Sunday, September 13, 2009

Naked Ambition

Magazine publishers take note. The collectable-cover stakes have been raised. Not only do you need multiple fronts for your title to win attention. Now you also need a man who miraculously takes off all of his clothes.

"Strip tease! Karl says peel please," says the caption above a picture of a stern-looking model. It would take a tough person to disobey the commands of Karl Lagerfeld in guest-editing mode. So off comes the giant sticker covering the front of Wallpaper* – and off too comes the model's Dior Homme suit. And everything else.

What did Tony Chambers, the title's editor-in-chief, say when Lagerfeld explained his cover concept? "I said 'Of course', and then I really, really panicked. We've done expensive things in the past, but I knew this was going to break the bank a bit more."

Lagerfeld's buff young man – "Karl thinks he is the male Gisele [B√ľndchen]" – is not Wallpaper*'s only September cover star: Philippe Starck has created an alternative cover, charting evolution. It has the advantage of not causing you to be shamed in the news agent by a moment of ill-advised peeling. But it's Lagerfeld's version that marks a new high – if you could call it that – in the collectable cover.

"With magazines, you've got to make a bit of an event," says Chambers. "For people to spend their £4.30 there's got to be something that's nice to hold, to feel, to keep." (The cover resticks so you can repeat the undressing experience, should you desire).

Wallpaper* is not the first mag to embrace the special cover, of course. Radio Times printed 21 different covers for Comic Relief last year, and has also used artwork from the comic book creator Jamie Hewlett; Esquire did a fashionably styled Morph; Empire has a long tradition of printing multiple covers for big films. The aim is either higher newsstand sales, increased publicity, reaching different kinds of consumers, or all three.

But the question is: how do you keep increasing the specialness? Harper's Bazaar has already cornered the market in crystal-embellishment; i-D turned out 12 covers for its March issue; many titles regularly create special covers for subscribers. The multiple cover is so commonplace it seems in danger of losing its impact. Unless, of course, you put a strippable man on it.

From Media Guardian

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