Media: The man who says he won't be a lad
Dylan Jones promises to return the gentleman to the pages of GQ with a classic formula. By Paul McCann
Tuesday 06 April 1999
It's not just his suit which makes him seem ideal to step into the hand- made shoes of departed demon editor James Brown. Biographers often fall into the trap of looking only for events which foreshadow their subject's eventual fame. But with 38-year-old Jones it is difficult to resist the feeling that everything which has gone before was preparation for being editor of GQ.
He attended Britain's hippest colleges - Chelsea School of Art and St Martin's School of Art (as it was then) - at the height of punk, and took very hip courses in photography and graphic design. After he graduated, he ran nightclubs for two years, a time he describes obliquely as "my period of bad behaviour".
In 1983, he joined i-D which, with The Face, was the first of the style magazines, and he quickly rose to become editor, before being asked by Nick Logan, founder of The Face, to become contributing editor.
"It was a great period," he says of the early Eighties. "Lifestyle journalism was in its infancy and it was great fun working on those magazines because you lived and breathed the lifestyle. Now lifestyle is part of mainstream culture and is serviced by lots of magazines, newspaper sections and TV programmes. The Sunday Times didn't have a style section in the early Eighties. We were at the forefront of that stuff. Admittedly it was very hedonistic, and it was a lot of fun."
After The Face, Jones moved to its sister title, Arena, the first true men's lifestyle magazine, where he was first features editor, then deputy, and then editor until 1992. He did, as he has said, "ride the yuppie wave" throughout the Eighties.
In 1992, he was poached from Arena by The Observer where he worked on its then luxuriant magazine section. When the paper was taken over by the Guardian group, he moved to The Sunday Times magazine. After a brief stint there, he returned to Nick Logan and his company Wagadon as overall editorial director. Here he had the only black marks on his career: he oversaw the launches of Deluxe and Frank. Deluxe was a lad's magazine for more intelligent twentysomethings which closed after only a few issues. For Frank, he hired all the original staff, including departed editor Tina Gaudoin. Frank now sells only 35,000 copies a month and is tipped for closure.
For the last 18 months he has been editor-at-large for The Sunday Times where, he confesses, he has had a fine time: "It's the only job I've had since I started journalism where I haven't been totally office- bound - I've been a journalist. I was having so much fun I wasn't anticipating going to do something like GQ. But opportunities like this are so rare, it's too good an opportunity to turn down."
The opportunity has come about because of former editor James Brown's very public departure after producing an issue of GQ which featured several prominent Nazis on a list of style icons, and pictures of a blood-splattered nude model in a bath. Equally importantly, the magazine's circulation had fallen from 148,000 to 132,000 under Brown. The award-winning editor of Loaded, which revolutionised men's magazines, Brown had been expensively brought in because publisher Conde Nast wanted better sales, but he had proved too revolutionary for it to handle.
Jones is seen by many in the magazine industry as a safe pair of hands following the Brown ructions. "This is bowling the ball straight down the middle of the wicket," says one industry insider. "He's a kind of ur men's magazine editor."
He maintains that he is not a dictatorial editor - he describes, in an aside, a former editor who gave his reprimands loudly on the newsroom floor as a "pig" - and has no plans for a wholesale clear-out of staff. But the quality of the magazine's features, he believes, needs to be urgently improved: "It always sounds very pompous when you try to describe any editorial vision. It's not rocket science. You just have to have good ideas that are written well by good writers.
"With GQ I'm going to be bringing in an awful lot of journalists from the broadsheets. There are a lot of great journalists who aren't working on magazines at the moment and they're going to be working for GQ. What I want to achieve with the magazine is to make it like a mass-market broadsheet - we want to be covering intelligent subjects in a populist way and populist subjects in an intelligent way - all presented with urgenc and vibrancy."
But there is to be no relaunch, nor radical changes. Instead Jones, who believes James Brown's major mistake was to throw the baby of old GQ out with the bathwater, plans quiet evolution.
"I don't have a problem with photographic images of women. I think that there were perhaps a few too many in GQ and perhaps they weren't of the right sort. But I certainly don't have a problem with that morally - it is an intrinsic part of the whole package.
"When we were doing Arena in the early days 10 years ago, it was almost impossible to put women in the magazine because then you were actually trying to say to people: this is a new type of men's magazine. Because at that time the only other type of men's magazines were pornographic magazines. Now the culture has shifted. Women will probably not be as scantily clad and I won't be covering them in blood or swastikas. The problem with James's so-called controversial issue was that the pictures were not contextualised in the right way and were surrounded by some things which were less than pleasant."
In his writings for The Sunday Times, Jones confesses to being a snob - he recently expressed shocked displeasure on finding that a Premiership footballer had the same kind of Smeg cooker as him. Friends believe that he likes to portray himself as a kind of style reactionary: one who hates trainers, untucked shirts and house music. Classic British tailoring and Bryan Ferry are much more his scene - which says a lot about the change in direction that Conde Nast wants for GQ.
"Dylan is part of that group of older magazine people who believe that you can publish an old-fashioned men's magazine which tips its hat to American Esquire in the Sixties, and if you do it well enough, it will be a success," says a former colleague. "That ignores the fact that the market has changed so much recently and that there are magazines such as Front which show pictures of people with deformities and lots of female flesh. That said, if anyone can make a success of the classic formula, it is Dylan."
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