Readers might not have noticed, but the bitterness of Toronto’s newspaper fashion-page wars came close to the surface in an incident last year. Jane Hess at the Toronto Star was so eager to scoop The Globe and Mail on an interview with Oscar de la Renta that she cornered him over the telephone and printed her interview a week before the designer set foot on Canadian soil. The Globe was not pleased.
Fashion is one of the newest contestants in the city’s newsprint clashes, which have grown increasingly heated over the past four or five years. Toronto readers have been assaulted by the Star’s new Sunday and morning editions, the Globe’s beefed-up Report on Business and Fanfare sections and The Toronto Sun’s splashier color photography and personality columns. “It’s a constant series of running battles,” asserts Gary Lautens, managing editor of the Star. Says Roy Megarry, Globe publisher: “The Toronto market is
clearly the most competitive news-
paper market in North America.”
Competition has never been fiercer on fashion news, a beat once considered so frivolous it was relegated to the back pages alongside society news. Despite the recession, fashion has proven to be such an alluring magnet to newspaper advertisers that the three Toronto newspaper fashion sections have continued to assail readers this fall with more than 20 hefty pages of dramatic fashion layouts, interviews and tips every week. “The fashion section equals escape,” says Lautens. It also equals increased readership. The Star claims its fashion section may be responsible for the additional 10,000 paper sales each Thursday.
The stage for today’s sartorial skirmishes was set more than two years ago when all three papers squared off with their new sections—the Star’s Fashion 80, the Globe’s Fashion section and the Sun’s Imagination. It was a response to what newspaper editors believed was a growing interest in fashion. During the 1970s more and more women took to the work force, necessitating greater inter-
est in extensive wardrobes. As a result, such high-fashion shopping areas as Hazelton Lanes flourished. As well, Toronto found itself in the position to make strong claim to the title Fashion Capital of Canada as such Montreal
fashion talents as designer Hugh Garber and Debbie Shuchat fled to the city in the wake of political and economical instability in Quebec.
The byproduct of these new priorities is a new breed of news-oriented fashion journalists. Unlike the genteel matrons of the 1950s and ’60s, whose copy read like promotional fluff, today’s fashion writers are expected to meet the same standards as reporters on any other beat. In keeping with this orientation, Toronto’s fashion writers are not averse to a little clawing to get an occasional scoop. “If there’s an exclusive story to be had, I want it, and I’m steely about it,” says the Star’s Jane Hess. “I think the Globe was probably white with rage when I got exclusive interviews with Candice Bergen, Sophia Loren, Diane von Fürstenberg and Richard Avedon when they each came to town.” Over at the Globe, rival Beverly Bowen refuses to admit defeat at the hands of Hess on any of those counts. “An exclusive can have such a limited effect in most cases,” she claims. “But if she had landed an exclusive interview with Ralph Lauren [who recently opened his first Toronto boutique], then I would feel the Globe was beaten.” Barbara Cole at the Sun, however, isn’t about to let either of the other two dailies take any undue credit. “We were the first to start a fashion section in
fall ’78,” she sniffs, “and we had been doing it for two years when the Star started patting themselves on the back for being first.”
Toronto’s designers are still learning how to exploit this rivalry to their advantage. Swimwear designer Daniel Storto says he recently gave a scoop to the Globe and was later called a “fink” by an irate Star writer. Designer Robin Kay-Rothberg got caught in the squeeze last spring when both the Globe and the Star demanded the first story on her new knitwear collection. The Star’s Hess informed Kay-Rothberg that her “relationship with the Star would be irreparably damaged” if she refused to co-operate. The Star got the first story.
Despite the burdensome costs of fashion pages (color section pages cost a minimum of $1,000 to produce, model fees can climb as high as $400 to $500 a day, and trips to Europe and New York can run into thousands of dollars), newspaper editors believe the outlay is well worth the return in fashion advertising dollars. A typical advertiser pays about $8,000 to buy a full-page ad in the Star’s fashion section, $6,600 at the Globe and $2,000 at the Sun.
Fashion wars with the fierceness of the scrap in Toronto are not a Canadian norm, but they could become so in the near future. In Edmonton the battles are intensifying between the Edmonton
Journal, with a regular Sunday fashion section, Flair, and the Edmonton Sun, with a monthly supplement called Sun Woman, focusing on beauty, fashion and fitness. Competition also remains healthy in Montreal—long a bastion of sophisticated fashion reportage. “I felt intensely competitive with The Globe and Mail when it was distributed nationally. I used to grab for it and feel like I had been kicked in the pit of the stomach. It just looked smashing,” says Iona Monahan, fashion editor of Montreal’s The Gazette. “However, I still am very competitive with La Presse. Its fashion coverage has grown to five or six fascinating pages.”
Despite their success, Toronto’s fashion sections are feeling the recessionary pinch. The Globe and Mail discontinued color photography in all departments this summer and also curtailed national distribution of the fashion section. The other dailies have cut back freelance budgets and travelling and will have to rely more heavily on newspaper wire services.
Nevertheless, editors are reluctant to pull any major plugs. As Lautens points out: “Fashion doesn’t have higher priority than the Middle East war. However, if we had to send a fashion reporter to Europe, well, I wouldn’t sell my children, but I might sell the office furniture.”
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