The young designer trembled in her high heels.
“I’m nervous,” fretted Whitney Port, the belle of MTV’s “The City,” as she girded herself before heading into a firing squad of Elle magazine editors.
“Joe has so much power, you know what I mean? Like, if he doesn’t like my collection and thinks that it doesn’t have potential then it’s almost like, what am I doing in this industry?” Ms. Port said, referring to Elle’s creative director, Joe Zee.
They say the camera adds 10 pounds. But in Elle’s case, MTV is making the women’s style magazine look like an 800-pound fashion world behemoth.
Elle, perhaps more than any other magazine, has embraced television as a way to enhance its brand and broaden its audience. In 2004, the magazine’s fashion director at the time, Nina Garcia, appeared on the first season of Bravo’s “Project Runway” before anyone knew it would be a success.
A job at the magazine was the top prize on the CW reality show “Stylista,” which ran in 2008 for just one season. Later that year, cameras from “The City” were invited into Elle’s offices on the 44th floor of Paramount Plaza in Midtown. They have remained there pretty much ever since.
On “The City,” Elle’s latest exercise in cross-media pollination, cast members like Ms. Port routinely wring their hands over winning the approval of Elle editors. They angle for favorable coverage on the magazine’s pages. And they discuss what is being featured on the magazine’s Web site so often that the words “Elle.com” are uttered almost as much as “like” and “you know.”
Elle has certainly met its fair share of criticism for welcoming the crude medium of reality television into an orbit occupied by Anna Wintour and Giorgio Armani. But the magazine’s editor, Robbie Myers, is having no second thoughts.
“People judge everything you do in fashion. Everything,” Ms. Myers said in an interview last week from her corner office high above Midtown Manhattan. “So we learn to live with that.”
Ms. Myers embraced the idea of working with television networks early on, even after other magazines passed on the chance to be a part of “Project Runway.”
“I thought it was a good idea for us to do ‘Project Runway.’ That was not necessarily the popular view around here. But my feeling was that we should be in as many mediums as we could be as a brand when appropriate,” she said. “We want exposure.”
For Ms. Myers, the ultimate measure of success is in the numbers. Elle says that its audience in print is up 35 percent among women ages 18 to 24. Though print circulation in May was relatively flat compared with the same month a year ago at about 1.1 million issues, the magazine’s overall audience, including traffic to its Web site, has grown.
The magazine is certainly exposed in more ways than one on “The City,” which has attracted an average of 1.6 million viewers so far this season. There are often close-up shots of the Elle logo inside its main office. Computer screens in the background display Elle.com. Magazine employees like Ms. Myers, Mr. Zee and the public relations director, Erin Kaplan, are frequently shown on screen, introduced by graphics that display their name and title at the magazine.
Cast members frequently talk up the magazine’s influence with the same reverence and awe that most fashionistas reserve for Vogue, to which Elle has long played second fiddle.
“Television is still the most powerful medium to get your brand out there,” said Liz Gateley, MTV’s senior vice president for series development. “And I think Robbie is a smart enough editor to know the power of the medium.”
Magazine and reality television partnerships have become increasingly popular. Teen Vogue paired with MTV in early seasons of “The Hills,” which spun off “The City” in 2008.
Marie Claire, now the featured magazine on “Project Runway,” took part in the show “Running in Heels,” which featured three of the magazine’s interns. And MTV worked with Rolling Stone for a show called “I’m From Rolling Stone,” which followed interns for the magazine as they competed for a shot at a job there.
But the pairings are not always successful or long-lasting. “Running in Heels” and “I’m From Rolling Stone” ran for only one season. And the partnership between Teen Vogue and MTV lost its appeal after the girls on “The Hills” who worked at the magazine, one of whom was Ms. Port, started to grow up.
“As we were going into the fourth season, the girls were getting older. They were going to bars. They were meeting guys,” said Amy Astley, the Teen Vogue editor in chief who ended the magazine’s relationship with “The Hills” after three seasons. “And Teen Vogue is very wholesome.”
Fortunately for MTV, Elle is not as wholesome. A subplot on “The City” is the catty infighting at the magazine between the publicity director, Ms. Kaplan, and a part-time accessories editor.
Ms. Myers said she is not concerned that some of the more unpleasant aspects of a workday at Elle will reflect poorly on the magazine. “I think we are very aware what makes interesting television,” she said.
Ms. Garcia, who left Elle for Marie Claire after “Project Runway” moved to Lifetime and picked up Marie Claire as a sponsor, said that many magazine editors would balk at opening themselves up to the cameras. But she added that regardless of the drawbacks — overexposure of certain editors and putting the less glamorous aspects of the business on display, just to name two — the power of television trumps any misgivings.
“It helps tremendously,” she said. “At the end of the day, it is getting the brand out there.”
credit - Jeremy W. Peters @ nytimes.com
photo credit: mtv
~Kelli at Hills Freak
photo credit: mtv
~Kelli at Hills Freak