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BIG DATE: Vanity Fair has turned 100, sort of. The magazine that was called Dress & Vanity Fair when it first appeared in 1913 was put to sleep 20 years later, and it stayed dead until it was revived in 1983 by S.I. Newhouse Jr., the chairman of Condé Nast. Technically speaking, the Vanity Fair of today is 30 years old. But 100 is such a nice round number, and it looks so much better when loudly announced from a newsstand, so arriving this week is Vanity Fair’s centennial issue, as lavish a production as one of its trademark Oscar parties.
The print issue is stuffed with specially commissioned essays written by celebrity pals like Bill Maher and Lorne Michaels; the Web site is blinged-out with all sorts of bells and whistles; there’s a series of slick short films by, among others, Judd Apatow, and a coffee-table book, “Vanity Fair: 100 Years,” to be released in October.
It is all neatly tied up in a bow with a print cover featuring the bombshell of the moment, Kate Upton, shot by Annie Leibovitz in a Champagne-colored one-piece that channels Marilyn Monroe.
The entire anniversary project has been in the works for a little more than a year. In his editor’s letter, Graydon Carter writes that’s how long he and his editors have been assembling the compilation book. In print, the theme takes up much of the front of the magazine — there’s a selection of photos from the coffee-table book, as well as the celebrity essays.
It’s online where the editors are making the most noise around the anniversary, which will take over the landing page starting Wednesday.
“The Web site has only existed since 2004, so it doesn’t represent our great history that well. We wanted to take the opportunity to really show online just how incredible the history is,” said digital editor Chris Rovzar.
Though the magazine was dark from the Forties through the Seventies, the editors created a section from each of the last 100 years and populated it with content from the magazine’s archives, including two full digitized issues per decade from as far back as 1918. In addition, each section comes with a slew of feature stories and photography, in slide-show form, from or evocative of the period it represents. For instance, former Vanity Fair editor in chief Tina Brown’s 1985 cover story on Princess Diana is slotted in the Eighties section, while a 2007 piece on Esquire’s heyday by contributor Frank DiGiacomo is in the Sixties category.
Vanity Fair and American Express split the production costs on 10 short films directed by notable filmmakers that will be distributed twice weekly through September — the first one is up Tuesday — on vf.com, the new Condé Nast Entertainment-backed YouTube channel and also on television on American Express’ interactive brand channel, AmEx Now, which reaches some 58 million households, according to the company.
The expectation is that all those slide shows and archives will keep readers on the site for long periods of time and grow traffic, which hit 1.2 million uniques in July, according to comScore. Vanity Fair’s own numbers say monthly uniques are 3.2 million, a 27 percent increase over last year.
“We have spikes throughout the year — the Oscar party, the New Establishment list. The International Best Dressed list is always huge for us because it’s slide show, slide show, slide show. We’re expecting this to be another tentpole,” Rovzar said.
Vanity Fair is not the only magazine that’s in a celebratory mood lately. Publishers have all but been shouting from the rooftops that their brands crossed some sort of landmark — Esquire turns 80 in October; Wired turned 20 earlier this year; GQ’s been edited by Jim Nelson for 10 years, and even More magazine marked 15 years in publication. That’s because anniversaries are good for business, allowing publishers to build marketable moments around their brands, and sell advertising against them. Vanity Fair is already reaping the benefits.
Through September, Vanity Fair’s total ad pages were down 3.47 percent to 989.39, according to Media Industry Newsletter. But the October issue pushed paging to 1,240, a 2.2 percent increase over last year, according to publisher Edward Menicheschi.
“We had already established some momentum. We would have gotten to this place eventually, but certainly the October issue put fuel on the fire,” he said.