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Tag : magazine analysis

A deep dive into the 8 most popular magazine covers

When editors and art directors come together to create a cover for their magazine issue, there is a lot of time and planning involved. In the previous article, we covered the basic elements of a successful magazine cover, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Choose a recognisable, and inspiring cover model.
  • Make sure the cover star is looking directly into the camera, bringing focus onto their eyes.
  • Pick a colour scheme that grabs the buyer’s attention.
  • Create a special edition issue.

For this article, we’ll examine some of the most commercially successful and popular magazine covers in recent years, diving deep into the reasons why they worked so well and highlighting where applicable the above elements.

1. Vogue Greece April 2019 featuring Bella Hadid

A simple, yet genius concept featuring supermodel Bella Hadid on the cover of the April 2019 issue of Vogue Greece. Taken by photographer Txema Yeste, Hadid’s side profile is sandwiched between the faces of two white marble busts from Ancient Greece. While the model isn’t directly looking towards the camera, her amber eyes are still a key point in the image, matching the gold masthead, which works as an effective contrast to the stark white and cream colour palette in the image.

2. Vogue Arabia September 2019 featuring Kim Kardashian

Vogue Arabia’s September 2019 issue featured reality star and business mogul, Kim Kardashian, in three different covers captured by photographer Txema Yeste, under the supervision of designer Manfred Thierry. Each cover had a distinct style, but the most popular cover image is the one featured above. Taken in the middle of the California desert, Kim is pictured in a simple black and white bodice, with a bright red light cast on her body, as she looks straight towards us. The use of the bold lighting creates a sharp contrast to the blue and white background. In our previous article, we mention the popularity of the colour red for magazine art. While the colour is mostly used in the typography, Yeste takes a unique approach to incorporate the colour onto the cover.

3. British Vogue September 2019, “Focus for Change.”

Guest edited by Meghan Markle, the cover for the magazine’s September issue moved away from the usual fashion shoot and instead highlighted a range of female activists and politicians. The cover features 15 black and white portraits all taken by photographer, Peter Lindbergh, of the women featured in the editorial, but with a blank space in the middle. This is another great example of a special edition, which also showcases the power of using black as a canvas to help enhance the coral lettering for the cover.

4. Vanity Fair Holiday 2019/2020 RuPaul by Annie Leibovitz

In the 2019/2020 Vanity Fair Holiday edition, legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz captured superstar drag queen, RuPaul, in a sparkling number that was highly festive. Special editions are usually the bestselling issue of the year – but this cover in particular sparked great interest within the media. In the drag world, RuPaul is one of the most recognisable performers thanks to his successful reality competition show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. From an artistic perspective, the cover captures a domineering pose, with RuPaul’s hand placed on the edge of the bust. The drag queen’s sheer jeweled corset also enhances the symmetrical stance of the cover star.

5. Vogue Paris May/June 2020 featuring Bella and Gigi Hadid

In a double cover edition, Bella and Gigi Hadid both strike a similar pose for Vogue Paris’ May/June 2020 covers. While the models are no strangers to the covers of high-end fashion magazines, these particular covers were a standout within their modelling portfolio. Taken by Emmanuelle Alt and Inez Van Lamsweerde, the Hadid sisters dazzle in their white and gold dresses and accessories. What makes these covers work so well is the use of symmetry, highlighted through the position of their hands and arms – bringing focus to their faces. Notice also the makeup: while different, both models use bright-coloured eyeshadows which draws attention to their eyes and adds a stark contrast to the overall colour scheme of their outfits and the backdrop.

6. British Vogue June 2020 Judi Dench by Nick Knight

85-year-old Judi Dench became the oldest cover star for British Vogue after posing for their June 2020 issue. Taken by Nick Knight, the cover offers a pink palette to represent the spring season. The pink colouring complements the overall feminine aesthetic but also acts as a subtle yet effective backdrop to Dench’s piercing blue eyes.

7. British Vogue, July 2020, featuring Frontline Workers

Breaking the standard rule about using A-list models, British Vogue’s July 2020 edition featured three covers with three frontline workers: a supermarket assistant, a London train driver and a midwife. This is a great example of using a special edition to highlight a key cultural event and the people working to keep communities running. Although the covers feature ordinary working people in their uniforms, the images still adhere to the formula we discussed earlier. While not all cover stars are looking directly into the camera, their eyes are still prominent. The everyday nature of the covers’ aesthetic is also a break from Vogue’s signature fashion-forward and creatively dynamic style.

8. Vogue Spain November 2020 featuring Indya Moore

In a historic precedent for Vogue Spain, TV star Indya Moore became the first transgender woman to grace the cover of the magazine’s November 2020 issue. The cover image is striking and stunning. While Moore is looking directly into the camera, the viewer’s attention is drawn to her face and head by the grey gloves which emphasize and encapsulate her face. The contrast between her face and the grey gloves creates a perfect focal point for the image.

