Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W Magazine, spoke to students at Uris Hall on April 11 at an event co-hosted by the Columbia Business School Retail & Luxury Goods Club and Columbia University Fashion Society.
Tonchi spoke on the arc of his career, from his childhood influences to his movement through various sectors of the magazine business. He has held several high-level positions in publishing since moving to the United States—he began as the creative director of Self, a former Condé Nast women’s lifestyle magazine, and later served as fashion creative director at Esquire and editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine before moving to W in 2010.
Tonchi discussed the future of the magazine industry, focusing primarily on the relationship between a brand’s digital coverage and its physical subscription.
“I want to be very positive in terms of the future of magazines. I like this idea of a keeper, a product you want to collect, but you have to be ready to pay more for it. It’s almost a luxury product, and it shouldn’t arrive on your doormat wrapped in plastic,” Tonchi said.
Despite his emphasis on the importance of the physical subscription, Tonchi recognized that the future of content creation lies in digital and social platforms.
“We have to move faster and invest more in digital, but in particular ... in social media,” Tonchi said. “We have become kind of a daily, I’ve tried to completely forget the idea of periodicals. Either you are a news organization 24/7, or you’re something different. My digital editor never goes to bed until Kim Kardashian does, so his life is a mess.”
This is the second event of the semester for the Retail & Luxury Goods Club and the second this month for CUFS, following a pre-professional panel with fashion photographer Romer Pedron on April 5. At the panel, CUFS Director of Communications Lilly Kallman, BC ’20, spoke on how the group chooses whom to invite to campus.
“I think it comes down to what some of our individual passions and interests are,” Kallman said. “In the fall, a team member brought in Julie Houts, who’s an illustrator that he really loves and follows. We find people that we want to hear from and figure out if others would be interested as well.”
Tonchi continued his conversation with a Q&A session, answering questions about how the focus of magazines and fashion has evolved with the shifting interests of its consumers, bringing to the fore the ways in which fashion reflects society at large.
“More than ever, culture is the added value to any luxury product, and most recently, I think politics has become a very important added value in fashion,” Tonchi said. “I think it’s because of your generation and the activism that’s been happening in the last year. I see a lot of fashion companies associating themselves with political messages, and when I say political, I don’t say Mr. Trump.”
When speaking of his personal vision for W, Tonchi noted that he sees the three most important components of the magazine’s identity as discovery, diversity, and disruption. Discovery has particularly been highlighted in W’s annual Movie Issue, which most recently featured Greta Gerwig, BC ’06, on one of its 2018 covers. Gerwig, who has since received two Academy Award nominations, had previously been featured on the September 2010 cover of W as an up-and-coming actress.
“We asked Greta because we loved Lady Bird, and she was on my first cover at W in 2010, believe it or not. My first cover ever as editor was with Jennifer Lawrence, Greta Gerwig, and Jessica Chastain. So it was quite a discovery,” Tonchi said.
Tonchi sees an optimistic future for magazines in general, and was confident in reiterating the power that the industry continues to hold in both fashion and publishing.