Cover Talk: Stars sans slap

Usually the domain of celebrity weeklies profiteering off our not-so-admirable fondness for seeing our fellow (pretty) woman at her pimply/wrinkly/sans-Photoshop worst, French ELLE has brought refinement to the hackneyed editorial tradition of 'stars without makeup'.

French ELLE editor Valérie Toranian has given us Eva Herzigova, Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau sans makeup and retouching, as captured by Peter Lindbergh's lens (let's lay aside the forgiving lighting and 'they had beautiful faces to start with' arguments for a lovely moment).

Sure, companies like Dove successfully latched onto the appeal of 'real beauty' a while ago, and the glossies have dabbled in women-without-makeup features, but until now we've yet to see the concept manifest itself on an actual magazine cover (Jennifer Hawkins almost went makeup free for Marie Claire). Perhaps because said glossy covers are often funded by the likes of L'Oreal and Estee Lauder? Or maybe we actually like to look at artificial celebrities who resemble plastic dolls?

Anyway, at a time when most magazines are running 'safe' covers, cocooned in the all-too-familiar airbrushed world of celebrity and the more well-known models (e.g. Daria for UK Vogue; Gisele for Vanity Fair), French ELLE, I believe, represents the feminine Zeitgeist personified. In short: we want to cut the crap. Get back to basics. Return to something real.

Speaking to demographer Bernard Salt last week, I asked how our return to "traditional values" and the domestic arts, in the wake of the economic crisis, might reflect in the media and the glossy-sphere. It's more than about frugal living, he suggested, citing the now-hackneyed term "frugal chic"; it's about moral living. Therefore, we're more likely to eschew anything that seems overtly garish in such times (see: Paris Hilton) or completely unrelatable, and flock towards the authentic and meaningful. Meaningful magazine covers - how 'bout that?!

"There’s a shift from the excesses of celebrity culture," he said. "Paris Hilton is a product that evolved with the boom. She symbolized all the excesses of the boom: slim, blonde, ostensibly a bimbo, obsessed with the here and now and living for the moment. Paris’ star may fade during the recession because she symbolizes all the frivolity and emptiness of rampant consumerism. She’s the wrong product for the time."

Replacing the likes of Paris, perhaps, will be the more down-to-earth Hollywood beauties (Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, arguably Jennifer Aniston), power-women (Michelle Obama) and stars or 'It girls' with something more to give than a new film release or fashion line (though one can hardly argue with the enduring, trend-defying power of Kate Moss, and Victoria Beckham was U.S. ELLE's best seller in 2008 – the affable Beckham clearly has an every-girl appeal).

Botox confessions appear to be on the rise, while the suspiciously wrinkle-free Nicole Kidman remains out of favour, and the gossip weeklies will be struggling to maintain relevance in an environment that demands credibility and accountability. The old "magazines are for escapism" theory might still ring true, but mags like French ELLE, which appeal to our desire for authenticity (also reflected in our predilection for the 'real people' of street-style blogs), will get the collective female seal of approval... until the Zeitgeist shifts again.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

French ELLE Pics:


frangipani princess said...

I think it's a really cool idea. The covers all look awesome and really natural. I think aussie magazines should snap up this idea, even if it's just one magazine for one issue. I also think it's cool how they've dressed them in basic clothes that don't stand out. The whole effect would have been lost if they'd posted them without make up but in amazing clothes that caught (and kept) your attention.
I love reading the French coverlines as well. I'm planning a French exchange next year, and the language (even though I'm only learning) is just gorgeous.

Rochelle said...

Brilliant post, Erica. Totally on the money.

And huge props to French ELLE. Please, please, pretty please Oz editors: take note. Would LOVE to see more of this.

TheWrongTrousers said...

I love these covers. Although don't forget the natural look probably took as much effort to look artfully casual - hair, eyebrows, and yes, re-touching - as the usual suspects. V cool tho

Maxie said...

don't even kid yourself into thinking it's anything more than a ploy to sell more magazines.
Yeah, i like it, but the advertisers sure as hell wont, and you can bet your lunch money they were pre-warned that the strategy was a one off, and that future editorial content would not persuade readers to give up their lipsticks.

Style On Track said...

These covers are so chic and elegant, I love them :)

Anonymous said...

I was nodding in agreement this whole post. But I just can't get over how long it's taken any of the mainstream fashion magazines to get on to this concept.

While I'd love to have seen an Aussie title take this on, it's just going to look unoriginal. Unless the whole issue was devoted to realism. Perhaps there could be a special issue that is an example that stands outside of it's 'obligations' to it's advertisers.

At least they would be one of the first titles in a very long time that would be showing some respect to it's readers, which lets face it, without which there would be no magazine to read. Woo readers with reality and truth in an original and purposeful way while the advertisers pull the plug on the spend.

SheilaK said...

I do appreciate those covers but always feel a little ripped off when they say "without makeup" and then the woman appears to be wearing mascara, lip colour, and maybe even eyeshadow or eyeliner. Am I being too picky or should "without makeup" mean exactly that?

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Anonymous said...

I absolutely love the concept of these covers, and the idea of seeing stars without make-up in the way that French Elle has done it. But I fail to see the difference between Elle doing it, and a celebrity weekly doing it. Isn't it feeding into the readers' desire to see stars (apparently) unmasked in exactly the same way, whether it be on the cover of Elle or NW? I think the belief that it's somehow more genuine or honourable because it's on the cover of a 'fashion mag' rather than a weekly is really quite blinded, naive and unfair. That's not to say the idea doesn't have merit - it's just saying that both types of mags do this for the same reason: sales. To believe otherwise is to be fooled.

Also, I disagree with the idea that these types of 'Stars Without Make-up' covers are around at the moment because people want a return to 'traditional values' (??) and realism during a time of financial hardship. Research simply proves this isn't true at all - all make-up companies make more (from the general public) during times of recession, as people look to (usually cheap) things to make themselves feel better. Eg make-up. (For the record, these things also include chocolate and alcohol, interms of sales volume.)

In this light, given both points, it's hard not to take the post as yet another attack on the weeklies, in favour of fashion glossies that are in almost every way as variously good or bad as their weekly counterparts when it comes to realism.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

All very valid points, anonymous. Thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion.

I suppose, from my point of view, some of the weekly 'stars without makeup' stories tend to be cruel (paparazzi shots taken without their consent) and terribly unflattering, essentially profiting at the stars' expense, rather than consensual and thoughtful, as we see with ELLE. I can appreciate the beauty of the ELLE shots, while I just feel sorry for most of the stars caught sans makeup who land themselves a cover shot on a gossip weekly.

It's all about the spirit of the editorial decision and motive (celebrating makeup free feminine beauty rather than rejoicing in stars' bad luck) - though I'm well aware all magazines exist to make money.