c.2015 New York Times News Service
c.2015 New York Times News Service
It was mid-January, the beginning of a new year, and at the menswear fashion shows in Milan and Paris, a new if not exactly unfamiliar face had appeared in the crowd. Among the magazine editors who traffic in men’s fashion, this was unusual. The men’s industry, unlike the women’s, is cozy and small, many of its high-ranking officials more or less tenured. In 2015, the editors of GQ, Details and Esquire celebrate 12, 15 and 18 years at their posts, respectively.
Into the sea of suits, in perilously high heels, came Kate Lanphear, the new editor of Maxim magazine, the frat-house (and, more recently, the military base) mainstay. It was the first time in memory that Maxim had sent an emissary to the shows.
Lanphear, who is coy about her age, is new to menswear and new to Maxim, but not new to fashion. She has spent her career at women’s fashion magazines, first in Australia (though she is American), then in the United States, at Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and T: The New York Times Style Magazine, where she was the style director.
As street-style photography took hold and readers became as fixated on the fashion choices of those who make the magazines as much as those who appear in them, Lanphear’s personal aesthetic — part rock goddess and part Lost Boy, with an angular pixie haircut and a shredded Slayer T-shirt — made her one of its stars.
When her appointment was announced last September, it sent shock waves through the industry, not only because of the magazine, rarely if ever mentioned in fashion circles, but also because Lanphear, while well-liked and well-regarded, had no experience covering men. Women’s Wear Daily broke the news in an article headlined “Maxim’s Surprise.”
“It’s such a curiosity,” said Kevin Martinez, Maxim’s publisher and chief revenue officer, who approached her for the position.
Lanphear, for her part, jumped right in, making the rounds at the European shows by day and editing by night, having scrapped the content the magazine had commissioned to start fresh. Her first issue arrived on stands Wednesday.
In an interview in her still mostly bare offices, she admitted to nerves. But she put them to good use, channeling her anxiety into the theme for the March issue: “Raw.” “I think it speaks to where the new Maxim is at,” she said.
Raw is also, she said, “very much how I’m feeling.” In a move that would have been at home in an earlier iteration of Maxim, she had the word shaved into her head, photographic proof of which runs alongside her editor’s letter. (And then, she said, “I wore a ski hat for about a month and a half.”)
The feeling is not hard to understand. Lanphear inherited a magazine in need of transition and new traction.
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Founded in 1995 by Felix Dennis in Britain, Maxim was an immediate sensation when Dennis brought it to America in 1997. “Back in the ’90s, this was the hottest thing on two feet,” said Steven Cohn, the editor of Min, the Media Industry Newsletter, which tracked ad data and reports on publishing trends.
Dennis eventually sold Maxim, along with a spinoff, Stuff, and a music magazine, Blender, for a reported $250 million in 2007.
But in the following years, its ad-page count slid precipitously as did it newsstand sales, though its reach still dwarfs most of its competitors: just over 2 million in average paid and verified circulation, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. By the time Maxim was sold in 2014 to its current owner, Sardar Biglari, a Texas-based financier whose largest holding is the Steak ‘n Shake restaurant chain, bids were reported to be less than a tenth of what Dennis had entertained. (A spokeswoman for Maxim declined to share specifics.)
Its new stewards felt its approach was out of date. “Men are different than they were in the late ’90s,” Lanphear said. The average Maxim reader is older (and, they hope, wiser) than the prevailing stereotype suggests; 33.9 years old, according to data provided by the magazine.
“They may not have been ready to hear your message five years ago,” Martinez tells luxury advertisers. “But they’re ready now.”
The challenge will be to convince the public. “I understand the reasoning,” Cohn said. “But will it work?”
Lanphear is well aware of the skeptics. “Of course,” she said. “I think everyone is skeptical, because we’ve all heard a rebrand story.” About her team, she added: “Honestly, I think everyone’s nervous about it. Can we pull this off?”
But for those accustomed to taking their Maxim crude and rude, hers is an appreciably different magazine, though pictorial evidence of its long history in lower-brow titillation still lines the office. (“I have to get those off the wall,” Lanphear said.)
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Cheesecake is still a key ingredient of the new Maxim. Lanphear’s first cover star is Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel, voted by readers to the top spot on Maxim’s Hot 100 list, and pictured inside wearing nothing more than the sand on a St.-Bart’s beach (but shot by the renowned photographer Gilles Bensimon).
Lanphear and Maxim’s creative director, Paul Martinez (no relation to the publisher), redesigned the magazine, and she brought on new staff members. Its pages now have long-form journalism, photo portfolios and marquee writers. Andre Dubus III contributed an essay on the raw theme. There is a multipage feature on high-octane gear (a six-foot chain saw, a flashlight hot enough to fry an egg in its beam) but also three high-end fashion shoots. Company research suggests that the Maxim reader, contrary to his lingering cave-bro image, is curious about fashion.
“I was surprised how interested he was — said he was — in fashion and style and grooming,” Lanphear said.
Lanphear and Kevin Martinez, formerly the publisher of Details and Elle, are counting on it. Their rebranding of the magazine is a fashion-forward one, even if Lanphear hopes its coverage will be straightforward.
So far, the response has been encouraging. Prada, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein are advertising, for the first time, in the new issue, and according to figures provided by the company, fashion advertising as a category is up 1,300 percent year to date. “We’re going to make history,” Martinez said.
Lanphear doesn’t have much time to savor the moment. She is already planning her overhaul of Maxim’s digital presence, thinking about its 16 international editions and waking up early to brush up on sports scores. Once the new issue is out, Lanphear told a colleague as she walked out of a New York Fashion Week show this week, “It’s sink or swim.”