Actually Reading 'Vogue'

Vogue's former art director Mehemet Femy Agha once told a contributor that "she's like a piano player in a whorehouse. She may be a very good piano player, but nobody goes there to hear music. Nobody buys Vogue to read good literature; they buy it to see the clothes." A fair point, but I don't really like whores or fashion. So I decided to read Vogue this month to see what the fuss is about.

Reading Vogue is very uncomfortable, and not just for the dearth of black models. The magazine is gigantic. The March edition, which isn't even their "biggest issue ever," is 660 pages. Actually holding up the magazine to read is difficult, and I lift weights. As for the contents, you can imagine: advertisements, advertorials, and fashion spreads. But compared with other lady's magazines, this whorehouse piano player ain't so bad
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For one, there are no how to get him back pieces or quizzes about which sex toy is just for you. The magazine is aimed at women who lunch, not women who eat Subway sandwiches at their desk. In this issue, there are self-serious profiles of media mogulettes Barbara Walters, Washington Week host Gwen Ifil and Rupert Murdoch's wife, Wendi.

In its own way, Vogue is very second wave feminist. None of these profiles harp on whatever prejudices these women had to overcome to get to where they are. (In the case of Wendi Murdoch, obviously her gender helped her to get to where she is &mdash married to Rupert Murdoch &mdash but she did lots of stuff before her marriage in spite of being a woman.) What these women wear and how they care for themselves are integral elements of the profile. If New Yorker writers look through bookshelves for character insights, Vogue writers look through wardrobes.

And Vogue isn't bad. It's well laid out, has good writing and has unparalleled access to celebrities and designers. But I couldn't imagine actually getting it regularly. Practically, its size is a major obstacle for me. It barely fits in my bag.

Unless under assignment, why would anyone choose to trawl through hundreds of ads to get to a well-written puff piece? And why are advertisers killing themselves to get into a magazine that's fundamentally just a book of advertisements? I know Vogue is incredibly profitable and successful, but I don't understand why. Then again, I've been known to eat Subway at my desk.