"Fashion photographers want to shoot beautiful, young, thin girls. Period."

-- Frannie Ruch

"You're black, you're beautiful and you're going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else."

-- Ruth Whitney, former editor-in- chief of Glamour as quoted by Frannie Ruch

Drop Frannie a line a ruchfra@aol.com


Interview with Frannie Ruch, former art director at Glamour magazine.

Editor's Note: According to Frannie, this magazine doesn't exist anymore in this incarnation. Bonnie Fuller from Comso took over Glamour magazine last year and brought most of her staff with her. The Glamour that is now in the newsstand is "a lot different" than what is described in this interview.

What is your background?

My first job in the city was at Esquire magazine in the fact-checking department. I actually had been an English major at Georgetown University, and I worked for a service editor getting caption information for products (like) boys' toys.

Then I kind of decided that I liked the people in the art department the best. I thought in an odd way that they were the most articulate people there with the least amount of arrogance and hubris. They had a gentle sense of humor and it was fun to be around them. The art director there was named Margerie Peters. She let me do some styling for her, so I'd run off and get little outfits for people. And when I worked for the service editor, I'd do some of the production stuff that a stylist would do, getting clothes and props.

(I grew up in a time and a place when people made their own clothes. My interest in fashion is from making clothes, and I have some understanding about why when you buy a shift now, it's kind of a joke because it's the easiest thing in the world to make.)

I have always been lucky to be around interesting vital art directors Robert Priest, who has really helped Esquire's recent comeback, making it very visually alert and smart. When I worked with him at Esquire, he loved his contributing artists, he loved the illustrators and he understood what different photographers could bring to each assignment. The learning process for me is being around an art director who knows what he is doing, which is sometimes as unusual as being around an editor-in-chief who knows what they are doing. They are decisive and their decision process is weighted, calibrated and informed. So it's almost fun to watch some editors make choices.

I worked for a book-publishing company called Workman Press, and I did freelance photo research for them through which I met some people at Elle. I started working for Elle about six months after they started, and at that point I had never worked for a magazine that was considered "hot."

I was working on the front and back of the book and that was a lot of portraiture. I think they ran about three portraits per page, and they had about 10 pages in the front of the book. In the back of the book would be food shots and still life shots, and the French art director would do the well. It was a good experience being able to work with food people, still life people and portrait people. Photo editing jobs can be very narrow. I prefer that they are broad in scope.

This was a time period too when celebrities didn't actually get away with being celebrities. In 1986 we actually picked up a shot of Kevin Costner, I remember the publicist saying that he was going to be very big and so they were being very weird about him. I remember when the picture came in, the shot that we ran was my choice. It was him with sunglasses on, and it just made him look like a cute guy. It took something movie-starish out of him.

The format for Elle was very simple. It was just a shape against white. I would go to these shoots and work with the photographer and just get something more out these people (celebrities). I don't think it happens the same way now but it was fun.

Tell us about your experience at Glamour?

I was at Glamour a million years in photo editor terms. In magazine terms you think of people staying at a job for three years and so 9 1/2 years is a long, long, long, long time. The reason I got the job at Glamour is because it was a hot book. Conde Nast was right across the street, and you become attractive to other people when you've worked for a hot book. So at the time I also had the choice to work at Mademoiselle or at Glamour. I chose to work at Glamour. It was like the enchanted forest to me because unlike a lot of magazine people, they went into Glamour and they just stayed there. There was very little turnover.

The editor-in-chief was looking for a change. That was about 10 years ago when she wanted to make it more newsy and cover political issues important to women, so it ultimately became a good place for someone with my experience, which was broad-based from Esquire because of the type of articles they ran and because Esquire had a very wise-guy approach to things. The attitude in this particular magazine was very sincere and earnest and very, very devoted and loyal to its reader. People from women's magazines have a very strong sensibility of fashion and beauty which is the well of the book.

The editor-in-chief, Ruth Whitney, did not actually consider it a fashion magazine. This surprised me when I found that out. To her it was more like Newsweek or something. She was very devoted to women's issues. She put some of the first African-American women on the cover. Beverly Johnson I think was their first black cover model, and (Whitney) told models like her, "You're black, you're beautiful and you're going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else.'

For $2.50, I think the reader was given a very good deal. It really tried to have a large span in the ages of its readership, so that they could come in at 16, 17, 18 and maybe leave in their early 40s or later. I used to say that a Glamour celebrity is a rape victim because we would do stories on date rape and drugging. They would write about a town in the South that was anti-Semitic. They would tell you what women in Congress were voting for. They were very, very, very serious about women's health care. They were the crowned jewels of the editor-in-chief.

She (Whitney) was very in touch with the feminist community in New York. This woman's memorial service really made you feel like whatever the day-to-day of working at a women's magazine is like, you really left with the big picture which was that this person really had women's best interest in mind and she tried to do something. And each year she had a woman-of-the-year event that was for advertisers, but she tried to pick fairly. She had a jury and they would pick 10 women in different fields of endeavor. The women were always thrilled to meet each other. Overall it was a nice event that sort of transcended its promotion.

Everyone knows that women's fashion magazines and the media in general get a lot of blame for their role in many women's poor self image. What is your take on that? Were these issues that you and your colleagues wrestled with at all?

Well it's a very different magazine now. It's a very young and snappy book. Ruth Whitney was interested in the range of her readership, and they got a lot of positive feedback when they did stories on plus-size models. They would do stories about different body sizes, but they would do different figures for bathing suits. They would do the perfect jeans to fit you and try to get jeans for everybody. So there was an awareness, and it's certainly stronger in the last couple of years.

