Which one is not from this planet, not just this continent?
The covers of the March issues of all the Vogues in Asia. From top row, left: China, Hong Kong, India; Japan, Korea, Philippines; Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. Cover photos: Vogue of respective countries
Unique has often been used as convenient euphemism for ugly. But as we have repeatedly pointed out, ugly by definition has changed. What is ugly is not ugly. Similarly, what is unique may be different, but not necessarily exceptional. Existing as the sole example of, say, magazine-cover uniqueness may not be exemplar of creative distinction or courage, candour. In being unlike any other, there is the risk of being bound to conceit—nothing is better than the creator’s singular thinking since his thoughts, ideas, creative process are not like others’, contemporaneous or not. This kind of output can indeed be alienating. The lastest cover of Vogue SG, to us, is.
Photographs are key in the design of a magazine cover. Magazines, being image-driven, depend on good, communicative, aspirational photographs from cover to cover, especially fashion publications. Magazine covers have always been a reflection of the times, the mirror that reflects the aesthetical common, but presented with a point of view; an opinion, as Richard Avedon would have said. A magazine cover also tells the reader what to expect when the pages within are given a chance of perusal. Or to offer a fashion/trend pronouncement. It is usually conceived to draw the curiosity of the like-minded or those with similar taste. Despite the myriad ways of creating images that compel, the imperative is still to appeal to human emotions and desires.
Stefan Sagmeister, a designer who is no stranger to strange magazine covers, said in 2015 at a media event in Melbourne, “a lot of [modernist] designs now make no sense whatsoever… they’re unbelievably stupid and deeply, deeply inhuman.” That could perhaps describe the Vogue SG’s born-again cover (although Mr Sagmeister was referring to architecture, his thoughts are applicable to magazine cover design). When we compared that cover (and the masthead) to the other eight Asian editions of Vogue of this month, the stark difference is obvious and unsettling, so is it’s alien-ness (look at the oddly small, ghostly hands!). The absence of a fashion message aside, there is a clear lack of approachability. The cover is AI-generated, we know. Creativity sans emotional connection. It, therefore, begs the question, “Who on earth is this magazine for?”