Archive for October, 2020

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Magazine covers in 2020 have featured Black subjects three times more than the previous 90 years

October 16, 2020

Today, a first-time visitor to a newsstand would see something long-sought: a mainstreaming of Black people into American life.

This article that I wrote with two of my colleagues at the School of Journalism and New Media appeared on Poynter’s on Wed. October 14. Click here to read the entire article on Poynter’s website.

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L’Officiel’s First-Ever Global Issue Launches To Focus Not On What Divides Us, But What Unites Us – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Contributing Global Chief Creative Officer, Stefano Tonchi…

October 6, 2020

“I think that change has been in the making for a long time. The fact that now we are also very connected to our local communities, but at the same time very open to the world, thanks to the digital revolution and the Internet; I think the change is here to stay. I don’t think anybody can think about going back to the magazines that preexisted before. I’m lucky in that I have always worked in very open-minded and inclusive environments, thinking about The New York Times Magazine and W. And now I want to bring that message into L’Officiel, without losing the Frenchness of the brand.” Stefano Tonchi…

For a century now, L’Officiel has served as an official voice of fashion, beginning as an elegant base for French Couture in Paris and evolving into a collection of international publications. The very first issue, in Fall 1921, was already in 3 languages—French, English, and Spanish, and today L’Officiel publishes 31 editions with distribution in 80 countries. L’Officiel’s social media footprint is 21 million followers, including new growth across Italy, France, and China, among other markets and on digital L’Officiel has 40 million total page views across its global network in 2020 (up 12% vs 2019). Fashion, both past and present has always been the deciding voice for the brand.

With the launch of its very first global issue, L’Officiel seeks to foster a constructive, respectful dialogue across cultures and continents, races and genders. And no one better to lead that dialogue that the brand’s Chief Creative Officer, Stefano Tonchi. As the former editor of W, Stefano forged ahead with diversity and inclusivity as staunchly as he did with good fashion. And he is the epitome of fashion, on both sides of the Atlantic.

I spoke with Stefano recently and we talked about this great new journey before him with L’Officiel and how he wants to create “a unique and global voice” that emphasizes its Eurocentric and French sensibility and point of view, but bring new audiences into the fold too. Such as Americans who want to find that global voice to speak to their communities. It’s an intriguing challenge that Stefano is more than up for.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who knows good fashion and knows his way around that world, Stefano Tonchi, contributing global chief creative officer, L’Officiel.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he approached launching the very first global issue of L’Officiel, a brand that is known worldwide and that is 100 years old: First of all I did a little bit of research and tried to understand what the DNA of this brand is. How it was started and how it had been run by almost the same family for the last century. It has really always been a magazine focused on the industry of fashion and that was something that was very small and insular in the 1920s and the 1930s. It became a part of popular culture by the 1980s and the 1990s. And today it’s a very powerful part of the media, I would say, within communications. It’s a place that so many people are using to send political and social messages. So fashion is much more than just clothes, for sure. It’s always been, but today more than ever.

On his decision to have one black and one white on the cover of the first global issue of L’Officiel: I work with a creative director that has been in the communications and advertising industries; he is a very talented Brand-man, as I would call it. We also talked about a brand that doesn’t speak only to the U.S. market; it talks to many different markets. Places where the ratio issue is lived a different way. So, I wanted to bring a message of inclusivity and a message of elegance and calm. That’s why I thought to have two young talents, racially different, was the right message for this cover.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face since coming to L’Officiel: When you start working with a brand that has a long history, somehow that history is very pleasant, but can be a real problem as well, because the past brings a lot of memories and a lot of stories, so you have to be considerate. It’s like when I went to work for Esquire, so many times I would think, when you have a brand with so much history, the past can become your enemy, because you can never be at that same level of that past.

On whether they will continue to publish L’Officiel in English: Yes. We are going to have the U.S. edition as a print product eight times per year, focusing on different themes. But it is a brand that believes in digital for every day too, so we have a website that is in the process of being redesigned and relaunched with a new digital director, Josh Glass. So that will be what we have in the U.S. And the same kind of structure will be in France and in Italy, where they will also have eight print issues per year. And most of the content of these issues is created in communion together. We have a lot of editorial meetings with the people in France and Italy.

