Magazine review: 8) VITALS woman #1, Spring 2005.

I’m no professional, but I have observed that short-lived magazines are either designed to fail (bad management or marketing) or a design failure (simply ugly-looking).


Inaugural issue.


VITALS WOMAN (referred as VITALS in this entry) had top-notch editors and diverse content laid in spectacular art direction, backed by the mammoth Fairchild Publications. So what caused this magazine to fold in just four issues?

The cover has all the mainstream magazine trappings; big random numbers, exclamation marks, how-tos, face of a A-List celebrity… it blends into the sea of glossies on the newsstand. And then you turn to page 4 (there are only two ads after the front cover) to see what happened in the making of the Hilary Swank’s shoot…


Shoot details.


… which hints you the way VITALS operate – everything in this magazine has a price tag. The captions state what’s in the picture as well as the contact of the stockist.


Clean cut.


The table of contents takes up three pages and are not arranged by page number nor category, highlighting some of the features in the issue. So it’s not much of a use for navigation, but more of a preview of what’s to come. Great use of colour and elegant typographic treatment.




VITALS is headed by Joe Zee, also in charge of the men’s edition that was released the previous year.


Source of content.


There’s list of contributors page, and then there’s VITALS list of contributors page. You won’t get any background stories here; contributors answer random questions, and if it happens to contain products, VITALS attaches the price and where to get it. Here you’ll find Paul Ritter, resident art director confessing his guilty pleasure (Shania Twain’s Greatest Hits, $14;


At your service.


Editor-in-Chief Joe Zee knows what it’s like to panic over how to get fish and chips delivered to a publicity office by noon. Luckily he is in touch with an ever-resourceful concierge to handle the job, who also inspired the spirit of VITALS: a trusted guide filled with the best resources.


Section intro page.


Signs reports the latest runway news and fashion trends, designers of the moment, and ‘It’ items to covet.


A pictorial walk-through.


In this spread, writer Meenal Mistry researched how Oscar de la Renta comes up with a Spring collection from the get-go. The process wasn’t told in a sweeping, wordy essay that most readers would skim past. This spread resonates with the nature of a casual magazine reader; they only want to know the important facts with supporting images – fast.


Bright and shiny x 2.


You know how you see something complex, like a map or an embroidery, and end up wondering how it’s made? This perfect composition of accessories caught my attention for a good few minutes.


Know your pearls.


As if pearls don’t look expensive enough, the black background made everything looked much more unaffordable. The breakdown of pearl types and maintenance helped in increasing my trivia knowledge.


Remedy for the cold.


The raw source and the finished product.


It’s a surprise to find a recipe for hot toddy in the beauty pages. As well as the phone number of a Dutch florist that sells a particular flower infused in a Viktor & Rolf perfume.


The culture digest.


What would a VITALS reader be if she’s not informed of the best portrait artists and what’s showing at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum this spring? The Culture Clash section packs music, performing arts, film, books and design. Gripe: I don’t agree with the feature Cheat Sheet: Asian Film, which only covers film from East Asia. An ignorant generalisation.


Travels captured on film.


The following lifestyle-centred section goes beyond where many other women’s magazines stop. Holiday snapshots from Diane von Furstenberg‘s Contax T3 unofficially puts her as an ambassador for the camera. In this age, this spread would be replaced by her Instagram feed.


Groceries, nicely framed both inside and outside the fridge.


This spread teaches to use the fridge as a general storage where bottles of perfume and beer can sit in harmony with caviar and baking soda. I enjoy how they feature a fridge with a glass door and recommend fridge-arranging services.


Societal studies.


Society pages are the basis of most gossipping sessions at the hairdresser’s. But normally, all you can learn off the page are the socialite’s names. VITALS took it a step further by inserting observations that happened during the event. The haphazard placement of images, some candidly-shot, conveys the excitement of the event.


Looking through another’s workspace.


Play voyeur as photographer Craig Cutler captures the workspace of Judy McGrath, then-CEO of MTV Networks.


For this shoot, Joe Zee did the styling.


The sparse design did a good job in bringing out the luxury of space, compared to the jam-packed treatment seen in preceding pages. And the beautifully-shot portraits of Hilary Swank has a photorealistic painting quality to it.


Where to blow your spare USD5 million.


The property section made VITALS stood out from other run-of-the-mill titles, I believe. The editors understand that designer items and luxurious holidays aren’t the only thing the readers spend their money on.


Still life with designer furniture.


Fashion from the mid 2000s are hardly memorable. I didn’t have good thoughts on the fashion editorials in this issue. However I am loving the look of this homeware stills. Either they are miniature, or a special lens was used to photograph them.


How to extend your articles.


VITALS reserved its final pages for the 411, an extension of selected articles that appeared in the magazine. A mix of fun facts and how-tos.


A shopping assistant on standby.


“Wouldn’t it be nice for every reader to have a personal shopper?” Those words may have started the idea for VITALS Valet. This concept lets the reader place an order and the team will contact the vendors on the reader’s behalf.


From Beatles song titles to rhyming acronyms.


No detail can escape my watchful eye. These little footnotes / wayfinding keywords are cheekily-themed. It’s one of those design elements that many won’t take note, and surprise those who do.


Everything is in order.


Paul Ritter has truly mastered the art of setting lines. No matter how crammed the page is with information, the lines keep everything in its place.


Nuggets of info.


The colour-coded section indicators have a fun fact attached, in relation to the content of the page. I’m easily thrilled by it.


Flip through.


This is my longest post to date, but only because there are too many things I want to highlight. So why did VITALS end its run so soon? My amateur opinion is that it was too ambitious of a project that did not have a sustainable, long-term plan.


Magazines before the age of social media were different. They didn’t have the strength of followers who can boost the circulation, even though they can’t afford most of the the products featured. This can be compared to Monocle, which fans would voluntarily promote the magazine by integrating it to their ‘curated lifestyle shots’, to be viewed by thousands of strangers (who will turn into readers/subscribers). If VITALS existed ten years later, their livelihood could be buoyed by this kind of passive publicity.


To sum this up, VITALS teaches me a lot about how a magazine can be more than just a collection of stories and photos when the writing treats the reader like a valued client. The presentation is perfect, the research is thorough. VITALS ticks all the boxes in my list of what makes a well-rounded magazine.

If you are aware of other titles that are just as great, do leave a comment.


Further readings:

VITALS art direction via Paul Ritter 

Winning the Internet: Joe Zee Talks Print vs. Web via Racked 

My short review of VITALS MAN via tumblr 



ISSN: 1553-9822

Issue: 1

Pages: 202

Editor-in-Chief: Joe Zee

Cover photography: Michael Thompson

Origin: New York

Cover price: USD4.95

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