Editors and their staff are tasked with the challenge of making their cover stand out from a sea of competing titles on the magazine rack. Although 2020 was a challenging year for selling physical copies, a select number of copies were still able to make an impact.

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Book from MK Retouching with studies about the retouching lable Photographie retouchée

Presence analysis of the retouching label “Photographie retouchée” 2018

MK Retouching investigated popular fashion magazines on retouching labels in research in Paris. These were then sorted and evaluated according to their appearance. To visit Paris is unavoidable, as the access to resources in Germany is very limited.

For this purpose, various editions of the following different magazines (french edition) were examined several times.

  • Vogue Paris (No. 981, October 2017)
  • Vogue Paris (No. 982, November 2017)
  • Vogue Paris (No. 983, December 2017)
  • Vogue Paris (No. 984, February 2018)
  • Vogue Paris (No. 985, March 2018)
  • Vanity Fair (No. 52, November 2017)
  • Vanity Fair (No. 54, February 2018)
  • Elle (No. 3764, 9. February 2018)
  • L’Officiel Paris (No. 1021, February 2018)
  • Cosmopolitan (No. 532, March 2018)
  • Marie Claire (No. 787, March 2018)
  • Grazia (02.-08. February 2018)
  • Pretties (No. 31, February-March 2018)

Amount of Retouching labels

A total of 87 retouching labels were found on advertisements from 31 brands in the 13 magazines mentioned above, with the words “Photographie retouchée”, “Photographie Retouchée”, or “Photo retouchée”.

To get an idea of the amount of retouching labels from the start of the new legislation over a specific time frame, Vogue Paris was examined from October 2017 to March 2018. Other journals were used for comparison for general statements and as a cross-section of the current retouching label rate. Vogue No. 983 and No. 985 are available online, so a comparison to the online presence of the hint could also be made.


As already described, 31 different brands were identified that used a retouching label. The ones with the highest amount of retouching labels were Prada (9), Louis Vuitton (9), Armani (7), Saint Laurent (7), Michael Kors (6), and Lancôme (5). It can be seen that well-known brands, which are priced in the upper price segment, use body deformations in image processing.
Right from the beginning of the decree, the industry reacted and implemented the labels.

Further findings

The monthly editions have a relatively constant amount of retouching labels. However, in the March issue was a significantly increased number of labels to find. This could be attributed to seasonal fluctuations. However, a valid statement would require further long-term studies.
In Figure 1 it can be seen that in online issues and printed versions, both have retouching labels. It can be assumed that printed and online versions are identical.

Figure 1: Amount of retouching labels in different editions of Vogue Paris

For comparison, the following pie chart shows the number of retouching labels of the remaining magazines (this means excluding with a total of 31 retouching labels. The reviewed magazines are close to the last investigated Vogue Paris edition in terms of time and show a constant, but a significantly lower percentage of advertisements with retouching information. This may have its origin in the unique role of Vogue Paris since Vogue Paris is very attractive for advertisers.

Figure 2: Amount of retouching labels in different magazines on February/March 2018

Position in Magazines

Only in the first section of the magazine and on the last page advertisements are positioned. Articles and editorial sections (definition: artistic photo series in fashion magazines) can be found in magazines usually in the middle or at the end of the magazine. That means, by using the magazines chronologically, the consumer is confronted with the advertisements with and without the retouching labels first.

Layout integration of the Retouching label

By analyzing the advertisements, it was found that the retouching labels could only be found on full-page or even double-sided advertisements. The pictures took a lot of space accordingly. As seen in Figure 3, two thirds can be found in single-page advertisements. A single page was scored as such if the image was placed without protrusion to the accompanying magazine page. If an image was placed (partly) on two magazine pages, it was scored as a double page. Two photographs of one brand ad on the left and right page were scored as two single pages.

The origin of a higher amount of single image adverts is based on the fact that predominantly portrait format is used in photography (instead of landscape format). Reasons for the resolution of the images can be neglected since the quality of the advertisement images is usually very high.
A total of three advertising images were found, which were placed as a portrait format each on two magazine pages. These were rotated – the consumer had to turn the magazine to see the advert in the right perspective.

Figure 3: Size of advertising images that used a retouching label.

Placement on the magazine pages

Likewise, the placement of the retouching labels on the magazine pages was checked. As a reference point, the magazine page with the retouching label was used.

As shown in Figure 4, there is a strong preference for placement in the bottom left or top left. If the consumer focus on the left part of the ad or the left part of the magazine page, the chance of finding the retouching label is higher.

It is not clear if the placement follows a certain placement strategy. It could be the case that the reading direction or the distance to the retouched model are key factors for choosing a certain placement for the retouching label.

