It has long been a Labor Day ritual to study the September issue of Vogue magazine. What began as a secret sauce for understanding consumer trends when I was in the ad biz has come full circle -- I now use it to gauge trends in the financial markets.
There is no other fashion magazine like Vogue. And there is no other editor like Anna Wintour. Period. They both are icons, and well deserving of the inferred stature.
No other magazine or form of media does what Vogue does or does it half as well. And no other editor edits quite like Anna Wintour. Year after year she strips away all the noise, all the unnecessary, and leaves behind a smooth, sculpted message of distilled Zeitgeist.
If you want insight into the current social mood and what it might be suggesting about the near future, the September issue of Vogue is required reading.
If you’d like a primer on how to read it, there is no better teacher for that lesson than Robert Prechter. Because there is simply no other discipline like the study of Socionomics, which he pioneered.
Want to understand the reason why the hemline indicator has merit? Or why bright colors sell more near market tops, or why maroon cars sell more near market bottoms, why when bubble gum pop music is the rage you should sell, and why you should buy when there’s blood in the streets?
Prechter has the answers, and The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the New Science of Socionomics is where you can find them.
Furthermore, there is no other financial analyst quite like Robert Prechter. I credit Paul Tudor Jones with helping me discover Prechter. Jones made $100 million in the 1987 stock market crash by putting Prechter’s methods into practice, and credited him by name. Chances are that a few on Wall Street made billions in 2007-2008 using the same methods, only they just don’t talk about it.
I’ve yet to hear of someone making a billion dollars by using the September issue of Vogue to time the markets, but that’s not the point of reading it. It’s more of a signpost or a billboard along the route to a destination. It merely suggests what may be lurking around the next corner. And this year looks to be no exception.
For one thing, at 758 pages, it’s a massive issue. It’s got a LOT to say. And because you might not have a copy of Prechter’s The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the New Science of Socionomics laying around, and because it was once a part of my job to read Vogue, I’ll try to show you a quick way to break it down.
Ironically, I didn’t actually work on Madison Avenue until I took a job at Condé Nast magazines. It was a requirement of everyone there to read each magazine that Condé Nast published, each and every month. Since S.I. Newhouse, Condé Nast’s eccentric owner, read them all, he thought everyone else should, too.
I myself loved the idea, and what was thought of as a dreaded chore by my colleagues quickly became my favorite work. I excelled at pouring over research reports and uncovering the context for the research findings in the pages of our magazine titles. This got me into meetings that were way above my job level. It’s also got me promoted in record time.
Every time I see a Condé Nast magazine, I have fond memories of town cars, swank restaurants, parties, lots of vodka, models, celebs, and banging through a stack of magazines with a yellow legal pad next to me and a big, free, Nasty coffee from the 350 Madison third-floor commissary. Anyone who ever worked there knows exactly what I mean.
So let’s finally break down September Vogue.
In order of importance, it’s cover, back cover, inside front cover, inside back cover . . . bam, bam, bam, bam.
Then it’s the front-of-book ads -- the ads from the inside front cover to the TOC, the Table of Contents.
Then the TOC itself.
Then the fashion well.
Anything else when you’re trying to get through a stack of 15 mags hot off the press run, and you’re spending too much time. You can’t be late for lunch.
What you do with each of these sections is simple: don’t think, just quickly write down the main themes. Who’s there, what do you see, what does it say, what is showing? Colors, subjects, concepts, keywords. Look for keywords and themes in the TOC that echo the front cover. Then find the main theme in the fashion well.
To judge ad-page strength, count the ads from the inside front cover to the TOC. The more the better here, at least 50+ pages. Vogue has 67 this month.
Then press the binding together with your thumb and forefinger. Any fashion magazine that’s thinner than its binding is having trouble selling ads. Not September Vogue. (Not ELLE either, at 556 pages and 55 front-of-book ads)
Then, as in technical analysis, look for patterns and echoes as you dig deeper. Write down the facts: who is on the cover, who is on the back cover, etc.
The cover sets the main theme. The cover ads may echo it or not, but they paid-up for their position so take note of what they’re saying. They’re leading indicators, just as prices are in the markets.
Here are my actual notes, a lot of which is stream of consciousness. Usually I go back and bold the main themes.
Kate Moss – former bad girl supermodel now supermodel bride – in an Alexander McQueen maroon organza-and-ostrich feather dress. Victorian/Lord Of The Rings overtones. soft, ruffled edges of velvety feathers while quite structured (girdle-like?) with grommets (armor?). layers of feathers suggesting soft maille as opposed to chain maille. big fat diamond subtly displayed, almost hidden.
