I would hope most people have had a moment of seeing a stranger and getting a good feeling. It might be their style, their action, the way they speak, or something so intangible it just presents itself as a feeling. There's a shadow of familiarity in them. You might be brave enough to catch their eye; you want to see if they're worth reading. They have only two options: reciprocate and invite conversation, or avert the gaze away and decline further access. It is the process in which we discover and interact with people and things; intrigue and risk. This evocative stranger is the cover girl of a magazine.
Eye contact is underrated and powerful. If somebody asked you to picture a magazine, you're most likely to conjure an image of a face. It's a tactic and a choice which personifies the product, makes it approachable and easier to fall into the hands. It is used on music, men's lifestyle and photography publications, but most of all, women's lifestyle and, trumping all categories, fashion.
Whether it is a sultry stare or wide-mouthed smile, this person personifies their product. When you lock eyes with a mag, and the gaze is sustained it is an invitation to leaf through: discover what this person has to say; with whom she associates, what her interests are; even where she eats and especially what she wears. The cover girl is the collective and has to convey the entirety of the issue or at least enough to get you to part the pages.
Within, it can be hit and miss. Whatever coyness was portrayed on the cover to entice the reader must either be continued as a playful personality trait of the issue or rectified with the clarity of laying itself bare. Many have been misled, finding themselves underwhelmed or immediately disinterested by an expected style not carried through. It also works the other way, too, with an unassuming cover girl unveiling vibrant typography, luscious photography and impeccable design. It is everything you've ever wanted and more; you only had to ask.
The cover girl is at once obtainable, unattainable and aspirational. She is, and therefore the magazine is, everything you are and want to be.
Using a famous woman on the cover makes the process more linear, such as The Gentlewoman's use of its illustrious interviewees (Kirsten Dunst, Zadie Smith, Sofia Coppola, to name a few recents). Most of the time, anonymity creates relate-ability, allowing the potential buyer to project themselves onto the model; Peppermint is especially good at this. The vast world of fashion is a mire of It Girls, fresh faces and seasoned pros; their eyes are widest, even in their half-shut effortlessness.
The cover girl is at once obtainable, unattainable and aspirational. She is, and therefore the magazine is, everything you are and want to be. The articles suit your interests, those interviewed are people you've never known you wanted to know so much about, the photography has an attitude that inspires. When done well, she is the perfect introduction. Very often she doesn't speak the whole truth, but there's a difference between creating anticipation by withholding information and lying.
As described in FRANC, a model needs a character and on the cover it gets to headline the performance of the magazine; she got your attention, but she might not be the thing that clinches the deal. If you judge a book by its jacket, you judge a magazine by its face and the cover girl bears the brunt. She's not going to appeal to everyone, she might not typify the magazine before you've opened it, she might be outright lying, but, right or wrong, she's there for a reason. She's caught your eye.