Next month, a year after opening its first UK store, the American clothing company Abercrombie and Fitch will relaunch its controversial magazine A & F Quarterly, discontinued in 2002 after four US states threatened legal action against its racy sexual content. At the time, Abercrombie's chief executive Mike Jeffries declared that he was simply "bored" of the project.
The reasoning behind bringing the magazine back through the London store is thought to be that European audiences are considered more open-minded than their US counterparts. But another explanation could be that if Abercrombie and Fitch doesn't throw itself back on the brand magazine wagon, it will be missing out on an eager market that has come to expect more from its fashion retailers than clothes alone.
Brand magazines are a relatively new phenomenon, but they are exploding across the fashion market. Over the years, many brands have dipped in and out of publishing, but usually only with the production of a catwalk supplement or look-book. Now, however, a growing number of brands regularly publish their own magazines. On the high street, Uniqlo, H&M and its sister line COS are all accompanied by publications, while the affordable Swedish designer label Acne has created a slick magazine, full of lavish photo shoots and essays, that could easily stand on its own.
As unlikely as it may seem, the brands in question have been looking to the likes of Tesco for inspiration in this enterprise. In the same way that supermarkets have used in-house publications to educate readers on what recipes to make with the ingredients that they can buy in store, the general idea of the brand mag is to advise customers how to achieve this season's trends with pieces from the shops' ranges.
"We wanted to create an in-store magazine that was more than the standard look-books you get at other stores," explains Markus Kiersztan of MP Creative, based in NYC, who collaborated on the Uniqlo newspaper. "The first issue was published to coincide with the launch of Uniqlo in New York, and we wanted to associate the brand with the art and design industry."
The launch was such a success that Uniqlo decided to introduce the magazine to UK branches as Uniqlo was starting to "feed the brand to a cooler and edgier audience".
Meanwhile, a marketing source for H&M explains that its magazine is "the result of a merger between the staff newsletter and the club magazine. It was set up to provide fashion inspiration to customers and employees. We want to show people who we are and what we stand for, and also show them the latest fashion trends."
The glossy pages are packed with Hennes product combined with travel guides, beauty, horoscopes and features by fashion journalists, including Vogue's Harriet Quick. It is as honest and bold as the clothes themselves.
The COS alternative is the big sister of the H&M magazine, and although the sophisticated format claims to be "The Shape of Things to Come", it is little more than a traditional look-book interwoven with high-brow essays. However, its format complements that of Acne Paper, which is taking the idea of brand magazines to a new level.
"With a [brand] magazine you have a unique opportunity to present a 'world' on a much grander scale," says Thomas Persson, editor-in-chief. "It is a much more generous format than an advertisement."
Launched in Sweden in 2005, just as its parent brand was going global, Acne Paper seemed to be a natural evolution for a company that was already working in fashion, advertising and film. But it is the content of the magazine that sets it apart from its newsstand equivalents. Acne Paper uses very little Acne clothing in the fashion shoots, choosing instead to mix it up with, among others, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.
The current edition, for example, showcases a selection of Chloé creations, in a grand Parisian photo story, alongside an interview with their designer, Paulo Melim Andersson. Not only is this evidence of self-confidence in Acne's product, it also shows a new confidence in the magazine concept, bringing brand publications in line with the more traditional style magazines – pointing to an alternative future for fashion publishing.
Five issues later and Acne Paper has attracted an array of contributors, from newbies to legends, including Lord Snowdon, illustrator Jean-Paul Goude, designer Kim Jones and photographer Katerina Jebb. The sixth edition, themed around the idea of elegance, was officially launched in the UK last week with a fittingly chic champagne reception at Claridge's.
"When we launched we were criticised for not being a 'real' magazine," continues Persson. "We weren't real because we were financed by one label only and didn't have tons of advertisers. This always puzzled me. Why is a magazine that has to compromise with the advertising department more real than a magazine that does not need advertising to exist? Isn't it the content that makes a magazine real?"
'Uniqlo Paper', 'H&M magazine' and 'COS' are available in their respective shops. 'Acne Paper' is available from Liberty, Regent Street, London W1, tel: 020 7734 1234
Beauty spot: Four luxury items worthy of a cover star
By Elisa Makin
Bronze Goddess, £36, Estée Lauder, www.esteelauder.co.uk - a coconut-suntan lotion-like scent
The face cream
Crème de la Mer, £145, 0870 034 2566 - consistent favourite on the beauty pages
The brow shaper
Benefit Brow Zing, £21.50, www.benefitcosmetics.co.uk - still best for unruly eyebrows
The lip gloss
Lipstick Queen Oxymoron, £18, www.spacenk.co.uk - a new cult classic