Typography is an image that means more than the words it spells. It communicates and grounds a magazine’s identity both visually and verbally, tying together its pages like brand-identity glue. For Vanity Fair, typography is particularly central to its identity.
Vanity Fair covers and spreads are often very text-heavy, and the various ways that the text is treated might make it seem as though an endless number of typefaces are being used. Yet, it maintains a uniform look throughout because Vanity Fair actually only uses three primary typefaces:
This typeface took over the VF nameplate in 2013 shortly after creative director Chris Dixon stepped in at Vanity Fair. It was a customized version of the clean and classic Didot typeface, stretched vertically to give it a fresher look. VF Didot is used most notably on the cover of the magazine, used in the nameplate and cover lines. The lines of text are set apart using different font sizes, colors, case sizes and italics. The nameplate and main cover line are always the largest sized texts on the page and set in VF Didot.
HTF Didot was created in the 1990s and has been used by Vanity Fair since before its redesign from 2011 t0 2013. The variations between VF Didot and HTF Didot are almost too subtle to distinguish, but work together seamlessly for that same reason. The Didot typefaces are used throughout the magazine, primarily as body copy in the feature well and longer articles, as well as drop caps and headlines. Didot works well to establish the formal tone of the long-form stories found in the feature wells of Vanity Fair issues. The two versions of Didot define the DNA of the magazine’s aesthetic – classic, elegant and flexible.
What was once the typeface for its nameplate, VF Sans is the main san serif typeface in Vanity Fair and frequently employed in the Front of the Book sections and for cutlines. The Front of the Book sections are more playful, gossipy and digestible than the rest of the magazine’s content. The san serif typeface helps establish a younger, “fresher” tone to match the content. VF Sans is also used for the majority of the cutlines to set such secondary information apart from the main coverlines and headlines. Since many of the cutlines are set in small font sizes, the san serif typeface is easier to read at such a small size than a mess of serifs would be.
Vanity Fair tends to use the same few typefaces within the magazine, but sets apart its departments by using display typefaces that are distinct but similar enough to the staple typefaces to seem related. I couldn’t find the names of the typefaces used for the department headings, but the Fanfair and Fairgrounds sections use a bulbous serif typeface, similar to Playfair Display. Vanities, the trend-heavy department, uses a typeface close to VF Sans.