One of their women of the year a couple of years ago turned out to be the spokesperson for the plus-size models. Her name is Emme (Aronson). On the other hand, it's hard for fashion magazine editors to see the plus-size woman because their in a catch-22. Not that many photographers are going to want to shoot the plus-size models. At least this was true a couple of years ago. Fashion photographers want to shoot beautiful, young, thin girls. Period. And these are the photographers that can afford to be very picky and choosy. I can't tell you when that's going to go away. So it was not a thrilling thing for the fashion editors when they had a plus-size story. It totally went against their grain.

Even in their own clothes, fashion editors are constrained by the designers that they have to be seen wearing. They will live their lives in such a way that to spend $300 on the accessory they have to have to make their outfit look current, that is a business expense. Most of these people come from affluent backgrounds anyway, so many of them don't even blink at these prices.

Do you feel any social pressure personally besides dealing with the photographers in regard to your influence on women? Like when you pick a cover model?

I can only speak to that as an observer. The choice of a cover model involved the fashion editor, the model editor, the editor-in-chief and the art director. At any time you would find two to three years of Glamour covers posted on the wall in the art department. On those covers was written what the newsstand sales (were). We had to go to a meeting every month to say page-by-page what the readers did and didn't like according to marketing research. It was no mystery what the readers wanted. The survey questions included, "Would you like to be this person?" and, "Is this someone you would like to be friends with?" So we would try to provide the type of people the readers said they wanted to see.

It seemed like to me that there were an awful lot of blondes on the cover. I remember once they used a girl who looked a little bit Latin, which was pretty different for them. I know a South American friend of mine loved seeing that. They tried one gimmick cover where a girl was surrounded by men, and they tried to do some different things. But really, the cover is so important because it sells your newsstand copy. So much thought and care is given to covers. I mean, it's almost scientific who the model has to be.

So you think the cover model choice is a direct response to the reader?

It is a response to what the readers want, and editors know exactly what the reader likes to see. And I'm only talking about a Glamour reader of that time. I'm not talking about the Jane reader. I'm not talking about the current Glamour reader. The current Glamour (reader) is into clothes, and she's hip. She's younger. To tell you the truth the other Glamour reader wasn't as into clothes.

What are the day-to-day operations of the art and photo departments? How are the photographers chosen?

Well I can only speak for Glamour as it existed when I was there, but I would work on photoillustrations for articles and portraits for features and for front and back of the book stories. I would work on fashion or beauty only in a kind of art buyers sense. For example if they needed somebody to shoot a feature story on a plus-size individual, they might want a fashion photographer who could also do portraits. People would ask me if I knew a photographer who could do both, because the fashion directors only knew what the different fashion photographers did. For the fashion department it really was a matter of who they wanted to work with, who was compatible with a Glamour style.

Glamour did a lot of portfolios on location, and they liked working with people like Phillip Newton who were very fresh and easy with the models. The editor-in-chief didn't want too much smiling with the models because she thought that made them look too young. The fashion stylist produced the fashion portfolios, meeting with the art director and the editor-in-chief to decide on the photographer they wanted to work with. They made this decision based on availability and who was easy to work with.

So basically there's a handful of fashion photographers that you use regularly?

If there are five fashion portfolios per issue, at least two or three of those will be done by a photographer they have a background with. Then you might see them try out one new person. There's probably six to seven people they feel really comfortable using because of the trouble you have to go through for a reshoot. If a photographer purposely does exactly what they want to do, it can't be published. That would happen at least once per issue. Fashion reshoots were something that happened often because the editor-in-chief didn't want to alienate her reader. If the pages got too bizarre or arbitrary, she wouldn't publish it because that is what her reader would respond to.

How were the fashions and location chosen?

I wasn't directly involved with this. There were three or four senior stylists who were responsible for producing stories. The ideas were theme-based and had to cover some trends. Because it was Glamour, they had to cover them in a less expensive way. A theme for a story could be the color red. That could be one of your five stories. A stylist would research a location that they wanted to work in and that they could make an argument for.

How early did an issue have to be completed before it was published?

Three months. But there's time built into that for mistakes and late stories.

What is your take on the fantasy role in many fashion magazines?

The Glamour theme was naturalistic. There was no fantasy involved whatsoever in producing the art for the pages, unlike Vogue, which can totally afford to entertain that point of view. The fantasy element of fashion photography is really more about entertainment and less about selling clothes. Ruth Whitney was interested in serving the reader who is saying, "I have a date on Friday night. I need a nice sweater. Would that work?" That's what the Glamour reader wanted. They wanted a nice date sweater to wear with their jeans. They wanted a nice work suit, and they wanted nice lingerie. Glamour didn't partake in that fantasy aspect of photography at all.

What are the differences between working for a men's magazine and a women's magazine?

Photo editors jobs are different every place, but often at a fashion magazine the people who most often are responsible for choosing the photographers are the fashion editors in conjunction with the art director.

I remember reading a GQ grooming column and I remember thinking that it was written to be read, it wasn't written as service copy. It was written as a literary piece. I really didn't feel like the voice in women's magazines met you on that high ground. So I always felt like the women's magazines in some way had a bad self image. They felt they had to talk down to their reader. And I think with Jane that stopped happening.

When I worked at Esquire the voice was stronger, as of course that wasn't a fashion magazine. And that's why the profile of women's magazines has always been that they are fashion and beauty magazines. Period. So the other content wasn't as important.

What is the role of the advertiser in these types of magazines? How much influence do they have over content?

I don't think they really influenced what the fashion editors chose for the models to wear. If we had to do a photo illustration and use a car, someone might suggest a car that was advertised in the magazine. But in general, in producing portraits and photo illustrations we weren't aware of the advertising department at all. I don't think it happened in the fashion pages either. The editor-in-chief and the publisher would be very aware of the advertising, but when working in the editorial department it didn't really affect you.