The debut issue of the Chinese edition of Vogue, the leading international fashion magazine, had already been on the streets for more than two weeks when Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Cond Nast International, the publisher of Vogue, officially announced its entry into its 16th market at a star-studded party last Friday in Beijing.
The 53-year-old Newhouse expressed satisfaction with the sales so far. The first 300,000 copies, with the golden logo cover, have sold out, exceeding his expectations and more copies with a silver logo cover are being printed to meet market demand.
The debut cover features Australian super model Gemma Ward and Chinese models Du Juan, Wang Wenqin, Tong Chenjie, Liu Dan and Ni Mingxi. They were photographed at the Bund in Shanghai by Patrick Demarchelier and styled by French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld.
The 430-page magazine carries a mix of foreign and local content.
Cond Nast and its Chinese co-operator, China Pictorial, have assembled the most talented and experienced editorial team for the Chinese edition of Vogue.
At the press conference before the party, Newhouse acclaimed the editorial team headed by Angelica Cheung, editorial director of Vogue China.
"It was very challenging to do the first issue. We have prepared for three years to enter China so it is our great wish and worry to present a standard Vogue as good as editions in the other 15 countries and regions. Thanks to Angelica and her team, we have achieved that goal," said Newhouse.
Vogue was born in 1892 with a view to becoming the authoritative voice on fashion and lifestyle.
In keeping with this philosophy, Newhouse's brief to Cheung was to produce the best fashion magazine on the Chinese mainland, combining the highest production values with the most talented editors, the world's leading designers, top photographers and models.
Before joining Cond Nast, Cheung was editorial director of the Chinese edition of Elle and editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Hong Kong. She has also co-published a number of fashion magazines in Hong Kong. The veteran fashion editor has a very clear idea of what Vogue China should be.
"In each market, Vogue has a unique style, aiming to reflect the culture of the country in which it is published. So Chinese Vogue features what is happening in China but through an extremely international approach," she says.
"Fashion is an international language so we don't want to make local contents different from foreign parts and we try to present both local and international content in the same high level," she says.
As for the target audience, Newhouse said, it is true that the average Vogue readers are in their late-20s and early 30s, and are well educated professionals and earn above-average incomes.
"However, it is actually not something about age or income but about attitude. Our important target readers have good taste and style or a desire for good taste and style," he said.
Cheung sees the readers of Chinese Vogue as falling into two main groups: those who can already afford a luxury lifestyle and those who cannot afford it now but appreciate and dream of such a lifestyle.
"For the second kind of readers, Vogue offers fashion concepts, and helps to cultivate their taste and vision of fashion," says Cheung.
The timing of Vogue's entry into China as well as the competition it faces from other glossy magazines in the market, have aroused much interest.
Both Newhouse and Cheung believe it is the right time, although Vogue comes on the scene much later than Elle China, published by Hachette Filipacchi, a unit of France's Lagardere SCA, in 1989, the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan in 1998 and Hearst's Harper's Bazaar in 2001.
According to a survey by the Beijing Century Chinese Media Corporation, a company that studies periodicals' sales, in April 2005, in 10 major cities, Rayli, the Chinese version of a Japanese fashion magazine occupied the largest share of the market at 44 per cent. This was followed by Cosmopolitan at 10-15 per cent, and Elle, Esquire and Marie Claire all with a share of less than 10 per cent. Dozens of smaller second and third-level magazines share about 15 per cent of the market between them.
But Newhouse is confident.
"We don't have any competitors. Other magazines that think Vogue competes with them don't play with us at the same stadium," he said in answer to a question.
But Sun Zhe, executive editor-in-chief of Chinese Elle said: "The glossy magazine market in China is pretty large. I don't think Vogue or any other new magazine could threaten the existing magazines. Competition is always there, whether in China or other countries. Vogue is just one new competitor."
Xie Li, the former editor of Elle believes Vogue will change China's fashion scene and up the standards of Chinese fashion magazines.
But others are not so sure. "The No 1 fashion magazine in the West does not mean it will definitely succeed in China. Bazaar and Cosmopolitan are not the top-level magazines in the United States and Europe but sell well here. I just doubt whether Vogue can really win readers in a low-income country like China if it promotes top luxury brands," said Wang Feng, executive editor-in-chief of Esquire.
Though the initial sales look promising and prove readers were looking forward to the magazine, reactions to the first edition may be reason for caution.
An anonymous vote on the fashion website www.metroer.com shows that 37 per cent of readers felt disappointed with the first issue and said it did not distinguish itself from other similar magazines while 29 per cent of readers thought it was distinctive; 26 per cent loved it and believed it could promote Shanghai's image. The poll further revealed that 5 per cent of the respondents felt it was a waste of 20 yuan (US$7.4) and only 3 per cent rated it as "very good."
"I don't like the cover because the models' dresses are too colourful. The first issue has a richer content than other magazines but there is little difference from similar magazines," said Wu Yang, painter and designer who got a copy from a friend.
"Generally speaking, it is good, but the local part still looks weak. And it is not as good as the US Vogue which I read regularly," said 27-year-old Tan Yingzi.