Recession-proof reads?

This month sees the launch of two design-led magazines which target the wealthy and the creative. David Benady examines their genesis

Magazine publishers are targeting luxury goods advertisers with the launch of some beautifully-crafted publications that take graphic design to a new level.

The Wall Street Journal, the US business newspaper, which last summer was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has this month launched a glossy pull-out lifestyle magazine called WSJ.

Designed by former The Times art editor Tomaso Capuano, WSJ magazine is the first big test for the newspaper’s new owner. News Corporation gained control of the iconic brand after a $5.2bn (£2.8bn) takeover battle last year for parent company Dow Jones, owned by the Bancroft family.

There were fears among traditional readers (and staff) that the Murdoch-controlled publisher would dumb down their beloved organ. Already, the News Corporation name appears on the masthead of the main paper under a somewhat gaudy Dow Jones logo, which clashes with the paper’s traditional design. On the whole, though, the paper retains its time-honoured style.

But the glossy magazine, filled with luxury goods ads and idiosyncratic articles, is a first for the paper and a departure from its conservative, finance-focused editorial.

Capuano was appointed to oversee the design of WSJ magazine by Robert Thomson, editor of The Times in London, who was drafted in to take the helm at Wall Street Journal by Murdoch. However, Capuano says the magazine was planned well in advance of the News Corporation takeover and is not a money-grabbing Murdochian brand extension.

He adds that the early designs for the magazine – which was originally to be called Pursuits – were scrapped in favour of his creation, which he describes as being more mischievous and quirky. Some have criticised upmarket lifestyle magazines for their rather cold and soulless look, simply showcasing luxury goods and the lifestyles of the wealthy in a sterile environment without bringing them to life, or getting under the skin of the readers.

Capuano agrees, but says he has taken this into account with WSJ. ‘You have to avoid making it look like an upmarket catalogue. The obvious thing is to take these luxury objects and put them on white backgrounds to get a clean look. We have to counter-balance that,’ he says. WSJ magazine has found clever ways around this, he says.

In one feature about leather wallets, rather than simply dropping the wallets on to a blank page, he decided to build them into a painting based on a Dürer illustration. In a feature on clothes for pets, ‘Gucci poochi’, he set up a canine fashion shoot, creating a playful portrait gallery of doggy shots.

One striking feature of the magazine is its similarity to the rival lifestyle magazine, the Financial Times’ How to Spend It. Little surprise there, surely, given that HTSI was also designed by Capuano.

But he argues that the two publications are worlds apart. ‘Content-wise, WSJ is much broader in scope. We make sure we have long, in-depth features. Having done both magazines, this has a calmer look. HTSI uses an awful lot of illustration, which would look strange to American eyes, where they are more used to photography. The Art Deco look gives it an elevated atmosphere. The design is intended to be intelligent, mischievous and slightly quirky,’ says Capuano. He also believes the upmarket feel of the paper has been transferred to the magazine by using a limited colour palette of black, white and silver, with splashes of gold.

But is this a good time to launch such a magazine, given the tough conditions that face WSJ’s core readership of bankers and stockbrokers?

Publisher Ellen Asmodeo does not expect the current travails on Wall Street to hit the magazine’s ad sales. ‘We know our audience is recession-proof. The luxury market will hold up in coming years,’ she claims. In fact, Capuano says the main paper has sold out on news-stands in New York over the past fortnight, as readers rush to find out more news about capitalism’s most serious crisis since the 1930s.

While WSJ targets a middle-aged upmarket audience, young urban creatives are also getting a new magazine. Craft Publishing, set up by former Wallpaper publisher Christopher Lockwood, launches Distill this month, which features fashion and design work from magazines around the world. It seeks to ‘distil’ the most inspiring design creativity around. The magazine is overseen by an editorial board comprising design luminary Tom Dixon, fashion designer Matthew Williamson and Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, among others.

Lockwood says the magazine will serve the burgeoning global creative community. ‘For a long time, a lot of media have been trying to get a young, urban, trend-setting audience – people in creative jobs such as design, architecture and photography,’ he explains.

It carries ads for luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and Breitling, but also for more populist brands like Diesel.

The layout and look of Distill were created by Peter Citroni, who has designed Australian titles Architectural Review and Interior Review. He says Distill’s design created a challenge, since the magazine promotes other people’s work, rather than using its own photography, to create the language.

It showcases work from magazines as diverse as Blank, from Panama, to Hungarian fashion title The Room. Hitting the right note with design has been essential, as the publication is aimed at global creatives who are wise to stylistic tricks.

‘We are presenting the work of creatives from other magazines, so it was imperative to create a style that was pared back to showcase this photography, which is so diverse, unpredictable and varied,’ he says.

Though strange as it may seem to launch these upmarket, design-led magazines given current economic travails, publishers are about to find out whether luxury goods brands really are recession-proof, and if the editorial design is enough to carry them through.

Fashionable Fonts

• Distill uses a single font, Accidents Grotesque, in headlines and body copy

• It uses a 12-column grid to give flexibility so pages can have two, three or four columns for showcasing work

• A single font is very versatile and gives the reader less to contend with, according to Citroni

• WSJ uses an Art Deco-styled font called Phaistos, while the logo features a diamond-shaped full-stop

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