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Gay Talese’s Basement
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by Wesley Wade
“Bordering on Genius” is the headline of an article in the premier edition of Men’s Vogue, the newest magazine from the Vogue franchise under Anna Wintour. The story takes a look at two picture framers who are considered leaders in framing “any masterpiece, from a Monet to a Marden.” This and similar stories indicate the level of refinement expected from the magazine’s readership, including expensive tastes in tailor-made apparel and luxury real estate, among other things. However, in spite of Vogue’s long standing as a cultural barometer, it remains to be seen whether its male counterpart will join the elite group of “genius” men’s glossies or, instead, the long list of men’s magazines that have failed to capture the American male’s interest without blatant displays of sex and wily gadgetry.
The pilot issue of Men’s Vogue, the only one that had been released in time for this review, has George Clooney on the cover. The prominence of white and gold in its color palette and the staid typography befit its target audience: men 35 or older with a take-home salary of $100,000-plus. Instead of serving as a “how-to,” the magazine assumes its reader is already accomplished.
It debuted on newsstands in September of 2005 with 400,000 copies, plus an additional 200,000 freebies sent to a select group of men culled from Condé Nast’s subscription list. Having surpassed the goal of 100,000 sold at newsstands, publisher Thomas Florio gave the green light to make the magazine a quarterly in 2006 and a monthly in 2007—despite the recent failure of Vitals, a pair of men’s and women’s shopping magazines out of Condé Nast’s sister company Fairchild Publications.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Ned Martel, deputy editor of the magazine. “We sold 195,000 on the newsstand alone, which is greater than any premier issue of any of Condé Nast’s publications.” According to Martel, because men’s magazines in general have grown much younger and hipper, they have alienated a number of older men. Men’s Vogue seeks to take advantage of this neglected market.
Unlike GQ or Esquire, which long have been dominant among men’s lifestyle magazines, Men’s Vogue “presents options” and “answers practical concerns,” Martel said, rather than covering what’s trendy and cool in men’s fashion. “Our magazine is about the conversation you would find among certain men, a discussion of politics, sports, business and culture, and secondarily about goods that make sense.” The goods—whether they make sense or not—include a $79,000 table designed by the London-based architect Zaha Hadid, a $170,000 grand touring sedan from Bentley Motors and a wristwatch from Vacheron Constantin priced above $1.5 million.
The magazine does have editorial quality. Its articles range from a feature on the supercilious English pastime of shooting (not hunting, as the writer warily explains) to a profile of the Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer. The editors have divided it into five departments: “Critics,” “Threads,” “Architecture and Design,” “Regimen,” and “Features.” “Threads,” dedicated to fashion, includes a feature on Lapo Elkann, the grandson of the Italian automotive tycoon Gianni Agnelli, who recently inherited his grandfather’s signature Caraceni suits. Under the “Feature” category is a profile of the contemporary American artist Walton Ford, whose paintings of animals and other nature scenes fetch as much as $300,000.
Though Men’s Vogue is created for an American readership, nearly all the articles seem to reflect a European sensibility in their depiction of luxury and diversion. I’m therefore not surprised that the magazine’s face of sophistication is a very white one. Of the 44 editorials, only three feature men of nonwhite ethnicities, and all of them are brief. One introduces Tony Leung, a prominent Chinese actor in the film 2046. Another previews the forthcoming CD of Brazilian samba singer Seu Jorge. And the lengthiest, at just over 650 words, is a one-page take on David Adjaye, a black London architect who’s now gaining acclaim stateside.
In spite of the magazine’s shortcomings, however, it knows what it is and what it is about, unlike some of the men’s magazines spawned during the boom in male consumerism in the past four years. The short-lived men’s Vitals, which by Martel’s definition was a “magalog”—more catalog than magazine—failed after four months because it wrongly presumed that men would purchase a magazine solely to indulge themselves with luxury goods. A younger yet similar Condé Nast magazine, Cargo, which identified itself as “the hype free guide to all the products guys want,” folded in March, two years after its much-hyped debut. The surviving Best Life, a spin-off of Men’s Health published by Rodale Inc., dedicates itself to “what matters to men”—their careers, family and themselves. What matters to the men picking up a copy of Men’s Vogue, at least in the view of its editors, is a sense of belonging to an exclusive group. Think country club. As it tries to appeal to a certain breed of men, it’s also aimed at a certain breed of advertisers—those who market products that would seldom appear in other men’s magazines, such as a $31,000 platinum phone by Vertu and an $11,500 pair of gold-and-sapphire cufflinks by Longmire.
In an era when a magazine’s longevity is so dependent on advertising revenues, perhaps Men’s Vogue will strike gold. Considering the market it targets and the level of sophistication it projects, that combination strikes me as “genius,” if not quite Vogue.