In Vogue

By Phoebe Larson

Christiane Mack ’87 oversees Vogue’s brand for a digital age.

4800.jpgIn the dog-eat-dog world of haute couture, one might consider anyone who is affiliated with iconic magazine Vogue to be among the top fashion hounds. A safe bet to be sure, but Vogue staffer Christiane Mack ’87 has a cardinal rule: “I never burn a bridge. Some of our interns have gone on to become heads of companies and then helped me. It’s a cycle.”

As director of editorial development and operations at Vogue, Mack is an inspiration for interns the world over, including a dozen visiting Carleton students whom she escorted around the Vogue offices last spring (and let peek into the famous Vogue fashion closet). The group was part of the Carleton Scholars Program, which arranges three- to-four-day industry tours for students.

Not incidentally, Mack began her career in fashion publishing as an intern, answering reader mail at Elle during her junior year at Carleton. Upon graduating, she applied for a permanent position at the magazine.

After a few years at Elle and a brief stint at the now-defunct Mirabella, Mack landed the job at Vogue, where she’s worked for 21 years. Her career, launched just before the 1990s Internet boom, is a blueprint for how to uphold an iconic brand in a digital age. “Vogue is a superbrand, and my job is to be both guardian and taskmaster, ensuring our platforms and projects run smoothly and our standards are not only maintained, but elevated.”

A worldwide empire, Vogue currently encompasses 19 titles (with Ukraine and Thailand set to launch shortly to make 21), plus VogueCasa, Vogue Bambini, Vogue Hommes, Vogue.com (which Mack launched), books, movies, television, events, philanthropy, Voguepedia (an online fashion encyclopedia of all things Vogue), and a digital archive of every issue from 1892 through today. Mack supervises any U.S. Vogue content syndication to these titles and works to make the global brand more connected.

Such an ecosystem, as Mack calls it, requires careful tending. She was a producer for The September Issue, a 2009 documentary chronicling editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s preparation for Vogue’s September 2007 fall-fashion issue—an 800-plus page tome coveted by fashionistas the world over. (This September’s issue is more than 900 pages, the largest in history.) The film surprised audiences with its inside look at the notoriously private Wintour and the magazine’s talented creative director, Grace Coddington, but neither Vogue nor any of its employees profited from the film. Most important, the brand’s best interests were served. “Anna always looks to extend the brand and to help the fashion industry, and beyond—to arts, culture, entertainment, etc.” says Mack. “She’s a leader in exploring new platforms and nontraditional means to reach audiences.”

When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, it was the height of Fashion Week in New York City. Hundreds of aspiring fashion designers lost their entire life savings when the event was canceled. “Everyone wanted to help rebuild—however they could,” says Mack.

And so that fall Vogue launched the Fashion Fund. The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which Mack established and developed with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, selects 10 finalists from hundreds of designers each year to compete in a series of challenges before well-known judges, such as designer Diane von Furstenberg and J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons. Following four months of design challenges, studio visits by judges, and inquiries into the business practices of the aspiring designers, judges choose a winner, who receives $300,000 to jump-start his or her business and a mentorship with an industry leader.

The popular reality TV series Project Runway is based on the competition, but the Fashion Fund is more concerned with business than theatrics. “During the presentation in front of the judges, the finalists must explain why their creative, business, and financial strategies allow them to meet their goals for success,” says Mack, who also produced the Hulu series The Fashion Fund, about last season’s competition.

The fashion industry is notoriously hard to break into. “People in fashion don’t typically actively support the next generation,” says Mack. “That’s why Vogue is so extraordinary. Anna fights for what she believes in, and she motivates the staff to follow suit.”

Mack also is a major force behind the Met Gala, Vogue’s annual collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She oversees the relationship with the Met, whose staff curates the exhibition with help from Vogue staff members and freelancers. The celebrity-rich, international event, which takes more than six months to produce, has raised more than $100 million for the Met’s Costume Institute. “We have a responsibility at Vogue to document and share fashion’s place in history and the creative arts,” says Mack.

And when it comes to job creation in today’s tough economic times—well, the fashion-publishing industry is hiring. People skilled in digital media are in demand: bloggers, videographers (“video is one of the most effective ways a brand can reach its audience,” Mack says), public relations experts, and anyone web-related. “I would devote an entire team to social media if I could,” says Mack. And she’s on the lookout for the next big thing—whatever that may be.

What won’t change? “People will always be interested in fashion,” says Mack. “There will always be fashion magazines—in whatever form they take.”

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