Dedicated followers?

ANYONE WHO REGARDS fashion coverage as lightweight journalism has
never carried a bundle of style mags home from the newsagents. While
women’s magazines shrink, men’s publications are multiplying in both
size and number. It seems men are embracing fashion journalism with
open – if heavily laden – arms in autumn 2005. That is, if the heaving
shelves of WH Smith are anything to go by.

Before the daddy of
men’s fashion publications, Arena Homme Plus plopped on the shelves
this season, weighing in at a hefty 2.8lb, GQ had brought us GQ Style
(1.5lb), Jefferson Hack Another Magazine (2.6lb), and Loaded and FHM,
their bi-annual offshoots (both just under 1lb), while Wonderland, a
unisex style mag, was born a healthy 2lb.

But it’s not only the flash mags that are upping the ante.

fashion coverage in quality newspapers has beefed up too. Both The
Guardian and The Observer launched bi-annual, exclusively male fashion
supplements in Weekend and OM respectively, while Sunday Times Style
announced that it was increasing its men’s coverage with a special
men’s issue.

It is no coincidence that broadsheet appetite for
men’s fashion has increased as magazine launches multiply. What’s
uncertain is if men are actually interested in reading about style. As
bi-annuals don’t produce ABC figures, who actually reads them becomes a
contentious issue. Magazines frequently accuse their rivals of being
cynical attempts to get advertising revenue; of only being read by
industry types; and being off-brand – the fashion special bearing no
relation to its down-market parent.

Arena Homme Plus, launched in
1992, has become particularly imbued with a look and language perhaps
understood by only by the most dedicated fashion heads. This season’s
theme, for example, is “neo-Baroque”.

It was in response to this
that GQ Style was launched, according to editor-in-chief Dylan Jones
who wanted to capture “the mainstream fashion magazine” market that was
up for grabs since Arena Homme Plus had become “so esoteric it has
disappeared up its own backside” and the lads’ mags had adopted a
“very, very high street [approach], and not in a particularly
auspicious way”.

Although their visual and textual language is
earthier, FHM Collections and Loaded Fashion still preach to the
clothes converted. According to editor Nick DeCosemo, Collections
reaches about 10 per cent of the monthly readership (560,167 in the
last ABCs).

“When we launched in 1999, our demographic was so
big, we captured all kinds of men [in FHM], but there’s a core
readership who were more style conscious,” he says.

The past five
years has seen an explosion in men’s grooming and style, which goes
hand-in-hand with the increased appetite for coverage in magazines.

broadsheets frequently adopt a tone that is more lad mag than fashion
bible. This is both deliberate and necessary for a readership that
ranges between 16- and 60-year-old males, says Sunday Times Style
editor Tiffany Darke.

“What we’ve found is that men aren’t into fashion necessarily, but clothes – there’s a difference,” she says.

claims Men’s Vogue, launched in September in the US, illustrates her
point. Under US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the men’s version
evolved from a three-year research process.

“There’s not a single male photo shoot in it at all,” she says.

conclusion they obviously came to is that men don’t want to see a male
fashion shoot – and I have to say I’m in complete agreement.”

What Sunday Times Style has in common with the lads market is tone and a wariness of being too “fashion”.

think we’ve got to be very practical in a Sunday supplement,” says
Maxim’s fashion director Tom Stubbs, who is now also a columnist in
Sunday Times Style. “We’re conscious that fashion gets a bit poncey;
boys do get afraid of it. I don’t think men want to do poncey fashion.”

also have to contend with the exclusivity of the fashion industry,
Stubbs adds: “The language of fashion shoots, the poses, the models and
the expressions might alarm people, so we try to do the odd toothless
model wearing yacht chic. Fashion has its own language that’s meant to
exclude people.”

Darke goes further: “It’s an absolute nightmare
getting male fashion stylists to do male shoots for the newspapers. If
you look at the catwalks, they are not icons of masculinity that the
average bloke in the street would aspire to.”

Hence the more laddish publications tend to avoid male models, especially the skinny, effeminate boys beloved of the catwalk.

the tone adopted by magazines comes across as slightly shamefaced, as
if fashion were something forced upon men. Charlie Porter, associate
editor on GQ and GQ Style, and also a Guardian Weekend fashion
columnist, says he often senses this reluctant tone.

publications think men aren’t going to read about this and they start
to get apologetic about it. People don’t think about what they can do
to make it interesting or push the debate further. What’s then printed
is apologetic – men are blokes really – which isn’t very interesting.”

fashion editors refer to their readers shows they see them as very
different species: Jones says “men”; Darke “blokes” and Stubbs “boys”.

are all tackling different, if sometimes overlapping readerships. Not
surprisingly, the lads’ mags tackle fashion by adding in a pretty girl,
knowing that their readers are not there to look at other men.

broadsheets find themselves on less certain territory however, exactly
because of their wide demographic that crosses age, gender and
sexuality (since at the bottom of all talk about “blokes” and “boys” is
a fear that fashion, or talking about it, is a bit gay).

this explains why the broadsheets’ dedication to men’s fashion has been
traditionally sporadic. Because they are only finding their feet, “a
lot of the menswear coverage in the broadsheets feels a little tagged
on,” says FHM’s DeCosemo.

“Usually the magazines are generally
aimed at women, so they feel like they should have it [men’s fashion]
in there, but they’re not entirely sure how to do it.”

With such
divergent males to target, could, say, a monthly title dedicated to the
pursuit of Prada ever exist? DeCosemo is hesitant, but hopeful.

a long way off, but things are definitely moving that way. They said
men wouldn’t buy monthly magazines, then weeklies. I’d say – for now –
there’s no room for a men’s fashion monthly.

“But that’s not to say there won’t be someone with the balls to do it to confound the predictions.”

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