Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesdays at Michael’s by Diane Clehane

W’s Stefano Tonchi on Fashion Week, The Trump Effect and ‘Talking’ Magazines

Stefano Tonchi, Diane Clehane and Chris Mitchell
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Welcome to Wednesdays at Michael’s! The faithful, fabulous flock has returned to 55th and Fifth after their summer break ready for action. Judging from the looks --and sound -- of things around the dining room, there were plenty of big doings being done over Cobb salads around the room. Today was a mix of talking heads (Kathie Lee Gifford, Ron Insana), media machers (Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff) and politicos (Democratic booster Robert Zimmerman and former ‘right’ hand man Paul Manafort (really!) Starting this week, I’ll be reporting all the latest dish from the media hotspot for Lookonline.com, one of the longest running sites to cover fashion and society. I’m really excited to reach an even larger group of influencers and I hope you’ll help me spread the word about my new online ‘home.’

With Fashion Week in full swing, who better to lunch with than W’s editor in chief Stefano Tonchi and the magazine’s chief business officer Chris Mitchell? The dynamic (and impeccably dressed) duo took time out between shows to talk business (theirs is quite good, thank you very much) and weigh in on the state of print (better than you might think – for some), retail (undergoing a massive shift) and fashion (rapidly evolving into something much more experiential).

Speaking of experiences, Stefano told me last night’s Ralph Lauren’s show, held at the designer’s sprawling estate in Bedford was one for the ages. Attended by some 600-plus editors and influencers, the show was staged in the garage where Lauren stores his multi-million-dollar collection of classic cars. It was a social media bonanza. “Everyone wanted a picture with the $40 million Bugatti.” I’ll bet. Today’s savviest designers know “everything is a social media opportunity” and “everything is designed to be an opportunity [to be posted on] Instagram.”

“The secret of social,” said Chris, is really understanding which platforms to leverage with each initiative. “What works on Facebook doesn’t work on Instagram.” One thing is for sure, it’s made Chris and Stefano’s jobs a lot more interesting. “This is a fascinating time to be in this business,” said Chris. “There are challenges to the print model but there are challenges in every business. I think when people say the old days look good it’s only because they were simpler.”

Fashion Week has certainly evolved from its bygone days in Bryant Park but is still “very relevant” said Stefano, even if its mission has somewhat changed. “It’s more about [the merging of] fashion and entertainment” or rather “entertainment using fashion as an excuse” for media coverage. “Other night I was sitting in the Armory, what has been the temple of high fashion – Marc Jacobs used to show there – I was there to see Rihanna for Puma. I thought fashion is not for the few, it’s for the many. Fashion has never been more popular.”

Even if showing in New York is not. The election of Donald Trump, said Stefano, has caused “a little exodus” from the city to Europe because some designers “want to show in a place more tolerant.”

Inclusiveness has been a hallmark of Stefano’s vision for W and his enthusiasm for the magazine and it’s ‘Three Ds’ – disruption, diversity and discovery – is infectious. “They are part of the DNA of W!” Even in an industry chock full of visionaries, rarely have I met someone so inspired and inspiring with a breadth of knowledge of fashion and all its nuances. Stefano just knows fashion. He and public relations director Adriana Stan arrived with an armload of September and October issues -- all works of art in their own right. The September issue with a futuristic Katy Perry on its cover literally came to life before my eyes (more on that later).

The October issue, W’s fourth annual “Royals” issue spotlighting those who are “classic” (meaning over 40 or thereabouts) royalty and “new” (younger) royalty in film, television, fashion and society just hit the newsstands. The ten different covers featuring five men and five women spotlighting a diverse (there’s that word again) and surprising range of talent including new royalty “Renaissance Person” Pharrell Williams, an incredibly youthful and classic newly minted television star Winona Ryder, Tilda Swinton, James Corden, Tracee Ellis Ross and Jared Leto. I thought the inclusion of Ray Romano as “classic” television royalty was an inspired choice. In the portfolio by W “celebrity guru” Lynn Hirschberg, Romano, who has gravitated to darker, more flawed characters since “Everybody Loves Raymond” ended, told Hirschberg that he has to keep stretching in order to outrun his good guy sitcom persona. “I have to keep moving,” said the actor, “Or I catch up with myself.”

The ten-cover campaign, explained Stefano, “gives us access to ten A-list celebrities” which is beneficial to both sides of the equation. “A-list celebrities want the cover,” he explained. “No one wants [to be featured in] just digital. They want beautiful pictures and the print experience.” The digital component of the package includes twenty-five videos “screen tests” with all of the featured celebrities.

With Stefano at the helm, celebrities have never been depicted in W’s pages with static images that air-brush every trace of character (or flaws) from the famous faces. This, as they say, is not your mother’s W. “We some celebrities in a way that they have never been seen like before,” said Stefano. I’ll say. The October issue features twenty-five celebrities in a portfolio of arresting images like Marc Jacobs lounging in a fur coat and high heels. But there is a method to this madness, explained Stefano. “It has to be the right celebrity at the right time, in the right context.” And context is key to W’s success. “It is more important than ever to set ourselves apart from the marketplace,” said Stefano.

While W is clearly one of the few print books that can claim collectible status, it is equally innovative (if not more so) in the digital realm. Rather than bemoan the changes that it has brought to the business Stefano and Chris have embraced them as new forms of audience engagement and revenue streams. Over the past year W has had record-breaking audience growth. The magazine is up 44 percent in total audience with a head spinning 92 percent increase in mobile web and a 72 percent uptick in video.

“We are all living through the digital revolution,” but Stefano believes we will eventually “come to a place where it all balances out.” Both Stefano and Chris agree that there is a new emphasis on “experiences” but that doesn’t preclude print by any means. “Print will continue to evolve,” said Chris who, incidentally, does double duty at Conde Nast where he has the same title at both W and Vanity Fair – and oversees fashion and luxury sales for Conde Nast. “We lean into the large format [of the magazine]. We want to give people something to read. With all of the changes [to the business] magazines no longer have to be all things to all people. Magazines can be collectible pieces.”

At W, the marriage of print and digital has resulted in one of the most innovative and engaging experiences I’ve ever seen in from a magazine. While we were having our coffee, Stefano took out his phone to show me how the W app brought the cover and several different stories in the September issue to life. After scanning the cover image of Katy Perry, the singer started “talking” through what is called augmented reality. Perry also drives a car and sings in a portfolio in the magazine. There’s also another portfolio of “talking” streetwise models in immersive video. This crazy, fun magazine experience is the result of a collaboration between Stefano, photographer Steven Klein and the creative tech agency, The Mill. You’ve really got to see it to believe it.

In and around the dining room: Jack Myers and the cast of the new “Page Six” television show including my former People magazine colleague Carlos Greer on Table One …. Table Two: Mickey AteyehAndrew Stein on Three … The Today Show’s Kathie Lee Gifford looking good and sipping chardonnay on Table Four … Allen & Company’s Stan Shuman on Five … Robert Zimmerman on Six … CNBC’s Ron Insana on Eight … Dr. Robi Ludwig on Nine … Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff on Table 14.

More sightings … From the ‘What Me Worry?’ Department: Paul Manafort arriving at 2 o’clock for lunch on Table 16. Quest’s Chris Meigher on 21 ... PR maestro Tom Goodman and Glenn Roberts on 25. Chanel’s Olivier Stip on 28... Celebrating September at the bar: Liz Wood, Kira Semler and Vi Huse.

- Diane Clehane

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