The New York Review of Magazines

V

By Ellen London

Circulation: 75,000
Date of Birth: 1999
Frequency: Bimonthly
Price: $6.50

The “V” in V stands for a lot of things. At its most basic, it is an abbreviation of the original publication from which V magazine was conceived: Visionaire, a multiformat arts and fashion magazine that is now published three times per year. Where Visionaire (launched in 1991) is haute couture, often featuring concept fashion and art that are inspired by the ethereal rather than rooted in the tangible, its younger manifestation, V (launched in 1999), is ready-to-wear.

On the magazine’s website, vmagazine.com, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana of the luxury clothier Dolce & Gabbana write that V stands for “Vanity, vibrations, vigor, volition, voluptuousness.” Photographer Mario Testino drops the “V” altogether and calls the publication, simply, “A party in a magazine.” But where the physical product is concerned, “V” might as well stand for “visual.”

Beginning with the front cover, V is sexy and stylish. The celebrities who typically adorn the covers range from Brad Pitt to Lady Gaga. The magazine is oversized, measuring 10-by-13.375 inches, closer in size to a small poster than to more traditional magazines. While V occasionally goes with a black-and-white cover — as with the “Size Issue,” released in January 2010, which features models and celebrities of all shapes and sizes — there is no hard-and-fast rule for the cover. Sometimes the colors are splashy, with the “V” emblazoned in yellow or neon pink, and other times they are more understated, with a gray “V” stamped on top of a black background.

Inside, the ads and photos are enormous and printed on ultra-glossy, paper. Getting to the table of contents becomes an afterthought to poring over mega-spreads of the latest fashions. The front of the book features a “Heroes” section, showcasing the work and life of celebrities through the decades. For example, the “Size Issue” has a topless Lisa Lyon, of female bodybuilding fame, along with the rock band “Sol Del Moon,” designer Mark Fast, and five other notables. Where subject matter is concerned, V’s mission statement puts it this way: “Imagine a wall of forty-four televisions, each tuned to a different station.” The breadth of groups and people highlighted in each issue really is that diverse.

The “Extra” section of the magazine features smaller blurbs about what’s up-and-coming in fashion, arts and culture, from a new clothing line to a fresh album release. With smaller images and “nuggety” bites of information, this section quiets things down and ensures that the reader won’t go into visual stimulus overload.

Despite its visual advantages, V’s large format doesn’t lend itself well to text. While the photo spreads come across as almost lifelike, the text layouts are either crammed, as is the case with the “Heroes” section and its tiny font, or sparse, as in the “Extra” section, where the text blocks are surrounded by an awkward amount of white space. Neither style is easy to read.

It’s in the final third of the magazine that V truly sets itself apart from other fashion magazines, including Vogue and Nylon. This is where the fashion spreads are blown up to epic proportions, bringing the models — and the innovative fashions that they’re wearing — to life.

The editorial formula for the back of the book is, well, there isn’t an editorial formula for the back of the book. Sometimes there are two long fashion spreads and sometimes there are six short ones. The photographers basically have the run of the place. Many of them — Mario Testino included — are longtime friends of the magazine’s editors. Rather than handing the photographers a specific assignment, the editors make sure that these photographers are available, and then give them the creative space to do as they please.

The relationship between V and its photographers is a unique one, and leads to some hugely stunning work within an already oversized format. Fashion spreads are enlarged to storybook size, laid out across the pages like a visual feast. A nude romp in Barcelona in one story becomes a cinematic journey abroad, while the photo profile of a Broadway actress in another becomes an intimate “day in the life.”

It’s all about visual impact. If it’s literary content that you’re after, you might want to pick up another magazine. A majority of the pages in V include little or no text, except for long lists of credits. You could say that V is best characterized as a publication for the right-brained among us: the photography enthusiast, the layout editor, the fashion junkie, all whom reach for a mag for the pictures more than the words.

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