On which role he thinks L’Officiel will play globally, an initiator or a reflector of culture and people: Probably in the U.S. more of an initiator, in terms of the American audience not being really used to consuming global content, especially when it doesn’t come from Los Angeles or New York. It doesn’t have the same resonance in their lives. Our audience is an audience that loves Paris, is interested in a certain kind of European lifestyle and point of view. So that’s what makes L’Officiel’s audience to begin with. But at the same time, we want to also tell stories that are relevant to people in the U.S., so you always have this balance between some continents that are more global and some that are more national.

On what he thinks the future holds for L’Officiel: I think the production of digital content will be increasing, geared toward digital communication. People are going to use and get more and more of their media information from their phones and from other digital outlets. So we will create more content with an integration also of product and messages from the advertisers in different ways. The relationship between editorial and advertisers is changing, that’s for sure.

On why he thinks a reader would pick up L’Officiel over another fashion brand: I think the reason to go to L’Officiel is because the audience wants to have a more global point of view, a more international point of view. For sure someone who is attracted by L’Officiel is already somebody who is looking at Europe, thinks about Paris and a very bordered cultural experience. Someone who thinks about Europe as a reference point and wants to incorporate that knowledge and news into their feeds.

On anything he’d like to add: Visually, I’ve tried to bring a certain kind of elegance and quietness to the design. I didn’t want to surprise too much. I really wanted to establish again this idea of something elegant, clean, understandable, common ground, and from there maybe start an innovation and a revolution.

On what keeps him up at night: These days I have a lot of problems sleeping, because I have to talk so much with Europe and China. China keeps me up because usually my meeting with the Chinese partners are at 4:00 a.m. because of the 12 or 13 hour time difference. It’s a time schedule problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stefano Tonchi, chief creative officer, L’Officiel.

Samir Husni: As a content creator and curator, you’re now at a magazine that has a century under its belt. Next year L’Officiel will celebrate 100 years. How did you approach launching the very first global issue for this brand that’s known worldwide?

Joshua Glass, Stefano Tonchi, Anthony Cenname, photo by  Emily Soto

Stefano Tonchi: First of all I did a little bit of research and tried to understand what the DNA of this brand is. How it was started and how it had been run by almost the same family for the last century. It has really always been a magazine focused on the industry of fashion and that was something that was very small and insular in the 1920s and the 1930s. It became a part of popular culture by the 1980s and the 1990s. And today it’s a very powerful part of the media, I would say, within communications. It’s a place that so many people are using to send political and social messages. So fashion is much more than just clothes, for sure. It’s always been, but today more than ever.

I looked at that history and looked at how this brand, this publication, always wanted to be international. The first issue in 1921 was already in French, English and Spanish. So they always had the idea of talking with the world from Paris.

Now the magazine, especially in the last 20 years, has been expanding and opening outposts all over the world. Some are owned by the company and some are licenses. They are in Ukraine, in Turkey, China, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. I think it will be in Chile very soon. So, they kept that kind of international vision.

I came in and I was asked to handle all of these different identities together that the magazine has developed over all of these years, especially internationally. And I’m trying to create for them a common ground and a common language, especially visually. But not colonizing from Paris or from New York, but really involving all the editors in this process. At least right now, the ones who are closer to me and that I can work with daily for the magazines that are totally owned by the holding. That means France, Italy, Brazil, the U.S. and a few others. And then talking to the other companies and the editors in chief in those countries.

So, for me, it’s very important to define global as almost a collaboration, as a common space to work in and not as creating content in Paris or New York, then distributing it on a global scale.

Samir Husni: We know that things are changing in the magazine world, and for the first time, in at least my history of tracking magazines, there is so much diversity in magazine covers. You name the magazine, from fashion to Bible study magazines, to sports; all of them have this amazing cover diversity. You had been doing a lot of that in W. In fact, W was probably one of the most diverse magazines when it was under your tenure. Why do you think the time is now for such diversity? Or do you think this is just a blip on the radar and everything will revert back once this pivotal moment in time ends?

