Horacio Silva, the News/Features Director for T, the new incarnation of the New York Times Style Magazine, waxes droll about the responsibilities of publishing, the prescriptive power of magazines and the joys derived from punnilingus.
The magazine has morphed into a witty, irreverent brew of style journalism, gimlet-eyed and gossipy, yet with incredible global reach and an unwavering commitment to journalistic integrity. The JC Report inquires about the new guard at the publication and how they are beginning to define an era.
JC: Tell us about your position and what it entails.
HS: I am the features director of all the titles. One could say that I’m the Sally [Singer] to Stefano’s Anna [Wintour], though I need to develop a more bohemian style of dress. Among my duties, I edit the front-of-book sections, such as “The Remix” — the McNuggets of information that initially engage the reader. I also shepherd the issues of Men’s T. Also, there has to be an interaction between editors and the culture we document-ideas come from dialogue — so I’m continually out there looking and listening for good copy.
JC: How did you arrive at this position?
HS: I was brought to the Times by Amy Spindler, whose husband was a fan of a column I co-authored for hintmag.com. “Chic Happens” [the name of the column] was an exercise in the genre of unfettered gossip — no one was held sacred. At our first lunch, Amy and I got along like a house on Fire Island. By 2002, I was hired as Deputy Editor overseeing men’s, women’s, Style & Entertaining and Design issues. This present position was formalized under the aegis of Stefano.
JC: You worked for both the late Amy Spindler, an esteemed journalist in her own right, and now Stefano Tonchi. Where do their reflections on this culture connect and diverge?
HS: Of course, each editor brings their own imprimatur to the publication, but Stefano’s approach isn’t a million miles removed from what Amy was doing. Although Amy was more of a Rosalind Russell “Girl Friday” and Stefano comes from a more visually journalistic background, both have agile intellects and shared an eagerness to connect the dots
between fashion and the culture at large.
Neither is afraid to take risks, to give valuable space to untried talents, such as hiring fashion designers Victor & Rolf as photographers. Stefano has encouraged the crossover between art and fashion, which stands to reason given the fact he has curated exhibitions and compiled books on style.
JC: One cannot help but be struck by the amount of information dispensed by T. Is this part of a new mandate?
HS: Consciously, the magazine has returned more to service journalism, as posited by the likes of Clay Felker. However, being the Times, we endeavor to bring an intellectual vigor and journalistic exactitude that may not be out there in other lifestyle publications. We do service in a more compelling way, visually and textually.
If you need to talk about fashion and how it connects with culture, you need to be living the culture, and not be hermetically sealed in any way. I believe part of a magazine’s job is to be prescriptive.
JC: Obviously, the organization has an extensive network, both here and abroad. How do you edit what needs to be seen and heard and what doesn’t?
HS: While I am not here to be a cheerleader, we do have a great team at T who can juggle content areas and their fields of expertise. From the news briefs in the front of book to the meatier marquee stories in the middle, we have talent that recognizes their role in bringing the magazine to light, from the inimitable Suzy Menkes (International Herald Tribune) to Tyler Brule (founder of Wallpaper). Lynn Hirschberg continues to be on the frontlines for prognosticating new talent. And we have an editor in Stefano who allows his staff to work in their areas of expertise.
As journalists and editors, one of our jobs when we approach a story is to ask, “why now?” and the story should prove the raison d’etre, should connect the nuances. At T, we are, and should be, in a position to say, “You should know about this; trust us.”
An ongoing debate in publishing pits giving the reader what they want versus suggesting what the reader should hear about next. My hard belief is that the reader should never know what is coming next. There is something afoot on every level, and I’ll be the first to say I want that story and I would like it as an exclusive to T.
JC: What are the challenges and the assets of working for a magazine that is enclosed inside a venerable institution as opposed to a magazine selling on a newsstand?
HS: We have the advantage of being bundled within the world’s acknowledged paper of record. We can afford to be cheekier than Elle or Vogue, let’s say. However, the paper’s audience is easy to bore, hard to please. There is a weird double standard that exists in fashion/lifestyle publishing, which trumps up a sophisticated reader on one page and yet slavishly massages an advertiser on the other. More and more readers can see through that.
JC: There is a symbiotic relationship between fashion and the media. How do you approach that in the magazine?
HS: Symbiotic yes, but above and beyond the commercial aspect. But as is fashion, so are fashion magazines by their very nature market-driven, from the runway show to the retail floor. The stylists and designers are privy
to the same information that we are, and they take a curatorial approach to how they present fashion. Our job then is to synthesize these ideas, try to put a spin on what we witnessed in Milan, on and off the runway, or at the art fair in Basel or at the local cineplex.
At T, we are not doing hard news, and we are not here solely to kowtow to advertisers. But we do have a service to the reader. One has to make time to see everything, even if it is coming from an unheralded place.
JC: Recently there have been more celebrities on the covers of the fashion issues, albeit of the more obscure variety. Is this a reflection of the culture that we live in or publish in?
HS: Clearly celebrity and fashion are compatible bedfellows like Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson for Louis Vuitton. We would be remiss not to recognize that. However, unlike some other publications, celebrity is not the engine that drives the train at the Times. We have taken chances on our cover subjects and the extent to which these individuals are willing to collaborate is beyond the norm of ‘sittings.’ I mean, when was the last time you saw a beautiful, highly-regarded actress on the cover of an American women’s fashion magazine, who happened to be Asian? I would like to think that our magazine has more racial and ethnic diversity, as befits our audience.
We are not averse to models on the cover, especially for the womenswear issues. Men still like to look at other men with whom they believe they can identify.
JC: You have admitted that the changes at the Times were not of a seismic nature; however, within the industry wasn’t there considerable reaction to this new template?
HS: Well yes, as with any change. But the mistake is to presume such a difference in approach from one editor to another. Both Amy and Stefano recognized that fashion is not dire, that it can be fun. However, looking at the magazine as an outsider, Stefano was able to take an objective view of what was working, and what he wanted to change.
T has proven to be successful, by which I mean the reception from advertisers, from the consumer, from colleagues within the industry. Though I am loathe to quote figures, the men’s issues have witnessed something like a 50% percent increase in ad pages from fall ’04 to fall ’05, and spring ’04 to spring ’05 and I believe that women’s fall (2005 will be the biggest ever).
JC: How many issues are distributed within the year? What is the scope of these different issues?
HS: Fourteen issues a year, namely 2 men’s, 2 women’s, 2 food, 2 design, 4 travel, and 1 end of year. We are launching a beauty issue, which will most likely surface in October 2005. Beauty done badly can be ugly. So, the beauty issue will have the same hallmarks of the T franchise, such as the visual sophistication and the journalistic vigor and integrity. However, we may be looking for a scent strip editor.
This interview was conducted by Roger Joseph
Photos: Pages from T: The New York Times Style Magazine