Grazia founder Fiona McIntosh presented her thoughts to a full house of fashion lovers on Monday evening.
The Fashion Network’s latest event, held at Harvey Nichols, proved to be particularly popular with Manchester-based fashion students, determined to discover the formula behind McIntosh’s undisputed success within the industry.
McIntosh’s background is not strictly fashion. Originally a news journalist, she travelled from her home country of Australia to London, working for such publications as The Daily Mirror and The Evening Standard.
Through what she describes as ‘old-fashioned persistence’, she went on to acquire editorship positions at both Company magazine and Elle before launching Grazia in 2005. She described the launch as both the highlight of her career so far, and as the most stressful experience of her life.
“It’s about knowing what your generation and women want,” she said of her success at Grazia. “It’s about packaging that. It’s about how you can present that information in an interesting way. That’s where journalism comes in.”
Grazia, dubbed ‘Britain’s first weekly glossy’, was borne out of a growing dissatisfaction with the ‘frustratingly slow’ nature of monthlies, McIntosh explained. An idea that took five or six weeks to materialise in print on a news stand was no longer fast enough.
With the growing popularity of weekly celebrity gossip magazines such as Heat magazine, not to mention the phenomenal speed at which digital content was being produced, information had to be presented to readers faster.
“We wanted to match the pace of fast-fashion retailers,” McIntosh explained. The aim was to allow customers to read about the trends as they hit the stores. In recognising the link between media and retail, Grazia had spotted something exciting. Retailers are now influencing editorials to an unprecedented extent.
“The mashing of media and retail is really interesting at the moment,” McIntosh said. “It’s a model that I think we’ll see more of.”
She cited the recent trend of high-end magazine editors turning their hand to retail consultancy. Lucy Yeomans left her position as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar to undertake editorship of luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter’s online content this month. Similarly, Topshop’s creative director Kate Phelan was poached from her position as fashion director at Vogue last year. There are many more such examples.
McIntosh went someway to dispelling the common preconception that printed fashion publications are losing their relevance and necessity in the face of digital media. She advocates the idea that there’s definitely still a place for print media, it’s simply that that place is now more niche and contained.
With many leading retail brands now producing their own printed publications, she explained how retailers can enhance the digital with a print guide. Asos, H&M and John Lewis provide examples of such retailers who choose to produce hybrid print publications; part look-books, part magazine.
“It’s basically a way of putting the buy in context,” she explained, “although I feel personally that too much content detracts from the retail experience. Less is still more. You want to encourage people to buy, not distract them.”
She also noted the growing question of how online publications can successfully monetise their content.
McIntosh was asked several questions by the audience, which centred for the most part on her advice to those wanting to break into the fashion industry.
Her opinion on the highly topical prevalence of unpaid internships within the industry was arguably controversial. Having interned herself, she described internships as ‘enormously valuable experience’.
“I think internships are great. It’s not great when interns are exploited, but I do think they need to understand that their palms are not going to be crossed with gold. They are lucky to get in the door and it’s their chance to shine.
“It’s the ones who are willing to do anything, who are good at what they do and who are pleasant to be around that do well. It’s the ones that are not too grand to carry coffee or photocopy.
“I think it would be a terrible shame if internships weren’t around to give graduates the chance to gain an insight into the industry.”
When asked to reveal the best business advice that she’d ever been given, McIntosh didn’t hesitate in her reply. “Use your own instinct,” she said, “It’s very easy to get distracted when things aren’t going well and to panic and think that someone else knows better than you. But if you were put there for your decision-making skills, then you should remember that.
“It’s a very challenging time for media but it’s also the most exciting time. It’s about staying on top of who’s doing what, what the innovations are at the moment and how you could use them.”