Figure 4: Placement of the retouching labels (magazine page as the reference point)

Furthermore, the hint has often been found near the fold and is hardly visible there. Also, with the placement vertically centered on the edge of a magazine page, the attention of the hint may suffer because the hand is often placed there to turn over the pages (see Figure 5 and Figure 6).

Figure 5: Example of a retouching label placed near the fold of the magazine (Vogue Paris, No. 985)

Figure 6: Possible placement for the hand on the magazine page by turning over the page (Cosmopolitan, No. 532)

It could be observed that the reference position was often placed as distanced as possible from the center or the model. In Figure 7 and 13 you can see that the model is located on the right page of the magazine, but the retouching label on the left one.

Figure 7: Distance between model and retouching label (Vogue Paris, No. 985)

Alignment on the magazine page

In this section, the orientation of the text is been discussed. It is much harder to read labels that are not aligned horizontally because they are contradicting the usual reading habits. Whether a retouching label should be placed vertically or horizontally is not clear from the corresponding legal text. Therefore, it is not surprising that, as Figure 8 shows, there is no clear preference for orientation in the advertising.

It was also noticeable that with vertical alignment of the retouch label, the rotation of the text can be found both 90°clockwise and counterclockwise.

Also noteworthy was the fact that retouching labels were surrounding by other information. Some were surrounded by website links, addresses, shop notes, or credits. In this case, the label is harder to find and therefore less noticeable during the search process (see Figure 9).

Figure 8: Alignment of the retouching label

Figure 9: Retouching label surrounded by the address of the brand (Vogue Paris, No. 983)

Average size

How big and legible is the average size of a retouching label in print? The printed retouching labels were measured. For vertical retouching labels, the longer side was defined as the width and the shorter side as the height to achieve a clear average. The average retouching label in the investigated print magazines was:

  • width: 26.1 mm
  • height: 1.7 mm

The typography of the Retouching label

Typographically, three parameters were examined. As can be seen in Figure 10, the majority of the retouching information in magazines consists of sans-serif fonts. Serif typefaces were only used by a few brands such as Lancôme and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Figure 10: Font classification of the retouching labels

Another effect on the readability and presence of the hint has the font set. While capital letters appear optically more giant and lowercase letters look smaller, the combination of the standard capital letter and lowercase letters are easier to read. By a short page-turning time or quick passing by billboards as in Métro stations, therefore, the standard capital letter plus lowercase letters would be recommended. Because the label is printed very small in its size and the label itself is very short, capital letters should also be an option when it comes to the intended perception of the hint. As shown in Figure 11, all three options were used almost equal. Small capitals were not found.

Figure 11: Font set of the retouching labels

If you take a look at the font style of the retouching label, the result of the investigation is clear: the retouching hint is predominantly to almost exclusively represented as a regular font. The exception is Lancôme (see Figure 12).

Figure 12: Font style of the retouching labels

Contrast values

Another aspect of the investigation was the contrast values from font to background. Almost half of the ads showed too little contrast. Examples of insufficient contrast between background and font were, for example: medium gray (font) – light gray (background), black (font) – medium gray (background), white (font) – light blue (background), white (font) – beige (background). Besides, in some cases, a busy background made it difficult to recognize the label. As shown in Figure 13, black lettering was placed on a grayscale brick building and is hardly recognizable due to its low contrast and size.

Figure 13: Example of bad contrast values (Vogue Paris, No. 985)

Mainly used product categories

As the last parameter, it was examined which products were advertised with retouching labels. Significantly ahead of all other product types were clothing or handbags. The category “Other” in Figure 14 summarizes the following three product discoveries: “hat”, “watch”, “lipgloss”.

The shown body parts of the models in the advertised articles tended to be significantly higher for clothing – or clothing, including bags (in contrast to jewelry, perfume, or eyewear advertisements). Overall, no other than the listed items (captured with models) were advertised in the magazines. That means, e.g., watch ads without models are included in the magazines, but those are not affected by the legislation.

Figure 14: Advertised products with a retouching label

Recognition value

Overall, there is only a low recognition value, since the reference in the positioning and design differs depending on the brand. In some cases, there were even different versions within the brands (different campaign styles). Labels within a magazine are therefore different in its appearance and must first be searched for. The same ads in various magazines are identical.

Effectiveness of the labelling obligation

The full assessment of the effectiveness of the retouching advice can only be made after a certain amount of time and further studies. However, it is already clear that the scope of the retouching label is limited to specific cases: Only advertising images are marked, excluding editorial model images that are very popular. Images in the back of the magazines are, therefore, without retouching labels, even if the models were actually altered in body shape. The question of the credibility and recognition of such retouching changes seems increasingly difficult and complex.

It is questionable whether these labels characterized by a certain passivity and casualness in the reception situation and the likewise decreasing observation time and intensity of an average of 1.5 to 3 seconds are even perceived.

Nevertheless, the new regulations in the motherland of fashion are one step towards new international beauty standards to protect young models from discrimination and anorexia.


Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.