Branding the magazine world
LONDON: Fast-forward to April 5. It is just before 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning but there is a party going on - a "queue party," a frenzy of beautiful people waiting to enter Abercrombie & Fitch's London store.
At least that is the plan, devised to launch (read: hype) the American casual wear brand's latest "hero product." Not an "It" bag or trophy sunglasses (both so 2007).
No, the fuss and fanfare will be for the return of A&F Quarterly, the in-house fashion magazine that was dropped in 2003 after protests about its racy - some critics said pornographic - content.
The "magalogue" - a catalogue dressed up as a magazine and usually mailed free or distributed in retail outlets - is having a moment.
In Uniqlo Paper, there is photography by Terry Richardson, modeling by Devon Aoki and an exclusive interview with the actress Chloë Sevigny. H&M Magazine has bagged Corinne Day, the photographer who discovered Kate Moss, and a Sienna Miller interview, while Abercrombie & Fitch has returned to form with the fashion photographer Bruce Weber (so expensive that U.S. Vogue is said to afford him only twice a year) and no "product" shots in the 200-page hardbound publication.
The result is much more magazine than catalogue: Read it and weep, Vogue.
"These brands are working harder than you might expect," says Jeremy Leslie, author of the book "magCulture." "With ambitions beyond just selling product, they're much more sophisticated than a glorified catalogue."
Funding is straight out of the marketing coffers, although many have a - usually disregarded - cover price (to "look like a proper magazine," admits one editor).
For many, including Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M's new sister COS and the British eco-chic brand Howies, the magazine actually is in place of advertising. One insider estimates budgets of £150,000-plus, or $295,000, an issue (though Howies and Acne Paper both say they come in at less than six figures, estimated in pounds), with which they can afford the best contributors and production.
"Whatever they cost," says Leslie, "magazines are a cost-effective way of communicating brand values. It's a natural move: all want content about themselves out there. The consumer then takes a great wad of marketing home with them - the magazine brings the brand to life."
A flick through e-tailer Asos.com's deliberately derivative Glamour-esque magazine reveals all the current celebrity and music references (including a Gwen Stefani interview), plus "Get the Look" features and catwalk trends in among Asos merchandise.
"It can't just be about dresses these days," says Matt Setchell, Asos's creative director. "There's only so much you can do on a homepage. We wanted to do something physical that showcases our collections but with a more authoritative, editorial edge to it: a monthly fashion bible. It's how people shop now. It's a lot more powerful than an ad in a magazine."
What of journalistic integrity, though? At Uniqlo, for example, there are boardroom orders to promote key products, and contributors are advised of a ban on anything "political, violent or vulgar"; it also pays its interviewees. However, as Nicola Formichetti, fashion director for both Uniqlo Paper and Dazed & Confused, points out, such restrictions also apply to newsstand glossies: "Magazine editorial is dictated by advertising but there's also less time and less money."
This movement heralds the next step in brand power: editorial autonomy, and there also is the brand-as-lifestyle trend. "A&F Quarterly is all about lifestyle," says Tom Lennox, its vice president of corporate communications. "It's a lifestyle that encapsulates confidence, privilege, intelligence, beautiful people, sex and humor."
Increasingly, fashion journalists who have been working on the best glossies are being headhunted.
Take Uniqlo Paper: "Everyone comes from a magazine background," says the editor, Matt Eberhart, who previously edited Vice magazine in New York (and says he is "glad" to no longer to be on a Vice salary).
With experienced staffs, the publications' creativity is steadily rising. "It's a competitive market, so the more creative the better," says Natalie Massenet, founder of the fashion e-tailer Net-a-porter, which publishes Notes each fashion season.
Notes's focus on what Massenet calls "entertainment" includes quotes from the fashion editors of Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar and fashion designers's inspirations - for example, Rick Owens's reading list and Miuccia Prada's favorite motto. Meanwhile, Acne Paper is including other brands' fashion alongside its own.
"We think it's more interesting when Acne is shown next to other labels," says its editor, Thomas Persson. "Hopefully people perceive us as interesting rather than this pushy brand magazine."