most experimental of all its sister publications, it is often viewed as the branch with the most expertise and creative bravery.
But is the use of illustration a productive way to manage Vogue’s environmental impact? Certainly, this decision is drawing much-needed attention to an aspect of the fashion industry which attracts significantly less notice than fast fashion and waste: the impact of photoshoots. When announcing this decision, Vogue Italia also revealed the environmental costs of its September 2019 edition, the most significant edition of the fashion calendar: ‘150 people, 20 flights, a dozen or so train journeys, 40 cars on standby, 60 international deliveries etc. etc.’. This is a startling exposure of the true costs of sleek magazine covers and their impact on the planet. It also has a tangible financial benefit which has been philanthropically used, as the funds saved from not running such large-scale photoshoots will be donated to the restoration of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, which was badly damaged in the recent flooding, thought to have been worsened by climate change.
For all the encouraging attention the January edition has received, the release is in no way perfect. The sustainable issue arrived wrapped in single-use plastic, something which Vogue Italia is addressing, aiming to convert its packaging to 100% compostable plastic wrap in the next year. We might also doubt how effective Vogue Italia will be, making this switch for just a one-off edition and not as a permanent change. Perhaps printing one purely illustrative edition yearly would enrich them not only environmentally but creatively too. Another possible alternative would be to restrict the environmental cost of photoshoots. Vogue Italia is based in Milan, they are immersed in a world of artistic innovation and surrounded by some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes and interiors. If Vogue could make a commitment to shooting solely in Italy, using the train network or driving (far less damaging than international flights) to carry out local shoots, this may be just as environmentally beneficial as illustrating their magazines.
Whilst it is tempting to view this decision by Vogue Italia sceptically, I think it would be reductive to view their choice simply as a PR move. Whilst the illustrated January 2020 edition might not revolutionise the fashion industry’s environmental impact, it is a move which has drawn attention to an otherwise undiscussed problem, the cost of high fashion photoshoots to our planet. Vogue still have a long way to go in terms of their environmental policies, but I am glad Vogue Italia are addressing the issue, and I think admitting their impact while featuring the work of renowned illustrators and artists, and also reviving a past tradition, was an imaginative way to do so.
– Emma Vernon
Featured Image Credit: Original Illustration by Barnaby Duffy