…..in bear mkts people cover up more. in bull mkts, less. this sitting shows cleavage but the girdle-like dress suggests restricted movement.
cover colors are purple (suggests opulence & luxury after 2.5 yr bull mkt) and gold (10 yr bull mkt) against yet another bucolic green natural background scene, a theme Vogue has been doing for more than a few years now. more real, less studio. trying to become more approachable?
(look for keywords, or cite the complete line if it jumps out)
“something for everyone” – please like us
“how to wear color” – upbeat, helpful
“ten years later: a 9/11 survivor looks back” – trauma reverberation, looking backward instead of forward, unusual for an iconic fashion mag, especially for one known for its editorial section entitled The Long View.
“made in china: the explosive rise of a style superpower” – explosive maybe an apt description of something about to implode. paul montgomery magazine cover indicator sell signal, trend near an end
“most romantic wedding of the year”
*****cover themes are romance and color, repeated throughout the issue
Missoni for Target. lots of color. retro ‘70s theme. Classic euro-style land-line phone. wavy patterns and stripes. price points called out: 2.99-69.99. remember, this is Vogue! "austerity style.” Target’s strategy is dead-on: expect more, pay less.
INSIDE FRONT COVER
Ralph Lauren Romance, scent. direct echo of cover “romance” theme. white with earth tones, family + sexy
INSIDE BACK COVER
Clinique. “have a little color” cover theme echo
FRONT OF BOOK AD THEMES
Prada: reptile, fur, plastic, color, androgyny. weird
Ralph Lauren: echo of cover “china” theme. dragon, more fur and reptile. also a red silk necklace with a serpent in the shape of #6 which means “yin” in the I Ching.
Estee Lauder: “modern mercury” “new pure color”
Gucci: color, reptile, fur, night
Fendi: fur, earth tones vs color (oil paints/art), bohemian, wool
Dolce & Gabanna: ramones meets CBGBs, b/w with small accents of bright pink, green, red
Chanel: more grommets, headband pulled over eyes – blindfolded, retro photo booth, fishnets, garters, chain, grey, metal, wool, 1984
Lancome: “hypnose”-hypnotize. doll lash effect, mascara. twiggyesque, “flirtatious” woman as hypnotized sex dolls. yikes
Burberry: earth tones, reptile, fur, wool
Marc Jacobs: featuring Helena Bonham carter. eerie, back alley, homage to fight club?
Tom Ford: violet (purple)/gold. cover echo
Donna Karan: fur, grey, sober, drab, 1984
Michael Kors: grey, flannel, reptile, b/w, purple
67 ads from the inside front cover to the TOC. Pretty strong, but it doesn’t feel like a record. I could be wrong. also curious as to what the total ad pages were vs total editorial pages. feels as if there are more editorial pages this year, but can’t be sure. Still 758 pages is mammoth by any means.
TOC (looking for keywords here in the content descriptions)
“Country Strong—Caledonian tweeds and heritage cashmere” …echoed in many ads
“Invincible—utilitarian military” …echoed in many structured outfits that looked like armor, grommets, chain, etc.
“Palette Cleansing—out with tedious black. we’re clamoring for scarlet, shamrock, and tangerine.” …really? haha, every year someone declares black dead, and every year it comes back. i don't know if i believe her.
“Go East! – with its exploding wealth and newfound sense of possibility, China has discovered life in the fast lane, becoming a hub of urban art, fashion, and architecture. and it’s just the beginning” …it sure is
Paul McRae Montgomery would LOVE this. By the time the ladies who lunch get talking about the rise of China, it’s time for the fall.
Editor’s letter: a must-read every year. Anna Wintour is always illuminating. Describing her recent trip to china, one she termed “entrancing,” she noted that she’d “never been anywhere that restless and ceaseless in its pursuit of the new.” sounds like a nation of shortcut artists in a hurry to make it big. ripe for a correction, I’d say.
“Rock ‘n’ roll Gatsby style” – great concept
“The basic tee elevated with a kinetic print” – is this the rise of the cheap chic?
“My Generation -- dandy coats and neat pleats CONCEAL the dangerous passion that burns in the hearts of a couple of mods.” …“conceal” is probably the most important socionomic word in the entire issue…HUGE. by far the most interesting fashion spread. great, washed-out Polaroid style photography full of nostalgic 60s postcard colors.
“At Ease – the softer side of utility dressing” …utility dressing sounds like a new trend
SOME OTHER ADS OF NOTE
Ferragamo: oversized houndstooth.
