Ever since word broke that Lisa Tant had lost her editorial wings at Flare magazine, and that Miranda Purves was taking over, things have been a little shaky over at the Rogers building. The downturn began as people buzzed about Purves’ eighth row seat at Toronto Fashion Week—a seat she gladly took without question (a decision considered uncouth for a fashion editor-in-chief, according to most people on-site). Then there were the departures: Mosha Lundstrom-Halbert; Liz Cabral; and Jen Campbell all decamped for other opportunities. With a dwindling staff, a re-brand set for 2013 and an office of Tant loyalists, Purves is facing an upward battle, but after speaking with her recently, her outlook seems particularly good. But after Flare’s most recent cover was launched, featuring Gretzky heiress Paulina Gretzky (known more for her sexy Instagrams than anything else), people seemed unhappy with the editorial decision-making. And with that unhappiness, comes a whole new series of fingers pointing at Purves. But has she really done anything wrong?
Former Flare editor Lundstrom-Halbert believes cover subjects should have talent and be aspirational, whereas current Flare online editor Ryan Cheung has better ideas for what constitutes good cover work. And those are just the professional links to the Flare backlash—the public had its own ax to grind.
So, the question is, what makes a good cover subject? The way the industry has gone, it seems that celebrity sells magazines, so the question remains: is Paulina Gretzky a celebrity? I would argue yes. She’s managed to capture attention via Instagram and Twitter by seemingly sexy means, sure, but how is that not akin to other altars people worship at? Like the church of Kardashian, Lohan or, to use a fairly dated reference, Hilton. And she’s a celebrity because her father is one: most people know who Wayne Gretzky is. To discuss her fame in terms of modern day currency, Paulina Gretzky has 208K+ followers on Twitter, which is infinitely greater than the numbers of people complaining about the cover. On Instagram, she boasts nearly 22K followers. So, if celebrity is conditional on whether someone has an audience, money, or a name, Paulina Gretzky has all three. Whether she’s the kind of celebrity you are into is irrelevant, because it’s clear she’s interesting to someone. And she’s now interesting to you, because by virtue of being on the cover, you have succumbed to writing letters to the editor out of anger, or have opted to editorialize today’s proceedings. If sheer fame of a cover subject won’t sell a magazine, the ensuing controversy will.
But then there’s the argument of reader retention. Has Flare lost its core reader because of this non-scandal? Time will tell, but if the culture of Internet griping has taught me anything, tomorrow is a new day. If anything, I expect Flare’s numbers to rise. Putting a known-but-still-unknown face on the cover is a risky game, but here’s why I feel like it will inevitably pay off:
1. Original art sells
The business of fashion cover wrangling has become fairly formulaic. To save money, magazines will pay for pre-shot stock photography, which requires little to no effort on the part of the magazine besides making a few calls and having a few meetings. In the case of this Flare cover, Corey Ng styled the cover and it was shot by the magazine. It may not seem like a lot, but original material keeps people interested. Anyone can aggregate a cover.
2. Paulina Gretzky is widely hated because she’s considered trashy
The contrast between her public image and how she’s photographed on the cover is interesting enough to create a discussion. If people are discussing the magazine for a stylistic decision that provoked discussion outside of the initial angry backlash, it means the decisions made helped boost the number of people talking about the magazine (for good reasons over superficial ones).
3. She’s not ugly
Paulina Gretzky is a pretty girl. People like looking at pretty people.
4. New people are reading Flare
Thanks to viral social media discourse, people who didn’t even know Flare existed are now trying to figure out why a person they knew for her scandalous photos is appearing on a national fashion cover.