I was joined today by Stefano Tonchi, W magazine’s incredibly charming, passionate and, of course, infinitely stylish editor in chief. He arrived impeccably dressed in a houndstooth check Valentino suit shortly before noon and because we had so much to talk about, we got down to business right away. Public relations director Adriana Stan had helpfully sent me a sampling of the 11 different covers of the October issue of W, which marked the magazine’s first “his-and-hers” issue. It’s also W’s third annual ‘Royals’ issue. But we’re not talking William and Kate here. Stefano and his team, as is their wont, took the concept and made it wholly their own.
W’s ‘Royals’ are comprised of 22 up-and-comers as well as ‘ hall-of-fame’ stars shot by Mario Sorrenti. On one side of issue, there is a female cover star ( Halle Berry, Priyanka Chopra, Irina Shayk, Elle Fanning, Jodie Foster and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). When readers flip the magazine over, there’s a male cover star (Chris Evans, Kit Harington, Kanye West, Ethan Hawke and Rami Malek) with an inverted logo making an ‘M.’ Clever, no? The sections are held together with an oversized Burberry poster … ahem, advertisement.
“The centerpiece of our philosophy is to make the magazine a collectible piece, something people will want to hold on to. Everything has become so disposable,” said Stefano after we’d ordered (Both of us had the Dover sole.) “You have to stand out.”
Stefano, who took the helm at W six years ago after a successful run as EIC of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, has certainly done that through some eyebrow-raising photography wrapped around an eclectic and intellectual mixture of fashion, art and culture coverage. “From day one my mission has been to keep the focus on fashion and great stories and create pillars outside of fashion like contemporary art.”
In short order he upped W’s celebrity quotient replacing the magazine’s longtime fascination with the rich and not necessarily world famous set and mixed in that all important ingredient — controversy. “We use a huge dose of celebrity and have made W more relevant for the entertainment industry.”
With magazines “swimming in an ocean of sameness” W likes to “contextualize” celebrities, featuring them in a way unique to W — and celebrities are always game. “Celebrities want to be on the cover of the magazine,” he told me. “There is something about W that provokes and sparks the conversation.”
Among his most memorable and successful issues — The Art Issue featuring a naked Kim Kardashian on its cover, shot by Barbara Kruger, with the strategically placed coverline: It’s All About Me. Inside there were several pages of nude shots of the reality star covered in silver paint. “It was about selfies but selfies didn’t exist then,” he told me. As for the avalanche of publicity the issue received when it hit the newsstand in 2010 and again when it was featured in a storyline on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Stefano said, “A naked Kim Kardashian is the gift that keeps on giving.”
W has had some pretty uncanny timing when it comes to scoring with celebrities. The magazine’s fashion layout in 2005 featuring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a happily married couple (RIP Brangelina) while they were shooting Mrs & Mrs. Smith made plenty of news. This past summer a photo of Tom Hiddleston in boxer shorts, which coincided with the buzz generated by his performance in The Night Manager, (and the eyebrows he raised by romancing Taylor Swift) generated some of W’s biggest numbers ever for page views online. “He would have made a great James Bond,” said Stefano, when I mentioned I thought his wearing that unfortunate ‘I Heart TS’ muscle shirt while romping in the surf with Swift and her pals dropped his cool quotient into the basement. “I want to surprise people. It’s a bit like open the magazine at their own risk.”
This month, having Mr. Robot’s surprise Emmy-winner Malek as a cover star proved both prescient and lucky. “We like to forecast,” said Stefano, who attributes much of the credit the magazine has had with it celebrity karma to Lynn Hirschberg, W’s editor at large. “She has an incredible nose and sees hundreds of films.” Hirschberg wrangled the talent for the Royals issues and conducted and directed the extended online interviews with the celebrities in the issue.
All of the buzz has added up to some big numbers. W, which has a total audience of 10 million across all platforms, is having a banner year in print and online, with a 15 percent bump in print advertising in the October issue versus last year. Digital revenue is up 160 percent; traffic is up 131 percent versus last year. The redesigned website gets 2 million unique visitors with nearly 11 million page views and 7 million monthly video views. W’s social footprint is also growing, with 7 million followers, including 2.1 million on Instagram.
The unique juxtaposition of celebrity and the art world (Remember the cover with George Clooney awash in polka dots?) has been a hallmark of Stefano’s W for a decade. For the 10th anniversary art issue next month Stefano promised, “We’re going to create some noise on the cover with two women who together have more than 100 million followers [on social media].” He wouldn’t disclose the names of these influencers, but we’ll find out at the end of next week when the issue hits newsstands.
Speaking of November, after we’d finished lunch, the conversation turned to the upcoming presidential election. Stefano, who was born in Italy, told me that Donald Trump’s ascension in politics brings to mind the career of Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax fraud in 2013. “He was a very successful businessman who went into politics and when he started talking about having sex with underage girls, other men thought that it was acceptable,” said Stefano. “With [Trump] people hear him talking a certain way and saying all these things and it becomes more acceptable to them. He talks about not paying taxes and then people start to think that’s OK.”
W’s November issue will also feature political posters created by artist commissioned by W as part of a fictional campaign. The magazine was part of the #OurVoteCounts initiative where over 50 women’s media brands teamed up with the goal of registering 100,000 women to vote in collaboration with Rock the Vote. Stefano told me this will be his first time voting in a United States election. “I feel empowered and happy to be voting,” he said as he sipped his espresso. The married father of twin girls (he and husband David Maupin reside in Manhattan) is excited about the prospect of seeing a woman in the White House. “To think about the men from countries [where women do not have equal rights] having to sit down and negotiate with Hillary [Clinton] is so exciting. To see a woman as the most powerful person in the world …. it is so important for our daughters to see that they can be anything they want to be — and that includes being president of the United States.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. PR power gal Susan Magrino and pals
2. Eva Mohr
3. Social swan Cece Cord
4. Keith Reinhard
5. Michael DelGuidice
6. Mickey Ateyeh and Bisila Bokoko
8. Television titan Rick Kaplan and Levi Straus’ Kelly McGinnis
11. Cindy Lewis
12. Shaun Woodward
14. Cathy Black
15. Lewis Korman
16. Matt Rich
17. Chris Shipman
18. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia — decamped from his usual spot at Table Eight — with legendary lensman Sir Harry Benson, his wife Gigi Benson and NYSD contributor Blair Sabol
20. Corry Hyer
21. Investigative reporter extraordinaire Diane Dimond and AMI’s Dylan Howard (“He’s a big wig there,” said Diane). When I stopped by their table to say hello, Diane told me they were kicking around ideas for their next television collaboration. Diane and Dylan collaborated on the recent special on the death of JonBenet Ramsey, which aired on Discovery and got record-breaking ratings. AMI produced the special with Harvey Weinstein and Jupiter Entertainment. Since AMI is the home of the National Enquirer, I just has to ask Dylan if they might be sitting on some interesting information (something on tape, perhaps?) about a certain presidential candidate. No comment.
23. Ivan Delgado
24. Robert Kramer
25. Brendan Cahill
27. Stefano Tonchi, Adriana Stan and yours truly
Faces in the crowd: Kira Semler and Vi Huse taking in the scene while sipping champagne at the bar. Cheers!
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.