From where I sit the new Esquire looks the part. The cover – bespoke typeface, limited colour palette, sparse layout, Michelle Pfeiffer on an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair – is all of a piece with the borrowed modernist house my three young boys are doing their best to destroy as I write.
This could be a scene from the Sixties, when men’s magazines were as smart as architecture and design, aspiration was the order of the day and being a frequent-flying business executive sounded like the acme of masculine achievement. And that, I think, is the point of Jeremy Langmead’s relaunched Esquire: it’s an attempt to recapture the moment when men’s magazines were cool.
This is a world away from today’s men’s market (GQ aside), where the lowest common denominator is the height of aspiration – no surprise, really, when research groups regularly throw up target readers such as the 17-year-old fitter from Salford who once told me, ‘We don’t want to read anything”. For men in search of a style statement, Langmead’s Esquire could be for them. The trouble is, how many men like that want to buy something as old-fashioned as a monthly magazine?
In his editor’s letter, Langmead tells us that Esquire is ‘for men who mean business’– a twist so obvious on the original Loaded’s ‘for men who should know better’that it must have come straight from the marketing department. More interestingly, he tells us that it is for grown-ups.
Men over 30 are not, as yet, an obvious group to be targeted by publishers, mainly because all the research says that they don’t buy general-interest magazines. So Esquire sounds serious about finding a new direction and a new audience. But how new is it?
The format’s neat; the American A4 size – think Jack but slightly bigger – gives it a hint of transatlantic seriousness (Langmead makes much of Esquire’s 74-year heritage, which, it has to be said, for all but the past 16 years is American). Allied to British glossy stock, it makes for more of a package and, as Langmead would have it, less of a flop factor.
It’s tidy. There are no coverlines – at least not on my subscription copy, which comes at the bargain offer price of £12 for a year, a good trick to keep numbers up while bypassing the cost/lowest-common-denominator discipline of the newsstand.
There’s a girl on the cover, so nothing new there – although, frankly, this girl’s more of a woman-of-a-certain-age. ‘Smart Sexy
Stylish”, says the legend next to cover star Michelle Pfeiffer, who made her acting debut in 1978.
The opening Inquire section has Q&As. With footnotes! Which might be useful if this was the London Review of Books (although Q&As are hardly its style, whether with Johnny Marr or, indeed, anyone). There is the obligatory football boot shot as sculpture (one for the blokes, while doing its best not to alienate the fashion fraternity who, Freddie Ljungberg aside, are not known for their familiarity with the working man’s ballet).
There are also charts showing things going up and things going down; watches costing a day of a trust-fund manager’s salary; girls writing sex advice; girls writhing around in nothing
but golden stillettos (with the emphasis on the shoes) and accessories so ludicrous they can surely only be there at the behest of the ad manager (patent leather baseball boots? For men who mean business?).
There’s a ‘from our own correspondent’style letter from China (The mind boggles at the thought of Esquire having a bureau in Beijing); a wine page and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a Youth Culture box, in which a 20-year-old student ‘helps us stay current”. Clearly not a magazine aimed at teenagers.
David Baddiel – who was never that convincing as a lad – has a column, in which he demonstrates that he’s truly gone the far side of 40 by relating a rite of passage of sorts: the death of someone he once had sex with. Which, while interesting, is an aspect of the grown-up niche I suspect the ad team won’t be stressing with those sensitive souls, the Milanese marketeers of patent leather shoes.
Michael Winner provides the highlight of the features with ‘How To Avoid A Gold Digger”. Michelle Pfieffer turns up, of course, in a cardigan (belt by Yves St Laurent) while being interviewed by the director of her latest film (it’s not probing). And, of course, there are pages and pages of fashion.
But where the magazine does touch new heights is in the critics section – where many of the contributors mentioned at the front of the book lurk – and business pages. These come on heavier, coloured, matt paper stock (blue for critics, pink for business). Not a new idea, to be fair. Many other magazines, from Arena to Elle Decoration, have used the device (and a hazy memory here, but Playboy’s old British rival Mayfair once used similar stock for the Laboratory of Love feature, a title later nicked by FHM. There’s no such thing as a new idea).
Of course, whether you’d buy Esquire for its critics or business features is another matter. And no amount of style advice from the Daily Telegraph’s business heavyweight Jeff Randall (I kid you not) or Les Hinton interviews will change that. Still, it makes a change to glimpse something on the men’s shelf that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve entered the newsagent wearing a mackintosh.
Having said that, I await the fashion feature on patent leather macs that surely can’t be far away. Although whether a grown-up ploughing his furrow in the hectic world of business needs to be coached on what style of underpants to prefer (‘Boxer Shorts or Briefs”) is a moot point.
Frankly, it’s a wonder he has time to remember to wear them in the first place.