W’s Stefano Tonchi on Jane Fonda, Taraji P. Henson and the Art of Shooting Kim Kardashian

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaels 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.

Stefano Tonchi, Diane Clehane and Lucy Kritz
Stefano Tonchi, Diane Clehane and Lucy Kriz
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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.