Launching a new fashion magazine is a bold move but Distill may have found just the right niche
"It's such a brilliant idea, I was a little peeved I hadn't thought of it myself," admits Colin McDowell, high priest of the fashion press and editor-in-chief of its latest offering, Distill, which hits the newsstands today.
Another magazine, is that really such an insightful idea in a climate where penny-pinching is decidedly the new fox fur? A new launch in a stalling economy is a bold move and needs a convincing raison d'être. In this latter respect, Distill stands out from all the lacquered fashion tomes – and there are many – which promise to cover what the others do not, be that the alternative, the weird, the wacky or the faintly ridiculous.
Instead, it will cover exactly what everyone else is covering. A The Week spin-off for fashionistas, Distill will present a digested read of the style and fashion press from all over the world, offering a shorthand guide to what and who are in fashion, and how those trends are being captured and covered.
It is quite a claim to announce that your team is the one to determine which are the very best stories and images from the style beat, but the Distill crowd is an extremely credible one. Stringers with an inside fashion track, living all over the world, will scour the fashion press and relay their findings to London.
Here, a longlist is drawn up by an editorial team including McDowell, the publishers who came up with the concept – Christopher Lockwood, formerly of Dazed & Confused and Wallpaper so no stranger to mainstreaming high-end design and style, and Matthew Line, an experienced editor of titles including Homes & Gardens and She – editor Helen Johnston and art director Peter Citroni. Then, and this is where Distill either trumps other fashion magazines or displays too willingly the extent to which it is in cahoots with its subjects, an editorial board including top designers Giles Deacon and Matthew Williamson, Design Museum director Dejan Sudjic and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, decide which pieces should be included and provide a few words of commentary.
"I want it to be somewhere between Creative Review and Blueprint," says McDowell, "but with the glamour and beauty of the original magazine."
To many British consumers, fashion magazines mean Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and Grazia. Then, for those with more of a style bent, come Pop, Dazed, i-D and perhaps Vice. Lurking in the lofts used for photoshoots in Manhattan's meatpacking districts, however, atop the hippest of Copenhagen's bars, poking out of design students' bicycle panniers in Amsterdam and lying across the sofas of Buenos Aires' burgeoning coffee shop community, are literally hundreds of publications. These range from the most popular titles from the US, such as W, to obscure Asian and Latin American magazines, fanzines, pamphlets, mailouts and one-off projects. Many of these even most of the staff of Distill have not yet heard of – never mind the lowly British magazine buyer – Soon, Please, Acne Paper, The Room, anyone?
"Fashion is now, in my opinion, promulgated almost entirely to the world by the printed image on the page," says McDowell, pointing out that very few people out of all those interested in fashion actually get to attend the shows. It is not just the designers and their collections, but the continuing story of how these clothes are presented to the world which communicates the industry to its fans, including those who will never own a piece of couture.
"The people that come after the designers are in many ways as important as the designers, and in other ways even more important," he says. "They are the real image makers: the photographers, who are obviously very famous, the stylists who are less famous to the public, and then the hairdressers and all the different people who make a story, and finally, of course, the art editors".
For magazine lovers, the first issue represents the equivalent of a trolley dash to a child in a candy shop. It headlines photoshoots from French magazine NumEro and Hungary's The Room, whose "Fairyland" shoot is a hit with Matthew Williamson, who describes each image as an "aspirational work of art". Some readers will prefer the continuity of a single publication, rather than Distill's cut-and-paste approach.
Being able to buy all the best magazines compressed into one £4.50 package would seem like a great excuse not to splurge on anything else, but publisher Matthew Line insists it will encourage and not suppress sales, as it only offers a snapshot of those included. "We're saying these magazines are worth looking at," he points out. "So it's encouraging people to buy them or take up subscriptions".
The most exciting content, he continues, seems to be coming out of Latin America and Asia, specifically Panama and Korea, hitherto little-known destinations on the global fashion map. "Having worked on this magazine you suddenly realise how big the world is. Yes, fashion tends to coalesce around the world, but it is presented in very different ways. Different countries very much explore their own individual expression".
The Week, a current affairs digest, is regularly cited in these pages as the favourite magazine of those working in the media, but no one has ever blamed falling newspaper sales on its existence. Rather, it builds on and complements a week of newspaper reading. Those working in fashion have Drapers for industry news, but Distill will really celebrate their work rather than simply documenting it – and this sector is not known for being shy about slapping itself on the back.
Aimed at the seven million people who work in fashion and related industries worldwide as well as general consumers, Distill will be distributed in 44 countries, "though you're unlikely to find it in WHSmith in Peckham" deadpans Line. It weighs in at a hefty 200 pages, with the advertising support of luxury brands including Chanel and Armani.
"I'd like to think that it's raising the bar," says Line. "It is getting tougher for style and fashion magazines. I hope seeing what other people are doing will be an inspiration".
McDowell says the magazine will sell its projected 84,500 copies because it is not in competition with any other title. Many are the magazine concepts that have claimed to be inventing an entire new genre, few the successes. Distill, instead of wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel, is exploring what makes it so good in the first place.
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