Give that man a decoration
Tyler Brule, aged 28, started his own interior design magazine last year. Now he has sold it to the gigantic Time corporation. How did he do that? By Rosie Millard
For those whose decorating sensibilities haven't yet quite progressed from the occasional flick through the Habitat catalogue, Wallpaper* (the asterisk refers to its subtitle, The Stuff That Surrounds You) is an ultra- groovy lifestyle bible which was launched last September. Move aside Elle Decoration, Homes and Gardens, World of Interiors. This is no fusty interior guide showing you coffee tables for pounds 50 or what to do with bamboo in your front room. Wallpaper* is for homes with the potential for, if not the presence of, white sofas, leather-panelled walls and photosensitive windows.
According to Brule (the name is Estonian, the accent is Toronto-born French Canadian, and the age is a rather sickening 28), Wallpaper* is about "a design exercise rather than a cost-cutting one. We don't show 10 things for under pounds 25 from the Reject Shop. We offer escapism. For students around the world to sit in their basement flats and dream about what their homes could look like."
Which, according to Time Inc, is just the thing. "I get three magazine pitches a week," says Time's development editor, Isolde Motley. Wallpaper* stood out "because it wasn't just a `shelter' title ... It deals with people whose lives are integrated. Travel, fashion, interiors. And it's got a global attitude."
Or rather, a London attitude currently lusted after by the rest of the globe. Wallpaper*'s glossy pages show exquisitely photographed rooms, softly decorated with Magistretti lamps (pounds 532) plus inhabitants softly clad in Gucci suits (pounds 1,165) and loafers by Patrick Cox. Who happens to be Tyler Brule's partner. In terms of London hipness, Wallpaper* is it, and as if to prove it, Time has snapped it up after only five bimonthly issues.
On the face of it, it's a daring deal. Wallpaper* is Time's first publishing venture in the UK. Each issue costs pounds 60,000 to produce, and at present it has a fairly modest circulation of 30,000. Yet Time, one of the largest publishing houses in the world, says that not all of its 28 titles are vast money-spinners. "We have a lot of titles which no one expects Time to own," explains Ms Motley. "How about Dancyu, our cooking magazine in Japan for men? When we make an acquisition of a title like Wallpaper*, we know it will never be huge, but we can enable it to improve its international distribution. And that's the attractive thing about Wallpaper*. It's the sort of product which can come out simultaneously in New York, Sydney and Tokyo and appeals to young consumers with sophisticated global tastes."
Even though a large array of the goods featured can be only purchased in London? "We will enable him to find stuff abroad," says Ms Motley, crisply. "We can better facilitate his global editorial attitude."
Brule, who will be kept on as editorial director, is cock-a-hoop about the deal ("the first thing Time will do is pay off all my creditors", he says, with understandable relief), although he admits that he and Time are unlikely bedfellows. "Sure, not all Time's other magazines are edgy. But they are beautifully produced. Martha Stewart Living may not be the most radical title, but it's won loads of art direction awards for the way it looks."
And in terms of visual appeal, Brule says that American publishers can't help but be drawn to British products. "No one has style magazines like Britain. America has loads of literary reads, but if you want a certain look, you have to refer to British magazines."
He realised this three years ago, when laid up at a hospital in Paddington after an altercation with a sniper in Kabul, Afghanistan, while on a freelance assignment. "We were ambushed; I was shot twice and lost most of the use of my left arm. I spent a long time in hospital, and read lots of magazines ... The Face, Blitz, Arena. And I realised two things: first, that the zeitgeist for style was here in Britain. And second, that once readers hit thirty and have a mortgage, they've moved on from worrying what sort of trainers they should be wearing, to thinking about where to buy the best stainless steel fridge."
Brule is confident that Time's muscle will push his baby into a significant brand within the rarefied field of interior glossies. For the time being, the magazine will stay the same, although its bimonthly issue will be enhanced by two annual special editions.
However, notwithstanding all the chat about Wallpaper* remaining a niche title, Time is clearly looking for significant returns. "We haven't just given him a blank cheque," says Isolde Motley from her New York office. "We hope he'll sell so many more copies and so many more ad pages per month. It's not an open-ended deal"
The writer is the BBC's arts correspondent.
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