Staying in “Vogue”: the graceful design evolution of America’s most famous fashion magazine

Vogue is ferociously committed to fashion and is, for many, the final word on all things style. But what about the style of the magazine itself?

Vogue has looked elegant since it was first published in 1892, and its changes have largely corresponded with innovations in design technology as opposed to any sort of major rebrand. Art director Martin Hoops says he’d never think of an update as a redesign. “We might elevate the typography, but the Vogue brand is still the same as it always was, just slightly refreshed.”

When I speak with Hoops, he’s just come out from a meeting; the last issue went to print and now they’re diving straight into the next one. He’s brisk and energetic, a typical Manhattanite, whose two other magazines of choice will always be The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine.

The art and design team walk a fine line, Hoops tells me. They work within the framework of Vogue’s classic brand, but create imagery that changes with the seasons to reflect what’s “in vogue.” As a predominately visual magazine, they have an “extra presence” in their design, and that’s the fashion. “We’re bringing in people who know that side of things, like a stylist, a make-up artist, or an editor who knows everything about suede shoes. Everything we do is directed towards the fashion.” The clothes dictate typography, the layout depends on the pictures—the designers wait for these elements, with Hoops as a kind of great conductor, orchestrating the separate components so that they harmonize in a way that is definitely and distinctly Vogue.

Each designer has their own assigned section that they work on every month, and anyone with spare time will then work on the layout of the shoots. Hoops, for example, works on the layout of Beauty. “Your section will go through phases. It’s an ever-growing thing, an organism; you really take ownership of it. And the layout is different every time, which is great.”

The atmosphere in the office is just as fluid. As Vogue is so visual, the editorial, art, and design departments often merge together and are in constant dialogue, so any one shoot or section is imbued with the insight of multiple minds. “Vogue is actually a very open place, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect. We all make suggestions and contribute our own ideas,” says Hoops.

In addition to an atmosphere of collaborative thinking, there’s an overarching history and unprecedented eminence that looms over every issue, which Hoops sees as a restriction. “We have our work cut out, because you can’t, say, just crop a picture, because it’ll be from an Annie Leibovitz or Steven Klein shoot,” he explains. The team thrives on the notion that restrictions create innovation. Instead of starting with a blank canvas, there are a set of rules in place, so that the design “is like a really hard problem that we solve on a monthly basis”—always interesting and never the same.

Less visually driven publications might spend all day “moving type around the page,” whereas Hoops says that at Vogue, designers have more creative license. “As designers, we want ideas. We want grand overall feelings!” There’s a theatrical quality to the approach: because a shoot will be part of an overarching concept or story, images are organized into larger narratives, and typography is used to enhance the atmosphere like set design. Vogue’s art and design teams aim to make something that’s both classic and evolving, with each issue refining a character that’s existed for over a century.