Last year,I was surprised to read that Vanity Fair was celebrating its hundredth anniversary and that it was the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. When I think of venerable magazines, the names that come to mind are The Saturday Evening Post, Life, New Yorker, Readers Digest and the like… not Vanity Fair. However, I didn’t give it a second thought until today when I was reading a recent issue and noticed on its spine the words No.645. “Wait a minute”, I thought to myself , “something isn’t right. If it has been published continuously for a hundred years and it is a monthly magazine , this should be Issue number 1200+ , not No.645.” I dug a little deeper and this is what I found.
Vanity Fair did begin publishing in 1913 but in 1936 it was folded into Vogue. It was only in 1983 that it started publishing again under its own name and that’s why the number of issues is so low. It is a little misleading to claim that it is the oldest continuously published magazine in America. Vanity, thy name is Vanity Fair!
Still and all, the magazine has a lot to commend it and I do like to read it. It calls itself a magazine of literature, art, politics and fashion and it is noted for its in-depth articles, controversial photographs ( remember the photograph of a naked , very pregnant Demi Moore back in the nineties), candid interviews with celebrities, high society and high fashion party coverage and pages and pages of glossy ads of luxury brands. Very often, the first 60 or 80 pages are ads for Giorgio Armani, Estee Lauder, Lancôme, Tag Heuer, Coach, Gucci, Prada, Versace and the like. As you might have guessed, Vanity Fair is a very thick magazine and often runs to 250 pages or more. Considering its bulk and glossy contents, its newsstand price is a very reasonable $ 5.99 and the subscription rate is a low $ 24 for 12 issues.
I have no interest in the fashion layouts or ads but I do like the articles which are well written and cover a fascinating range of topics. A recent issue, for instance, carried an expose of the Sochi Winter Olympics, and articles about the following: Jimmy Fallon’s ascension to the helm of The Tonight Show; the Nigella Lawson- Charles Saatchi divorce; the murder of an Australian student in Duncan, Oklahoma; the French dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet; a recollection of a meeting with poet e.e.cummings; the Girls of Winter, a retrospective of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue , replete with photographs of the gorgeous models, plus several articles that I wasn’t interested in.
Many of these articles I would not be able to find anywhere else , covering as they do topics that most Americans aren’t interested in. Recently, there was a news item about the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, abdicating in favor of his son. It didn’t come as a surprise to me because I’d read of his scandals and problems in a Vanity Fair magazine article last year.
If I had to describe Vanity Fair, I’d say it was a mix of the New Yorker ( in-depth articles, quality of writing) and People (prominent people partying, gossip) leavened with glossy full color, full page ads. What puzzles me is the demographic that Vanity Fair appeals to. Many years ago, when we were in the Poconos for a week, I was in the local coffee shop/ news stand when a plump, casually dressed young woman picked up a copy of the magazine paying full price for it. What could she have been interested in ? The articles? The fashion spreads? The photographs. I have no clue. She didn’t look like the type of person who would read Vanity Fair.
But then, come to think of it, neither do I.