Fiona McIntosh was sitting in Giorgio Armani's sumptuous wood-panelled office in Milan - with its exquisite furniture and floor-to-ceiling bookcases - and struggling to believe what she was hearing.
For the previous year and more, McIntosh, the former editor of Elle and Company, had led an ambitious project to change the face of British women's magazines, reluctantly hiring a nanny for her two young daughters in order to throw herself back into the publishing fray. And now the greatest fashion designer in the world was pouring cold water over all her plans.
Armani could not see how McIntosh's idea for turning the upmarket magazine Grazia - for 66 years an Italian institution - into a weekly, must-read for the ABC1 women of the UK could possibly succeed.
"We had a very nerve-racking 20-minute meeting with Giorgio Armani," recalls McIntosh, months later. "He said, 'I cannot see how this Italian magazine would work in London, because London is crazy and fast. Everybody dresses differently and nothing is simple.'"
Armani was won round only after McIntosh showed him a dummy copy of the magazine, which will appear on British streets tomorrow. Then, like the Man from Del Monte, Giorgio said si and backed up his approval with orders for display ads for his clothes and fragrances. "He said, 'I can see it's fast and upbeat like London,'" says McIntosh, Grazia's editor-in-chief. "He was our first advertiser on board and it was very important."
The launch issue has Jennifer Aniston as its cover star. Aniston was chosen, says McIntosh, "because we are fascinated by her life and she's perfect for our target audience". The former Friends actress is "magazine magic ... one of those rare stars who does sell magazines". And herein lies Grazia's problem: the pixie dust provided by Aniston and a small cluster of other glamorous cover girls is well recognised and coveted by other participants in an already crowded weekly celebrity magazine market. If Grazia is to go down the celeb path - as it is - then it faces a real battle to make itself distinctive from the likes of Heat, Closer and Reveal, which already persuade readers to stump up their money every seven days for the latest goss. Emap clearly believes there is a gap in the market and is investing a staggering £16m in the launch.
McIntosh explains how it works. The Grazia concept is a magazine that compares in content terms to the likes of Elle and Marie Claire but is more current. It will be published as frequently as Closer and Reveal but will offer something classier. It will be a little less catty than Heat, a bit more incisive than Hello! and OK! and aimed at a slightly older readership (25-45) than Glamour.
The pitch will be "Britain's first weekly glossy" and clearly it is the seven-day turnaround that is seen as the trump card in McIntosh's hand.
She says: "The big question for the glossy market is 'Where do we take it next?'. Glamour had a huge impact with its format and price. But what's going to be the next stage?"
She thinks the answer to that question is "frequency". She says: "The big advantage that we have is that, because we are weekly, our stories are of the moment. We are skimming off the most glamorous news of the week."
As an editor of a monthly she became increasingly aware of - and frustrated by - the ability of the entertainment weeklies to scoop the best showbiz stories. It seems significant that Grazia's launch coincides with the start of the party and awards season, with events such as the Brits, the Baftas and the Oscars offering opportunities for some early triumphs over monthly rivals.
McIntosh admits, though, that persuading women to buy her magazine every seven days is "the biggest challenge" she faces. It's no good Grazia winning public approval if readers bother to pick up a copy only once every three or four weeks.
She repeatedly stresses how important it has been to have a large contingent of deadline-tuned ex-newspaper folk among her 42-strong team (led by editor Jane Bruton, who was recently named editor of the year for her work at Living Etc).
"It was important we had a news element in the magazine that made it compulsive," she says. "And which is why we are going for a star cover as opposed to a model cover."
These celebrity covers will not offer a platform for Jade Goody. Kate Moss, Kate Winslet and Sienna Miller will be more Grazia's style. But those women readers who crave stimulation for the brain should not expect to turn to this new title for investigative journalism or political commentary.
"We are looking at journalism in a different way," says McIntosh. "We want really brilliant writing in this magazine [but] I don't believe that means 2,000-word reports on Iraq."
Her star writers will be Mimi Spencer (former editor of the London Evening Standard's ES magazine) and Polly Vernon (Observer columnist). "They will write about important issues but important issues for this generation of women, which are things like social behaviour, fertility, our place in the world," says McIntosh.
A good health feature, such as the emergence of the GI diet in favour of Atkins, will be a weekly must. Gordon Ramsay's other half Tana has been hired to write about food.
Grazia will be big on fashion. Very big. Big hitters such as Paula Reed (former fashion director of The Sunday Times) and Laura Craik (Evening Standard) have been recruited.
But with Vogue and Elle and Harpers already available on a monthly basis, one might question whether British women are sufficiently obsessed with the latest sartorial trends to want the weekly fix that obviously suits their Italian sisters.
McIntosh says they are. "We (the British) mix up fashion. We are a lot more eclectic.
"We still lust after the designer bag of the season, the great shoes, the Dior sunglasses. But we will mix up our looks with high street fashion. We have a more independent approach."
When McIntosh says "we" it is with an antipodean twang, but she is a stalwart of British publishing and is convinced she has correctly judged the zeitgeist. I has been incredibly exciting. We feel we are doing something new. If I were coming back to do another monthly then..." McIntosh tails off and shakes her head. "...but we are trying to break new ground with this."
She is reluctant to name the titles from which she hopes to pinch readers. The names of Elle and Marie Claire are eventually offered - reluctantly - but she believes that the real pickings are to be had from a sea of floating voters who currently have no fixed loyalties. "The days of being a diehard loyalist to one particular magazine are over," she says.
Perhaps so, but even with a comparatively modest first year target of 150,000 sales, McIntosh must hope that a sizeable slice of Britain's glossy magazine buyers can be persuaded to be less fickle and shell out £1.50 for Grazia each and every week.Reuse content