Stefano Tonchi: I think that change has been in the making for a long time. The fact that now we are also very connected to our local communities, but at the same time very open to the world, thanks to the digital revolution and the Internet; I think the change is here to stay. I don’t think anybody can think about going back to the magazines that preexisted before. I’m lucky in that I have always worked in very open-minded and inclusive environments, thinking about The New York Times Magazine and W. And now I want to bring that message into L’Officiel, without losing the Frenchness of the brand.

It’s very easy sometimes to think about global as being something that is very bland with no identity. So, it’s like how can you create an identity that has a relevance in the local community as much as it has a global appeal? And that’s really the challenge.

Samir Husni: I see that for your first cover you went with two people, one black and one white. Can your share your thinking behind that decision for this first global issue?

Stefano Tonchi: I work with a creative director that has been in the communications and advertising industries; he is a very talented Brand-man, as I would call it. We also talked about a brand that doesn’t speak only to the U.S. market; it talks to many different markets. Places where the ratio issue is lived a different way. So, I wanted to bring a message of inclusivity and a message of elegance and calm. That’s why I thought to have two young talents, racially different, was the right message for this cover.

Samir Husni:  Since you took this position at L’Officiel, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it? Or has it been a walk in a rose garden for you?

Stefano Tonchi: When you start working with a brand that has a long history, somehow that history is very pleasant, but can be a real problem as well, because the past brings a lot of memories and a lot of stories, so you have to be considerate. It’s like when I went to work for Esquire, so many times I would think, when you have a brand with so much history, the past can become your enemy, because you can never be at that same level of that past.

So, a brand with 100 years of history, you have to kind of restart. It’s almost like you have to find a common ground from where you can erect a new building. So, the challenge has been to put together a new team. And I had really just started to think about what to do when we went into lockdown in most of the west. And it was really difficult to communicate and to try and hire people to do projects, talk to photographers remotely.

But we did it and I was surprised in a good way that we were able to put together this magazine totally remotely. I still have not seen a print issue. That is the first time in my life. I’ve seen only the digital reproduction. All the decisions were made onscreen. All the assignments were made onscreen and all the editing and all the photography. So, it was a very interesting process, because mentally we are used to first putting together the print issue and then distributing it digitally. This was like reverse print. We created something that was totally digital with a digital strategy behind it and then we will see the print version as almost like an added value. Something very special. Something that was the final result and came after.

The old idea of how to rethink a magazine has to do with having a digital strategy. We need to think in a way that isn’t about a monthly. I said that a long time ago at W. about how you have to move away from a monthly or weekly kind of publishing schedule.  We have to focus more on larger themes and create almost like platforms where you put together your content and you distribute it in different ways. L’Officiel has a platform for women’s wear, one for men, art, and one for entertainment. And they all live at the same time. They find moments when some of this content is published into an actual print product, but they all live more as platforms focused on specific thematics.

Samir Husni: Are you going to continue publishing L’Officiel in English?

Stefano Tonchi: Yes. We are going to have the U.S. edition as a print product eight times per year, focusing on different themes. But it is a brand that believes in digital for every day too, so we have a website that is in the process of being redesigned and relaunched with a new digital director, Josh Glass. So that will be what we have in the U.S.

And the same kind of structure will be in France and in Italy, where they will also have eight print issues per year. And most of the content of these issues is created in communion together. We have a lot of editorial meetings with the people in France and Italy. We put together a schedule of the stories we want in the issue and we use the resources where they are, so if we’re doing a story about a French designer, the French team will take care of it. If we’re doing a story about someone in the U.S., the American team will handle it. So we use our contributors all around the world.

It’s also a financial solution, in terms of one of the biggest problems for magazines that operate on a global scale is the duplicating of the resources, such as having two fashion directors, three editors in chief, two IT directors and so on. We are trying to use the best resources where they are. For L’Officiel, we have very strong digital and technical teams that are based in Italy. We have a very strong fashion and visual team based in Paris, casting director, fashion production. We have journalistic and pop culture features that are based in New York. So, we take the best from the company and try not to duplicate the jobs.

