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Stefano Tonchi putting his stamp on W magazine

The former New York Times Sunday Magazine style editor has shifted W's coverage to the luminaries of Hollywood, art and fashion.

January 23, 2011|By Booth Moore | Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
  • As part of its broader coverage, W magazine is examining celebrities in a cultural context.
As part of its broader coverage, W magazine is examining celebrities in…

A nude Kim Kardashian photographed full-frontal by artist Barbara Kruger. Katherine Heigl as the epitome of the new American family posing with her adopted Korean daughter on her lap. And starlet Rooney Mara, pierced and tattooed, with blood on her hands, for her role as "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Those are just a few of the arresting images that have graced the covers of W magazine since Stefano Tonchi took over as editor in chief with the September issue.

W has never shied away from provocative visuals. In fact, for many years that's pretty much all the magazine had going for it. (Remember Steven Klein's 2005 Brad and Angelina "Domestic Bliss" photo album, in which the stars played house in Palm Springs before they were officially a couple? Or Klein's kinky 2005 fashion shoot featuring Tom Ford in a ménage-à-trois?)

But now Tonchi is placing a premium on words too, filling his pages with surprising features about emerging celebrities such as Mara, a pair of London artists whose medium is food, and a teenage truffle importer from Fayetteville, Ark.

W, a Conde Nast publication, is "one of the most underdeveloped brands within the magazine world," said Tonchi, who was in L.A. recently to host W's first Golden Globes party. "I thought it could be a very strong general-interest publication for our generation [ages 30 to 50], in the way that Vanity Fair is for a different generation."

One needs a flow chart to keep track of all the masthead moves in the fashion and lifestyle magazine world over the last few months. Lucky, Bon Appétit, Town & Country, Vogue Paris and the New York Times' T magazine all have new leadership. But Tonchi's new gig has been one of the most carefully watched.

A native Italian, Tonchi launched T in 2004 after serving as style editor at the Times Sunday Magazine. Under his leadership, T increased to 15 issues a year, expanded internationally and won numerous magazine awards. Tonchi won't say much about why he left except that his bosses "didn't let us do what we wanted to do. They didn't want us to go forward."

W magazine was founded in 1972 to cover the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Only now, instead of chronicling the lives of Jackie O's friends, the society pages are devoted to the art and fashion cognoscenti at such places as Art Basel in Miami and the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual gala in Los Angeles.

Tonchi's partner when it comes to Hollywood coverage is editor at large Lynn Hirschberg (who also came from the New York Times), the veteran celebrity journalist who herself became a story last year when pop music artist M.I.A. protested her profile in the New York Times Magazine by tweeting the writer's home phone number.

Hirschberg is a character. At breakfast on a recent morning at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (which incidentally is where she got into hot water with M.I.A.), her red hair was piled high "as an homage to Andrew Garfield," she said. Clad in a black dress by Uniqlo, she announced that the Japanese brand is the only thing she wears that is not vintage.

Tonchi brought her on because she is one of the most committed people he knows, he said. And she has a knack for reading the zeitgeist. "She'll say it's all about children, it's all about blonds, it's all about the return of the normal guy, it's about old people who look young," he said.

So what's it all about now? "Young actresses who look like the love children of Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett. The new aliens, people like Rooney Mara, Saoirse Ronan and Mia Wasikowska," Hirschberg said. "They are inherently pale and they don't look like boys, but they are androgynous. And, as is so often with Hollywood, this trend is affecting fashion."

W aims to cover celebrities in a larger cultural context. For the family issue, the editors chose Heigl and her Korean daughter "to embody our idea of family," Hirschberg said. "If she were Doris Day or even an actress in the 1970s, it would have been a radical idea."

"Or think about Kim Kardashian," she said. "I love that she's not a stick and that her ethnicity is unclear and that she dates black men and it's not a big deal. The fact that a mainstream celeb is in an interracial relationship and no one mentions it, that's a change."

The publication's approach to covering fashion is both accessible and aspirational. The September issue featured a shoot based on the film "The Royal Tenenbaums," with Georgia May Jagger in retro bow blouses, pencil skirts and furs. There have also been stories about spray-on clothes, sweat-proof fabrics, and how difficult it is to follow in the footsteps of the influential designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Tonchi is relaunching the website as a clearinghouse for all kinds of fashion films, including runway-show videos, the avant-garde film presentation of Gareth Pugh's latest collection and the YSL commercial shot by fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. The site also features Hirschberg's "Screen Test" interviews with W's cover stars. "Think of it as fashion's answer to YouTube," he said.

But first, he has his work cut out for him in print: W magazine's ad revenue dropped 34% in 2009. Things are looking up, however. In 2010, fourth-quarter ad pages increased 2.8% over the same period the previous year. And if the magazine's glittering Globes party is any indication ( Katie Holmes, Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger and Mila Kunis were among those who stopped by), Hollywood is reading.

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