FASHION: AN ELLE OF A DECADE

When British Elle was launched in 1985, it perfectly reflected the spirit

of the Eighties. Ten years on, it still offers its readers frocks without frills

MORE so than pop records, movies, or even fashion itself, good magazines have a way of defining their age. Not only are they history the moment they hit the news-stands thus offering an instant time-capsule of the here-and-now they are also artefacts in their own right, barometers of invention in journalism, photography and design. But though there is a certain amount of serendipity about most successful magazine launches, there was little that was left to chance when British Elle was launched in October 1985.

The Eighties produced many groundbreaking magazines The Face, i-D, Q, Arena, Marie Claire etc primarily because, as one of this century's most style-conscious, self-obsessed decades, it was crying out to be decoded before it was even born. But Elle was a magazine with a mission. Created to cater for the post-feminist Eighties career girl, it was resolutely fashionable, wilfully sassy, and uncompromisingly urban. "There was a whole new generation [of women] fumbling its way towards tomorrow," says Sally Brampton, who edited Elle for four years from its launch until October 1989. "Elle was the first mainstream magazine to act as a voice for that generation. The philosophical bedrock on which Elle was built, and on which it still firmly stands, is style with content. Yes, we wanted to be careless and carefree, to live in lofts and hang out in bars, to drink vodkatinis till dawn. Well, who doesn't?"

It seemed that a lot of British women did, as Elle was an immediate hit. A joint venture between Rupert Murdoch's News International and French publishers Hachette, it wasn't short of funds, and there can't have been many young women in Britain who weren't aware of it. The publishers had identified consumer-friendly women between the ages of 18 and 30 who didn't have any qualms about spending a small fortune on clothes, but who weren't prepared to be patronised in the process. Women who thought that Vogue and Harpers & Queen were a little too poncey for their own tastes, and who weren't interested in downmarket titles full of knitting-patterns and soap stars. Women who had possibly grown up with The Face, but who now wanted something defiantly female. Women who wanted frocks without the frills.

"The magazine caused such a stir because it made fashion accessible to a new generation of younger women," says Nigel Conway, head of media planning at The Media Centre, which handles the Chanel account. "Vogue always dealt with pure fashion, but the great thing about Elle was that it had proper feature content; it made every other fashion magazine sit up and take notice."

"Elle catered for the woman who didn't care whether she kept her man or not," says Andrew Sherman, group media director at MC Saatchi. "It didn't dictate, and was less formulaic than its competitors. It wasn't sold as an emotional crutch."

When Elle was launched, the girls of the moment were Yasmin Parvaneh (soon to be Mrs Simon Le Bon) and Jenny Howarth. They were soon, however, overshadowed by such big-name models as Naomi Campbell, who in 1986 walked through the door of Elle and achieved her first break in a British glossy. By 1988, when taste had become market-able, and when more and more designers were becoming household names, supermodels Naomi, Christy, Linda et al became public property, commanding hitherto unheard-of fees.

A new decade, however, brought a new sensibility, and as the Eighties turned into the Nineties, the magazine began to look a mite jaded. Whereas in the Eighties it was champagne and go-faster stripes for everyone, when the recession took hold the word "designer" became a pejorative prefix, and Elle started looking a little God forbid old-fashioned. Towards the end of the Eighties, the worm turned: Kate Moss was photographed in The Face looking like nothing more than a disaffected beach bum, with bleached-out skin and straggly hair. In Corinne Day's stark black and white pictures, Moss seemed the epitome of a latch-key kid, the eternal waif. As women's magazines fell over themselves to follow grunge and all that came in its wake, their fashion pages started to look decidedly cheap, a phenomenon which coincided with the decline in Elle's circulation, which dropped to 183,000 in 1991. Its readers wanted glamour, not grunge.

After Brampton left, the magazine slowly went into free fall. Times were moving: Rupert Murdoch sold out to Hachette, there were two changes of editor, circulation fell and the magazine began losing its chutzpah. Its salvation arrived in the shape of Nicola Jeal, like Brampton a former fashion editor of the Observer. She arrived at the magazine in 1992 as deputy editor, but it was only after she was promoted to editor in early 1993, when the title was bought by EMAP, that the magazine's fortunes began changing. Circulation now stands at 222,000.

"If your market changes then you go with them," says Jeal. "The women's magazine market is enormous these days, and you're competing for a potentially huge number of people, so consequently you have to try and broaden your values, which is what I did with Elle. People also expect a lot more from magazines today, and we have had to become more varied. We've also tried to make the fashion a little more accessible; the fashion in Elle is still incredibly hip, but it's not off-putting. All the old dictates have gone. What we do is pick out the best clothes from all available markets whether it's a Chanel jacket or a Jigsaw dress and to show all of them in the same way, with the same models and the same photographers. The elitism has gone fashion is much more democratic now."

"It's obviously a different magazine now, but it's had to change because the times have," says Sally Brampton. "We were so full of confidence in those days because we were living in very confident times. We were very bossy, and almost ran down the street dragging our readers with us. The mood today is a lot fuzzier, and the magazine has had to reflect women's changing aspirations."

But just how different is it? It's true that the magazine is a little younger, a little brasher, and perhaps a little less sophisticated than it used to be. But then you could say that about any glossy magazine on the news-stands at the moment; market forces are such that magazines from Harper's & Queen and Tatler to Cosmopolitan and Sky have been forced to re-address their target audiences, and push themselves downmarket using tried and tested tabloid tricks in the hope of holding their ground. There are a lot of young readers out there, and publishing houses cannot afford to be left on the shelf by ignoring them.

"Circulation is at its highest for five years and among advertisers confidence is very high," says Andrew Sherman. "Elle has moved with the times, and seems to deal efficiently with the issues which affect women today. And it's a lot less guilty of pandering to its audience than the competition."

These days Elle might not contain so many features about polenta and Mies Van Der Rohe chairs as it once did, but the magazine is still as fashionable as ever. Its fashion pages are crisp and to the point; the photography still cutting-edge. It is firmly dedicated to reportage, and still blasts out the odd polemic. And, unlike a lot of its competitors, it hasn't resorted to endless pieces about multiple orgasms, cunnilingus or tantric sex. What Elle has in abundance is spunk. Its 10th anniversary issue, as well as being a retrospective, is also a statement of intent for the magazine's future. Much like the woman who reads it, Elle never seems backward about coming forward.''' 8

FASHION HITS OF THE DECADE

1985'Black leggings

1986'Black Azzedine Alaia skintight dress

1987'Shoulder-padded power suit

1988'Romeo Gigli wrap-over tops

1989'Fake Chanel jackets

1990'Pucci-look shirt and leggings

1991'Long bias cut skirts

1992'High-street floral slip dresses

1993'Grungy kids' T-shirts

1994'Prada short black shiny belted mac

1995'Pencil skirt

FASHION MISSES OF THE DECADE

1985'Silk shirts with back tail

1986'Puffball skirts

1987'Stonewashed ripped jeans

1988'Wide pants worn with court shoes

1989'Lycra cycling shorts for work

1990'High-heeled plimsolls

1991'Trainers with matching shellsuit

1992'Frayed seams

1993'Sneakers with designer suits

1994'White ankle socks with bar shoes

1995'Blue nail varnish

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game