Stefano Tonchi confessed that he never really read W before his appointment to editor-in-chief of the title earlier this year. At a lunch today at Condé Nast’s headquarters at 4 Times Square held to unveil Tonchi’s W makeover launching with the September issue, the editor said that he always flipped through the magazine, which he repeatedly called “image-driven,” but never spent time with the articles. That’s because there was never much to read in W, with much of the editorial content consisting of newsy bits derived from the magazine’s parent publication WWD. But the pictures were always fantastic, and Tonchi aims to maintain that, while adding a lot more words — hopefully of substance — to make W a well-rounded magazine in itself.
The September articles include ones we actually want to read, such as the piece on women getting plastic surgery too soon in life that compares Lindsay Lohan’s lips to “soggy hamburger buns”; an in-depth profile of Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci; and Caroline Weber’s first-person essay that notes that the curvy movement happening in fashion right now is really just an embrace of big breasts, not necessarily fat on other parts of the figure. So W finally feels like a magazine you want to take home and read, rather than something that will occupy too much real estate in your trash can moments after a quick flip-through.
Tonchi noted W’s unique position in the fashion-magazine marketplace. It must compete with other fashion titles, including sister publications at Condé Nast like Vogue, but isn’t a newsstand-driven publication like its competitors. The magazine is physically too big to fit well on newsstands, and therefore measures success in terms of subscribers. (The magazine’s size is not something Tonchi wanted to tamper with, in the interest of maintaining W’s stunning visuals.) But not feeling pressured to engage in the cutthroat newsstand-sale game allows Tonchi more freedom with his covers: He doesn’t need an instantly recognizable face to move issues and can give that slot to relative unknowns.
The September issue has three different covers and eight cover stars, young actresses Yaya DaCosta, Jennifer Lawrence, Greta Gerwig, Kat Dennings, Jessica Chastain, Emma Roberts, Zoë Kravitz, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The cover-story author, Lynn Hirschberg, W’s new editor-at-large after following Tonchi over from the Times, reiterated Tonchi’s view that magazine covers look too similar these days, adding that they want theirs to “feel alive in a different way.” And what better way than with two hot, young girls almost kissing each other?
Creative director Jody Quon, formerly photo director of New York, said they wanted to have one image of the girls in a kiss situation, and knew it would work best with the pair rather than the groups of three. Tonchi was pleased to point out that while this shot is provocative, none of the ladies are dressed provocatively. And indeed, you’ll find nary a puckered breast on the cover or the spread of the ladies inside the magazine.
The website relaunches next month and will begin hosting the screen-test videos Hirschberg used to do for the Times. Same content, different channel, as Tonchi described it. He hopes to turn W’s site into fashion’s YouTube — a (hopefully) groundbreaking online archive of fashion films, from things W produces itself to Dior’s latest commercial with Marion Cotillard. He’s not interested in a news-driven website, and made it sound like the magazine will remain light on web staffing for a little while.
So while the magazine feels plenty new, and plenty made-over, if not drastically, it’s not revolutionary. It feels like a girlier version of Vanity Fair, which is not a bad thing. It’s beautiful, it’s glossy, it’s fun to read and gaze at, but it’s still full of super-skinny, super-tall models, and gobs of clothes, shoes, bags, and vacations that most people can’t afford but land in fashion magazines everywhere. Tonchi and his team may have changed a magazine, but the system remains the same.