CV; PETER HOWARTH Editor, 'Esquire'


I did an English degree at Cambridge from 1983 to 1986. Between school and university I worked in a bookshop, and my mother was a literary agent, so I had an idea that I'd probably end up in publishing.

But, during my first summer holiday from college, I had a job selling shirts for Paul Smith in Covent Garden, and at the end of that time he asked me if I'd go to Paris with him for a week to help him show his collection. This became a regular thing while I was at college, and just before my finals Paul asked me if I was interested in a permanent job. I hadn't got anything else sorted out, and I ended up as a kind of projects manager for him.

But there was a bit of me that wanted to carry on doing something literary, and so while I was working for Paul I started writing for Arena - and, later, Blitz - about books and authors. Through my mum I got access to people such as Graham Swift and Jay McInerney, and wrote profile pieces.

I was then approached by Stephen Marks, the owner of French Connection, who wanted to launch a menswear collection. I had to knock the writing on the head for a while, because this was probably the toughest job I've ever taken on, but after a couple of years I came to the conclusion that making and selling clothes was just too difficult.

It was at this point that I began to think that writing was something I wanted to do seriously, and I got back in touch with Arena.

Then I met Alexandra Shulman, who had just become editor of GQ. I told her I wanted to be a feature writer, but she only really needed a fashion writer. She started commissioning me to write regularly about fashion for GQ, and I told Stephen Marks that I wanted to become a journalist. But he agreed to keep me on for two days a week, to give me a financial safety net.

GQ then offered me a contributing editor's job, and when Stephen had found someone to take my place, Alex gave me the title of style editor at GQ. I also started working for The Guardian, covering menswear shows. I was reluctant to be labelled a fashion journalist, but within a couple of months I had a whole page in The Guardian, and I thought, if I'd been writing about anything other than menswear, it would have taken me 10 years to get that.

Progressively, work for GQ increased and freelancing diminished, and when Michael VerMeulen became editor, he made me style director. But Michael realised this urge I'd had to be a features journalist, which had never really gone away, and encouraged me to commission features that had nothing to do with fashion.

Then, in August 1995, Kate Flett, the editor of Arena, told me she was leaving, and asked me if I was interested in her job.

My instinctive reaction was no, as my girlfriend was nine months pregnant and so my life was about to change completely. But I had lunch with the publisher, Nick Logan, and started to get really enthusiastic as we talked about ideas for the magazine. My son was born two days later, and I remember thinking that if I could live through that experience, then changing my job would not be that difficult.

So I suddenly found myself editor of Arena, which I took over with the specific brief of taking it from six times a year to 10 times a year. I felt we needed to broaden the editorial appeal, and so we redesigned it, created new sections, and took on the first proper staff it had ever had. And we actually managed to increase circulation, which we didn't expect.

I was at Arena for 14 months, which I enjoyed enormously, and then the Esquire job came up. My favourite magazine of all time is American Esquire from the Sixties, but I'd heard a rumour that the publisher wanted to put someone in who would take the magazine down-market, to compete with Loaded, Maxim and FHM. I told him that I felt that was absolutely the wrong thing to do for a brand such as Esquire. But he said he didn't want that at all, and, in the end, I felt that he wanted what I felt I could do.

I thought that if I didn't apply, I might be kicking myself in five years' time, and so I came over here just before Christmas. There's no point in trying to chase Loaded and FHM, because our hearts just aren't in it. Instead we have to be true to ourselves, and that means trying to rediscover the spirit coming off the pages of Sixties' Esquire - that you can do anything, and that you regard your reader as intelligent enough to accept the challenge of what you're putting in theren

Interview by Scott Hughes

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