Tiffany: bracelet: chain with padlock, oversizes sunglasses: hide me
Longchamp: 3-page spread, the 1 constant in 3 different, consecutive shots . . . a vintage motorcycle and model wearing black choker
Via Spiga: leopard
The “what-the-hell-does-this-brand-stand-for” award goes to Tommy Hilfiger for “The Hilfigers.” -- always derivative, never original. Is Tommy only original in his extreme capacity for borrowing/stealing??? he takes it to new heights with the Laurens meets the Fockers meets the Tenenbaums ad that looks like someone simply stuffed the years 1977-1983 into a blender, chugged it, and threw up.
forgive me if I’m a little hard on dear Tommy. he may or may not have blatantly stolen a tagline and an entire promotion from me and used it for the launch of Tommy Girl perfume back in the mid-90s.
Aldo: any color you want, as long as it’s with black
Givenchy: sexy models posing as cornered animals gnashing teeth wearing brightly colored patterns and heels. sitting on pillows over shipping pallets.
Alexander McQueen: Lord Of The Rings meets Harry Potter on acid
Bulgari: lion and gold
Target: splurged for 20 pages in the masthead section for their Missoni collection which featured price points from 2.99 to 119.99. in fact, these pages probably sum up where we are best of all . . . somewhere in the ‘70s headed for the unrest of the ‘60s.
Vera Wang for Kohl’s: echoes back alley Hong Kong a la Blood Sport (film)
Etro: asian/bohemian gypsy chic
Tom Ford: serpent, reptile
Blumarine: leopard “blending in with trees.”
This Vogue issue was likely being produced during May and June – always 3 months ahead at a minimum -- near the 1370 highs in the S&P. Therefore, the focus on color is to be expected. Bright colors, in a socionomic sense, reflect optimism and confidence. What is interesting is that color is not being used overtly but as an accent. People don’t seem bold enough to lead with it (with all due respect to the editor that insists people are “clamoring for scarlet, shamrock, and tangerine.”)
What they feel bold about is privacy, protection, layers . . . concealment, hiding behind oversized sunglasses, grommets and chain, comfortable armor, blending in. Great concepts here: rock ‘n’ roll Gatsby, utilitarian military, country strong, all very intriguing.
I’m amazed by the amount of lizard, alligator, and crocodile that was featured, plus the numerous instances of fur, leopard, and even serpents. I can understand the China component of the dragon that was echoed by Ralph Lauren, but all in all, it feels like a massive U-turn for an industry that so recently turned its back on fur. However, it didn’t stop with just objects. In some cases the models themselves were posed as animals. Could it be a blurring together of all living things -- halfway between a bull and a bear market? -- or just a recognition of our own animal spirits?
We’ve rallied well above the 2009 lows for more than 2 years now. Animal spirits in a market sense should be expected. This could be the reason for so many vibrant zebra-like patterns and houndstooth.
Perhaps it's an unconscious recognition that we've entered a dangerous new era, that we're all part of the food chain, that it's survival of the fittest.
The most shocking thing I noticed was the Lancome “hypnose” ad. Fine, I’m not female, and doll lash effect may be the coolest new thing in the mascara world. But women as hypnotized sex dolls is way too Eyes Wide Shut for me.
Target nailed the current deflationary cheap chic Zeitgeist as far as I’m concerned. For Vogue to have an ad on its prized back cover highlighting price points from 2.99-69.99 might as well be a bright neon sign of deflationary mindset.
I’ll say it again, their 20-page ad spread probably sums up -- socionomically -- where we are best of all . . . somewhere in the ‘70s headed for the unrest of the ‘60s.
Indeed, the whole issue felt like it was looking backward for inspiration, not forward, as if looking into the future was too scary to contemplate. And rather being all on one side of the boat, there were no extremes but rather an even distribution: short skirts juxtaposing armor, long hair and short hair, bright color emerging from drab grays, romance and androgyny, or as the cover said "something for everyone."
In other words, perhaps a large-scale transition from Bull to Bear.
Just as I mentioned recently in the Brazil post that the Bovespa might be signaling a retest of the 2009 lows, the combination of the "My Generation" fashion spread, with its Polaroid mods and ‘60s overtones, the colorful MISSONI/Target ‘70s theme, and the GAP reference to 1969 LA might be signaling something far lower.
If we are "somewhere in the '70s headed for the unrest of the '60s" hold on with both hands. That could possibly target the 1968-1982 bear market should the 2009 lows fail.
Look at the chart below. Find the widest horizontal area. The Dow's range then was 607-1020. Stranger things have happened.
Special thanks to Robert Prechter for the groundbreaking science of Socionomics, to the Socionomics Institute, and to Paul Macrae Montgomery of Universal Economics for creating the Magazine Cover Indicator.