The New York Review of Magazines

Love

By Suzanne Weinstock

Circulation: 100,000
Date of Birth: 2009
Frequency: Biannual
Price: £5 (U.K.)/$18 (U.S.)

There is no doubt, after a harrowing couple of years, that luxury goods (and the magazines that cover them) are not recession-proof. But perhaps some people are. Katie Grand’s name may not have the same cachet as Anna Wintour’s. But the British wunderkind has somehow made “edgy” and “high-end” synonymous with ca-ching in the U.K.

Grand’s latest project, a biannual style magazine titled Love, was launched in February 2009. It is not only one of the few major magazine startups of late, but also one that has had immediate resonance in the difficult-to-excite fashion community. Only three issues in, Love has been busy trashing the traditional glossy model by putting fat chicks and unknowns on its covers — and porn stars and Q&As about lesbianism in its pages — and often shunning the airbrushing of photographs.

And advertisers seem to love it. Love’s 336-page debut issue gathered 116 pages of ads and exceeded its target revenue. The number of ad pages has fallen off only slightly to 106 in the second issue and 104 in the third.

Perhaps more surprising than Love’s content is its backer. Condé Nast is the polar opposite of edgy. Its fashion magazines blend together on the newsstands, with smiling A-list celebrity covers and a mix of light features on fashion, beauty, love and womanhood, as well as a smattering of more serious pieces for depth. The house’s edgiest title, W, lost 46 percent of its ad pages in 2009.

Condé Nast is simply following the money. And the money follows Grand. She has produced one cash cow after another in the U.K. since 1992, when she started with Dazed & Confused. She then became the founding editor of a Dazed spinoff, Another, before being lured away to run The Face in 1999 and launch Pop in 2000.

Condé Nast launched its own cutting edge title, Trash, in 2003. Calculated to be a combination of The Face and Heat, Trash fizzled almost immediately. The publisher later tried to buy Pop from its current owner, Bauer Publishing, but was rebuffed. Finally, Condé Nast went to the source and poached Grand and her entire team.

Although Condé Nast has had a yen to move into the edgy style sector for some time, launching a publication with Grand was more about acquiring talent than a title, Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Condé Nast in the U.K., told The Guardian in 2008.

Advertisers do not love Grand’s publications alone; they also love Grand herself — she is a stylist and consultant for many of the brands advertising in Love’s pages. But her successful formula is clearly based on more than just her relationships. The brilliance of Love is that it defies magazine conventions without being alienating and is cool without being self-indulgent.

Although Love shares Pop’s intangible cool factor, it is a decidedly different publication. Under Grand, Pop was glossy and cheeky to the nth degree. Its spreads featured Kate Moss in a pink wig on one page followed by monkeys and then Miss Piggy. Love reads like Pop all grown up. It is less self-deprecating and more thoughtful. In the most recent issue, British pop singer Lily Allen muses frankly about her body and the fashion industry, saying, “Yep, there is a reason the fashion world has embraced me: because I did lose a considerable amount of weight over the last year!” The same issue carries an interview with a sheer-negligee-clad Diane von Furstenburg, who openly discusses the loss of her virginity at 15 while attending boarding school in Oxford.

Despite its glossy pages, the magazine has a raw look. Black-and-white photography dominates, and most of the color photography has a muted palette, as if the pictures have aged and faded. Some images are clearly fashion photography; others are more like inventive snapshots. Nudity is plentiful in many styles, from the grittily pornographic to the breathtakingly artistic.

Adding to the rawness is minimal airbrushing and often little hair styling and makeup. One of Love’s cover subjects, Coco Sumner, was shot exactly the way she looked when she walked into the studio. Although the issues are not thematic, they are tied together conceptually. For example, Issue 3 explores body image, photographing eight of the world’s most beautiful women nude in black-and-white so the reader can see how different their bodies are. Issue 2 was Grand’s meditation on youth and finding people passionate about anything and everything in unusual places. She describes covergirl Sumner as having “one of the most brilliantly defiant, fuck-you attitudes that we’ve seen in years.”

Grand’s attitude is pretty brilliantly defiant itself. And it’s one you can take to the bank.

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