(NEW YORK) It ain’t easy putting out a fashion magazine for the richest people on the planet, but if anyone knows how, it’s Stefano Tonchi. His super-luxe readership loves what he’s doing, and if you’re honest with yourself, you know you do, too. He invited us up to his art-filled aerie to talk twins, reinvention, and the importance of aspiration.
BY CHRISTOPHER TENNANT
How’s fatherhood treating you?
It’s great. Really great.
What’s been the biggest adjustment?
I would say living with help, especially with two newborns. You’re used to being very independent and now you have all of these people in your house!
Any tips for finding good nannies?
Listen to friends. I took advice from a lot of friends, because they have lived with these people and they trust them. You avoid a lot of mistakes that way.
Are you exposing the twins to fashion?
I think when they get to a certain age they will have a style of their own. I will take them to work, to fashion shows, and to events sometimes, but right now they go to bed at seven and wake up at seven. They have three meals a day, and they are very happy. Routine is important. I have to say when people ask me about this I wonder if it’s politically correct. Would they ask a woman these questions?
We would, but point taken! How much traveling do you do?
We travel a lot because as the editor of a magazine like W you have to follow the fashion and be where the action is, which means Milan, London, and Paris two times a year for couture. You have to keep informed. We also follow art, which means both Art Basels and also Hong Kong in May. We do it to meet people and find stories. To understand that life you have to infiltrate a little bit, and with art there is a lot of that. In the last year we have also done a lot of coverage of Hollywood. The movie industry is important to the magazine, so we do Venice, too.
What’s W’s mission right now? Mr. Fairchild dinged you a bit last year for your emphasis on the art world.
The focus and DNA of this magazine is fashion—great fashion photography, and a great narrative to these images. That is about 70 percent of the magazine—you see a lot of great fashion images and narrative, different from Elle, Marie Claire, and Bazaar…
And Vogue, which has a great mix. I admire their mix and their narrative. But as Mr. Fairchild said, [W] is a magazine that wants to chronicle people—the rich and the famous, the old and new, and what is happening in society today. To do that you need to follow the interests of these people. In his day, it was Jackie O. and the swans and that whole group of Upper East Side ladies, and he followed them wherever they went. Today, who is society and what do they do? Well, go to Miami during Art Basel and that is where you will find these people. We cover art because art is the social currency of today, and our mission is to chronicle the time we live in and the interests of our readers. People like to collect and know about it; they like to see what other people collect and go inside their houses. They like to meet the artists so they can talk about them. It’s become much more popular than it was 20 years ago.
The term “aspirational” used to get thrown around a lot more in the magazine world. Do you feel like you’re manning the barricades?
I think it is very important to keep the dream alive. I think you need that dream. That is what this industry is based on—always wanting to be somebody that you are not, and letting people know that you have become that person. It is like a visual text message. But you can’t just be exclusive. You have to be inclusive. And I think what we have also done with the magazine in these two years is to make it more accessible. It is much more personal and there are many more voices. When I arrived here, at the front of the book there was one or two stories and a few single pages and that was it. They would stretch a story onto three pages! Now, the front of the book is really packed with lots of information. There is so much of the same out there when it comes to magazines. If you are going to have tons of pages with still lifes of red dresses, or blue dresses, or sparkling high heels people will not read your magazine. Anyone can go online and see themselves. You need a point of view.
Do Europeans do it better?
It’s the difference between a French or Italian café where you don’t have many choices versus Starbucks where you can have your coffee that tastes like chocolate. I think a lot of magazines have lost that mission. Editing is painful. You can’t make everyone happy.
At the same time, advertisers have never had more leverage. How do you strike a balance?
To start with, a fashion magazine can’t just be about clothes that are only available in three stores. You have to think about the things that are available everywhere. I want to give things space in the magazine, but it is also doing a disservice if that dress or whatever is not available to the reader. You don’t want to create false expectations. You call it the pressure of the advertisers; I call it a reality check. I want to put stuff in the magazine that is actually on the market. There is so much talk about the corruption that is going on in the fashion world and I think we should be a little bit careful. I don’t think other businesses are much cleaner in that sense, like the movie or sports industries. There are always insider deals, let’s face it. What is important is how you do it.
Your creative director, Alex Gonzalez, just left for Marie Claire. Was that a blow?
Alex has been a friend of mine for 20 years. I was looking for an art director and he heard about it and called me up. He came up with a consulting contract and was helpful with focusing on the fashion DNA of the magazine. He also gave me a lot of confidence. I have been very thankful for Alex, and I’m happy for him and his new gig. We’re going to have lunch next week, in fact. But Johan [Svensson] is going to do a wonderful job.
Any chance he could up the font-size in the FOB?
I think he’s going to make everything bigger—bigger product, bigger pictures. He has a great aesthetic.
You have a reputation for bringing in ad pages. What’s your secret?
I come from Italian Condé Nast where you are very responsible for your magazine. You need to make it successful or else you shut down. I think now the reality is also hitting the American magazines. If you are not profitable, you are not going to keep your job. Profitably makes you free, and then you can do whatever you want in your pages. I have a mind-set that is very market-oriented, and our advertisers are also our readers, so it is a partnership in a way. It doesn’t mean that you are corrupted. The relationship has changed, and it is no longer possible to have that church and state kind of mind.
Why didn’t T work out for Sally Singer?
I think they misled her. And not everybody is made to be an editor in chief. To be an editor in chief is to really be a brand manager. It is not enough to be a good editor and get great stories and get photographers you think are great. You have to run a business behind it, and you have to run the personnel stuff. You have to make yourself a leader and inspire them. When Sally was at Vogue, Anna [Wintour] really managed and dealt with a lot of bad things. When you are second in command, you are much freer and you can make statements and be more of an idealist. You don’t have to dirty your hands. That being said, they hired her to do the opposite of what they said. They pushed her to do the opposite of what I was doing, and then later they accused her of not doing what I did.
You weren’t always in the top slot. How did you learn?
You have to have a point of view and believe in your point of view and get a group of people who also believe in it, too. It’s not just about the salary, getting a title, or sitting in the front row.