From Tatler to Frank... from Cosmo to Wojo

A women's magazine with no horoscopes, no readers' letters and no sex advice? What is this thing called `Frank'?
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The Independent Online
This month was a milestone for women's magazines - the women's glossies were finally overtaken by boys' own FHM. Not the best of times to launch a new women's mag you might have thought - particularly one described by its editor as "frocks with politics". On the contrary, says Tina Gaudoin, late of Tatler, now editing Frank, the latest magazine to come from the stable that produced The Face and Arena. For her there couldn't be a better time.

"It shows the women's magazine market needs shaking up. People are looking for something new, they know something's missing. That's why it's an excellent time to go right now."

Certainly there is a problem in women's magazines at the moment - while you may be quite happy to read Just Seventeen at 13, you don't want to be doing so four years later. The same is true of the older glossies; by the time you reach 25 you've read so many accounts of how to deal with your mother, I Was A Sex Slave in an Obscure Country or how to get your CV in order that you look a little, well, unsophisticated carrying round Cosmo or Marie Claire. "I can't go mass-market," says Gaudoin. "I think that the mistake was to skew to younger readers in the search for circulation figures. It's a sell-out."

Sitting in her office, continually interrupted seven days before the magazine is due to go to press, Gaudoin says that it is all very hectic but seems cool and collected. She is not what you might expect - no spike heels, no power dressing and seemingly no make-up. She's not even wearing black.

But then she is determined that everything should be different. "We won't be running sensationalised sex stories, and we certainly won't be giving any space to female columnists who want to chart their nervous breakdowns," says Gaudoin, who says she pictures her ideal reader as herself. The magazine will also be horoscope-free, no columnists, no readers' letters, no sex advice.

No sex at all? In a woman's magazine? "I'm not doing formulaic sex - `I had four sheep and my brother before breakfast' - there's nothing sexy about that ... It's old," says Gaudoin, although she says there will be the erotic - in the first issue a shoot of a pregnant woman under the heading "8 and a Half - It's A Miracle Not A Dress Size".

Gaudoin says the name was chosen deliberately with the two meanings - the man's name Frank and the adjective - in mind. "We called it Frank because we wanted women to look differently at a woman's magazine... It's unexpected and we like the play on words. The magazine's name is upfront because that's what we are."

Describing the readers they hope to attract, Gaudoin says: "We're aiming at 25-plus women who feel somewhat disenchanted with other magazines. They might buy four or five but they don't feel that there is one which speaks with their voice. We hope to provide something intelligent, irreverent, provocative, witty and non-patronising, which would have its tongue in cheek and cover a lot of issues."

So what will be in there to attract the 25-pluses? A lot of longer, 2,000 words-plus articles on more serious subjects - attending the Bosnia war trials, an analysis of the state of New Labour, an interview with Pete Postlethwaite ... Put like that it all sounds a bit grim and worthy.

"I see it as frocks with politics or frocks with human rights," says Gaudoin. "But in a more witty way. I don't mean side-splittingly funny, but British women have a sense of humour like no one else in the world."

Other features include Charlotte's Web, a page looking at various sites on the Internet of interest to readers, an update of what's going on in Manhattan and a regular page on cars. There will also be a more adventurous look at travel - "We think our readers are a bit more adventurous than lying on a beach, although if it was a really fantastic one that no one had heard of, maybe." So this month you can read about trekking to base camp on Everest, followed by eco-safaris to Mongolia and how to train as a Mountie.

Gaudoin is commissioning many of her features from newspaper journalists who she feels often have a more "serious and aggressive" edge. Certainly the influence of papers is strong - Gaudoin feels many of her potential readers are reading newspapers at the moment, devoid of anything more serious to divert them. And the front part of the magazine is Who What Wear (sic) Why How - the first five words a journalist learns.

While the print run for the first issue is 220,000, Gaudoin thinks circulation will settle down between 90,000 and 120,000. "I'd be very happy with 90," she says.

Frank's auspices are good: it is the latest baby from Wagadon, best known for their success with The Face and Arena. But it doesn't have some of the advantages these did; while Arena and The Face were venturing into immature or unexplored territory Frank is entering a crowded market. And whereas both Arena and The Face were started on a shoestring, breeding a family feel, Gaudoin has a staff of 22, an office in trendy Clerkenwell and the launch is backed by a pounds 200,000 ad campaign. A deal with Harvey Nichols has also been set up which gives Frank promotion space in some of its windows in both the London and Leeds stores in return for ad space.

Although it may have a head start, Wagadon clearly is not the only group to believe there is a gap in the market - in 1998 Emap will launch Project Miriam for women of a post-Cosmo age and IPC has just appointed veteran editor Marcelle d'Argy Smith to revitalise Woman's Journal (see opposite). Gaudoin relishes the challenges ahead.

"It's very different," she says. "The buck stops with me. Everywhere else I've worked there was someone else who could take the rap. It's been scary ... but it's what I've always wanted to do"n