Even with the first big holiday weekend of the summer just days away, the faithful still flocked to Michael’s today for their Wednesday power lunch. Before I sat down to talk to W magazine’s EIC Stefano Tonchi and Lucy Kriz, the magazine’s publisher and chief revenue officer, I met with Nelson Aspen, showbiz editor for the North American bureau of Seven Network Australia. Nelson rang me up several weeks ago because he was interested in doing a television segment with me on why Michael’s is such a media/celebrity hot spot — especially on Wednesdays. We have our suspicions. He also asked me which of the Lunches I’ve done that have been the most memorable. Although there are too many to mention after nine years of dishing with A-listers, I told him my chats with Charles Spencer, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Downton Abbey’s executive producer Gareth Neame, actress Lesley Nicol (aka Downton’s Mrs. Patmore) and Naomi Campbell were among my favorites.
Today’s Lunch was equal parts substance and style — and a lot of fun. I was thrilled to meet Stefano (who arrived five minutes early and, of course, impeccably dressed) since I’ve been a fan of his forever. In his five years at the helm of W, he’s elevated the longstanding luxury title which had veered into somewhat esoteric territory before his arrival, and made it relevant and exciting once again. “We have taken fashion, which was at the center of the magazine, and put it into a larger context,” Stefano told me. Just last month his decision to put 77-year-old Jane Fonda on the June/July cover set off a social media firestorm. The incredible photographs by Steven Meisel garnered praise from the actress who tweeted: “I never felt more beautiful.” In the lengthy, in-depth interview (the kind that W does so well) the actress opened up about a myriad of topics including her three marriages and her evolving self-image, kicking off “a larger conservation” that discussed why “beauty is no longer an age issue,” said Stefano.
Taraji P. Henson, whose breakthrough role as the fabulous and fierce Cookie on the hit Fox show Empire has landed her smack dab in the middle of the media firmament, graces the cover of the August #PopIssue, which officially comes out July 14. No matter that there is another magazine which shall remain nameless which also boasts the actress’ visage on its latest cover. “It’s not about being first,” Stefano insisted. “It’s about making something our own. We like to do things differently.” And they do. I got a sneak peak at the issue, where the actress gets the full W treatment. The sensual imagery (some of which have already appeared online) are breathtaking and evocative of another powerful African-American woman. “I was envisioning Diana Ross with the photograph of water streaming down her face,” said Stefano of one of the most striking images in the portfolio.
But there’s a lot more than great photography and bold styling that has made W a must-read for a certain type of luxury obsessed reader. When I told Stefano I’ve long been an admirer of W’s celebrity features, he told me: “Some of the subjects are surprised at the depth of our involvement.” This usually involves multiple meet-ups with stars in their homes, on the set — whatever is going to make for the best interview. “I always say we want to do the story we want, not the story you’re selling me.” Hear Hear!
As for W’s reputation for creating head-turning images of actresses that are often at odds with their tried-and-true red carpet look, Stefano said: “We are very lucky to be able to take risks. Every actress is willing to do something different for W.” Long before other fashion magazines were clamoring for Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Margot Robbie for their covers, W “discovered them,” giving them valuable exposure that enhanced their star power. But models are still very much a part of the mix. W recently launched the first-ever model search on Instagram, #WmagModelSearch in partnership with IMG Models. Aspiring models entered on Instagram and on wmag.com. The winner will be featured in the September issue and signed by IMG Models.
Clearly, this is not your mother’s W (although plenty of them are still faithful). Lucy told me the magazine is a must-read among the all important audience: affluent millennials. “The magazine is number one for growth in the millennial segment over the past five years,” she said. Under Stefano’s direction, the magazine also has a huge social media following. Taraji’s cover story has garnered nearly 1 million Instagram likes (and more than 20,000 comments, favorites and retweets) since images began appearing online last week. While Stefano is clear that print is and will remain the heart and soul of W (“We make a product that makes money—a lot of it—and it is something real you can touch”), he is keenly aware of the importance of digital in attracting readers and evolving the brand. “Digital is about having a conversation,” he said, evoking one of his favorite words when discussing W’s relationship with readers. “We are at a very important moment. Websites are important for certain readers but for millennials, they have become less important and social media is the way they get their information and video is a very important part of storytelling.”
W’s Art Issue has also become increasingly important to readers and advertisers alike. “Today art is social currency,” said Stefano. “We go where our readers are and they are at Art Basel, in London, Venice, Aspen, at the Prada Museum and other important art shows all over the world.” W Art, launched as a brand extension in 2014, is now the largest art publication in the world, with a circulation of 125,000. But Stefano is not averse to going more mass than class if the situation warrants it. You might recall that W’s 2010 Art issue got plenty of publicity when a spray painted and silvery Kim Kardashian appeared naked (of course) on the cover. “We were the first ‘upscale’ magazine to put her on the cover. She was (and is) the most controversial women on the planet, so there was backlash but she was also the most successful woman on television at that moment. She defined reality television. This was pre-selfie [era] and it was not about her, it was about what was going on in society as a whole.” As for Ms. K’s protestations that she didn’t know she was going to appear naked in the magazine, Stefano told me: “I was on the shoot and she was naked from the moment we started. She came around eventually.”
2015 has been a banner year for W, as it marks the third consecutive year of print advertising growth for the magazine (which saw double-digit increases in the fashion and retail categories, and doubled its auto business). W has achieved more than 50 percent growth in digital revenue and 25 percent growth in print revenue over the past three years. Lucy said “escape ordinary” is W’s overarching message, which highlights the magazine’s mission to “do things differently.” Stefano pointed to the eight pages of advertising from Gucci in the August issue as a testament to the strength of the magazine’s position in a very crowded fashion field. “When Gucci launched a new, more artistic look that was not the glossy look of the past, they chose W. Eight pages is significant.” Indeed.
Once lunch had been cleared and while we nibbled on a plate of cookies (See, fashion people do eat!) we indulged in some fashion gossip (sorry but it’s OTR) and I asked Stefano why he thought W is having such a moment when other print titles are struggling. “Today you have to be global to succeed. W has one voice,” he said. Within that one brand, he added, “You have to take risks. I talk with many CEOs of companies and they tell me now is the time to take risks. You have to reach outside of your comfort zone. Today, the power lies with the creators of content, not the collectors.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. My pals Diane Dimond, PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky and Jennifer Bristol, with birthday boy Brian Balthazar.
2. Shelley Zalis
3. ‘ Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and George Ferias
4. James Cohen
5. Herb Siegel
6. Casting queen Bonnie Timmermann
7. Susan Aronson
8. Jonathan Wald and The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin
11. DailyMail North America CEO Jon Steinberg and Hollywoodlife.com’s Bonnie Fuller
12. The Wall Street Journal’s Anthony Cenname
14. Andrew Stein
15. Ralph Destino
16. Mort Janklow and Gillian Lester
17. Clifford Press
18. David Poltrack
21. Will Manuel
23. Teddy Moran
25. PR maestro Todd Goodman
27. Stefano Tonchi, Lucy Kriz, Adriana Stan and yours truly
We’ll be off next week hopefully enjoying some good weather. See you back at Michael’s in two weeks. Hope your Fourth is full of fireworks!
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.