Nathan Heller, who is one of my favorite writers, has a fascinating profile of former New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan, who jumped over to Fairchild Fashion Media to run Women’s Wear Daily, and now is rolling out a men’s magazine with a novel conceit—it doesn’t want to treat its readers like idiots:
Fourteen years later, though, Kaplan finally finds himself at the helm of a stylish New York magazine. M, which launches this month under the Fairchild umbrella, is Kaplan’s latest, proudest project: the fullest realization of his ambitions for bound print. M is nominally the reboot of a long-retired Fairchild men’s magazine called M: The Civilized Man, but the new version is a ground-up reinvention. M will appear quarterly and—unusually for a luxury-market print magazine—its editorial infrastructure is being cobbled together on the cheap: Kaplan produced the first issue by borrowing staff from other Fairchild properties, like Women’s Wear Daily, and bringing in a couple of trusted ringers from the old days, like Windolf, to help wrangle and edit stories….
“I thought there might be a place for a men’s magazine that had a different kind of voice—a much wittier, more sophisticated, grown-up voice, and that was much more a lateral conversation than trying to whack you over the head with Mila Kunis,” he explains. “I’ve got two sons who are in their early twenties, and they are culturally demanding. They have a tremendous sense of humor. They are digitally fluent and literate at the same time. They are impatient to the point of being dismissive of two-thirds of the culture that’s being foisted on them.” This new-style guy also tends to dress deliberately, with a knowing sense of fashion, and in that nexus, Kaplan saw his opportunity.
There’s no question that the best men’s magazines publish good, substantive features that treat their readers like men, rather than salivating man-boys. But it’s also true that they tend to slip. The woman who makes GQ’s Man of the Year list poses naked. The same magazine insists that guys deserve better television and then devotes its fall TV preview to cataloguing the hotness of female stars, sometimes with dumb ethnic stereotypes. The question for M is not whether Kaplan and everyone else working on the project have good intentions. It’s whether they can stick to them if they end up feeling like they need to compromise to compete.