The Last Days of Condé Nast Russia
The arrival of Vogue Russia was synonymous with the country’s re-emergence after the Cold War. The decision by it and other American glossies to shut down signals the depths of the nation’s isolation following its invasion of Ukraine.
Twenty-four years after Condé Nast came to Russia and 12 days after Russia invaded Ukraine, CEO Roger Lynch announced last Tuesday that the company was suspending the publication of its Russian editions. “We continue to be shocked and horrified by the senseless violence and tragic humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” he wrote in a memo addressed to the publishing company’s global employees. “With journalists and editorial teams around the world, it is paramount that we are able to produce our content without risk to our staff’s security and safety. Recently, the Russian government passed new censorship laws that now make it impossible for us to do so.” With that, the Russian editions of Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Architectural Digest, and Tatler were laid to rest. Final posts went up on each publication’s website informing readers that they had suspended publishing new content on all their platforms and that April issues would not make it to newsstands and gestured towards hopes of resuming at some point in the future.
During the Soviet Union, the biggest fashion magazine was called, simply, Fashion Magazine, published in Moscow by the centralized fashion institutions. It featured models, sketches, and musings on style trends and fashion history. “These magazines were — in a Soviet way — real fashion magazines,” Iuliia Papushina, an associate professor at the Higher School of Economics in Perm who studies the history of Soviet and Russian fashion, told The Fine Print. “It was a very, very plain and simple version of a Western fashion magazine.” The first Western fashion magazine to have a Russian edition published in the Soviet Union was the German Burda Moden, which broke through in 1987 with the support of Raisa Gorbacheva, wife of President Mikhail Gorbachev. It was a smash from the start. “In the early ’90s, it was extremely expensive, and people couldn’t afford it,” Papushina said. “I’ve heard that people paid just for the opportunity to look through the magazine.” But when Vogue arrived in Moscow in 1998, with billboards proclaiming “In Russia. At Long Last,” readers were exposed to a completely different world. “I remember trembling,” wrote one long-time reader in a comment on the Facebook announcement of the magazine’s suspension, “holding in my hands the first issue of Vogue Russia.”
Before the Russian government shut down Instagram access on Monday, some Condé Nast Russia editors left posts for their loyal readers. Vogue Russia editor Ksenia Solovieva had one of the lengthiest comments appended to a photo of Kate Moss. “I would like to thank each and every one of you who wrote to me yesterday warm words of support in response to the news that publication of Vogue in Russia has been suspended,” she wrote, offering separate thanks to naysayers who’d predicted the end of the glossy. Even to those critics, she wrote, “you’ll agree, without us it’s already gotten kind-of boring.” Anastasia Romashkevich, editor of Architectural Digest Russia, posted a picture of herself flanked by elephants. “Importantly — we’re not saying goodbye. This is a pause, not the final chord,” she wrote. “The photo is from two weeks ago. From a past life that will definitely return.” Vogue content editor Dasha Komyagina had perhaps the cheeriest and most optimistic post. “We’ll come back stronger than a ’90s trend,” she wrote.
“Ball’s in Hearst’s court,” former GQ Russia editor Michael Idov texted The Fine Print on the day of the Condé suspension announcement. The next day Women’s Wear Daily broke the news that Hearst Magazines was terminating its licensing agreements with several of their Russian editions. The Russian business daily Kommersant followed up with a report that the Russian editions of Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, and Harper’s Bazaar would be closing. Esquire Russia editor-in-chief Sergey Minaev announced the change on Telegram. “I always told the editorial staff, ‘Every issue has to be made like it’s the last issue. So then it won’t be shameful.’ And here, before you, is in fact our final issue. On the cover — Eduard Limonov, which is symbolic,” he wrote, citing the late writer and founder of the National Bolshevik party who supported Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. “Everywhere there are symbols. Everywhere now there are only symbols.”
There are some survivors in the ranks of Russian glossies. “Marie Claire Russia is not a part of Hearst. We are under French license, so we can continue publishing,” publisher Alena Tkach told The Fine Print on Sunday. “We see and feel ‘Russia and Russians cancel culture’ in process. It’s really upsetting, and we see many brands left the market. This means that the advertising market as we knew it before is dead.” Tkach expressed some optimism about her magazine’s prospects despite these grim circumstances. “We have some local partners and advertisers too, and, in my humble opinion, what is the most important, we have our readers,” she said. “Combining these two points: revenue from local advertisers and revenue from selling copies — I see a chance to save the magazine on paper, too. Web MarieClaire.ru is booming during last year till now, and I’m 100 percent sure that it will continue performing well. The magazine is under the risk now as a business, but we are trying to do our best to keep it on the market.”
Tkach expressed some distress that her competitors had exited the country. “We are really upset that Condé Nast left the market,” she said, lamenting the loss of a vibrant and competitive business environment. Papushina’s lament for the loss of the glossies had more to do with the fact that, in some ways, Russians are being shut out of the international fashion discourse. The loss of Instagram only intensified this banishment. “It seems to me that, on some points, we are going back to the Soviet practices of following Western fashion without being able to fully participate,” she said. “I think this is one of the sad consequences of this situation.”