Samir Husni: You’ve always been a force for inclusion and glo-local, bringing the global to the local communities. Do you think the magazine audience at large, regardless of the platform, is going to find more of that mentality, that they are going to engage more with magazines like L’Officiel because it will reflect their own personalities or do you feel you will be more of an initiator than a reflector?

Stefano Tonchi: Probably in the U.S. more of an initiator, in terms of the American audience not being really used to consuming global content, especially when it doesn’t come from Los Angeles or New York. It doesn’t have the same resonance in their lives. Our audience is an audience that loves Paris, is interested in a certain kind of European lifestyle and point of view. So that’s what makes L’Officiel’s audience to begin with. But at the same time, we want to also tell stories that are relevant to people in the U.S., so you always have this balance between some continents that are more global and some that are more national.

In Europe, especially between France and Italy, there is much more of a community of cultural references, so there is a lot of content that they share. But they still have very specific features that are of that market. And don’t forget, everybody has a different language too.

Samir Husni: As you move forward and settle into this position, and hopefully the pandemic will be behind us, along with the elections, and as we move toward a new spring, what do you think the future holds for L’Officiel?

Stefano Tonchi: I think the production of digital content will be increasing, geared toward digital communication. People are going to use and get more and more of their media information from their phones and from other digital outlets. So we will create more content with an integration also of product and messages from the advertisers in different ways. The relationship between editorial and advertisers is changing, that’s for sure.

I think what is very interesting and what will be driving the future is how much can we know about our readers. Data managing is really one of the big issues here. We did a little bit of an  experiment in our own small world, our L’Officiel world. We created a portfolio with the most wanted accessories from the fashion season. We asked readers on Instagram 300 questions and we got 600,000 responses. The questions were like what kind of product do you like; what do you like from one brand and what do you not like from another brand. And we collected a lot of information that we read and analyzed. We put together a feature with the 12 greatest accessories for the season chosen by our readers.

So, it’s a combination of data, editorial choices, because don’t forget, the first selection is by the editors. I’m going to create a series of questions and that is already an editorial decision, what kind of questions. So, it’s not really user-generated content, it is editorial-generated content. But the users, the audience, have the opportunity to express their opinions. And then you have again the editors who are going to look through this material and analyze it, and then bring out things from the analytics, but also from the feelings behind it. So, it’s a combination of data and editorial knowledge. That’s what is interesting. How will we combine it? And that’s something that only a magazine brand can do.

Samir Husni: If you could give me only one reason a reader might pick up the print magazine, L’Officiel, or go to the website or the social media outlets you have out there, from an array of other fashion magazines and digital sites, what would that reason be? Why will they choose L’Officiel instead of another fashion brand?

Stefano Tonchi: I think the reason to go to L’Officiel is because the audience wants to have a more global point of view, a more international point of view. For sure someone who is attracted by L’Officiel is already somebody who is looking at Europe, thinks about Paris and a very bordered cultural experience. Someone who thinks about Europe as a reference point and wants to incorporate that knowledge and news into their feeds.

So, in a sense it’s a little less U.S. centric and more globally centric, but it’s also the new position that we have to take as Americans. I’m American and I think if America wants to play the game on a global scale, they have to start to listen to global voices. They can’t just dictate the conversation, that was the past. The future is going to be a dialogue with the rest of the world if America wants to talk about the global field in the future.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Stefano Tonchi: Visually, I’ve tried to bring a certain kind of elegance and quietness to the design. I didn’t want to surprise too much. I really wanted to establish again this idea of something elegant, clean, understandable, common ground, and from there maybe start an innovation and a revolution. But I think it’s nice when we can find that kind of visual common ground with understandable typography and images in  a language that explains what you’re looking at. We have sometimes been taking too much for granted. And I think it’s nice to step back before going too far, so we know where we are.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Stefano Tonchi: These days I have a lot of problems sleeping, because I have to talk so much with Europe and China. China keeps me up because usually my meeting with the Chinese partners are at 4:00 a.m. because of the 12 or 13 hour time difference. It’s a time schedule problem.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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