Caitlyn Jenner's magazine cover: How did Vanity Fair keep the secret?

Vanity Fair has admitted that it had been discussing the possibility of this cover since January

Sophie Morris
Tuesday 02 June 2015 19:31
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Vanity flair: the cover portrait of Caitlyn
Vanity flair: the cover portrait of Caitlyn

Isn't she brave? And, wow, doesn't she look fabulous? Is this a giant leap for gender politics? Who did her hair? Does anyone know why she hasn't she called herself Kaitlyn? There are so many questions thrumming around the internet about the latest Vanity Fair cover, which features Bruce Jenner, father to the Kardashian clan, formally introducing his new and beautiful transgender self, Caitlyn, to the world.

Yet surely the real surprise is how not one of his five notoriously social-media-savvy daughters and step-daughters, not to mention Kris, his ex-wife and the "momager" momentum behind the Kardashian cyclone, leaked any details of their dad's new look via their own publicity channels?

This suggests, professional as they are, that they are under the thumb when it comes to dealing with the all-powerful tastemakers at Vanity Fair, and will always ask "How high?" when editor Graydon Carter purrs "Jump".

"No other publication could have done the same for this story," confirms PR Mark Borkowski. "The relationship [between the magazine and the Kardashians] is symbiotic. They're the only lower-end product that Vanity Fair can interact with, and the bait is Annie Leibowitz, who has glamorised something that 20 or 30 years ago might have been seen as a bit of a joke."

Editor Graydon Carter

Jenner – if you haven't seen this image you obviously haven't been online in the past 36 hours – appears all old-school cabaret glamour on the cover of Vanity Fair's July issue. "Any lesser title and the glamour would have been lost, whereas Vanity Fair can make a border collie look great," says Borkowski.

Since the advent of rolling news and 24-hour access to social media-obsessed celebrities, we've grown unaccustomed to the full force of a genuine exclusive, even one in the world of showbiz, such as this. So fearful was Vanity Fair of someone making off with morsels of the story and sharing them online, that the entirety of this revealing and personal story was created on a single, un-networked computer. Each evening, the assets were transferred to a USB stick and deleted from the machine. Forget the couriers, the material was delivered to the printer by hand.

"Vanity Fair has all the control," says Borkowski. "It's such a important brand in America, with no opposite number in the UK. From an EU perspective it's remarkable, because there are very few places where you can have such a closed and controlled interview."

This sort of control takes a lot of time and tenacity to organise on both sides. Vanity Fair has admitted that it had been discussing the possibility of this cover since January, and did not pay for the privilege of breaking the story. Jenner, of course, will make plenty of money from associated activities. In fact her own mother has even suggested that the whole thing is a stunt for financial gain.

For monthly titles with less power than VF, getting the best cover stars always used to be the biggest battle, never mind keeping the story under wraps. With the advent of a fast-paced market of glossy weeklies, the rhythm shifted somewhat. Today, social media has totally shaken up the way that magazines and celebrities can break stories and, as a consequence, break the internet.

"The truth is that it isn't rocket science," says Borkowski. "Tina Brown made Vanity Fair, and Graydon Carter has made the right adjustments for the digital age. He had nothing to prove as an editor in getting this story. This is all about the brand of Vanity Fair and how the Kardashians have the power to break the internet."

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