Jay Fielden’s Esquire is coming into focus.
Fielden, who was appointed editor in chief of the men’s magazine in January, will unveil the first issue of Esquire with his name on top of the masthead.
Although the June/July issue, which hits newsstands on May 31, isn’t the finished product — Fielden said his Esquire is still “evolving” — it does provide a glimpse at of what readers can expect from the editor down the line.
“These are hints of things to come,” said Fielden, flipping over the issue to reveal the cover, featuring actor Viggo Mortensen, along with a bolder “Esquire” logo and tagline “Rebels & Renegades.”
“The subtext of this title — of this theme — ‘rebels and renegades,’ is kind of to make a statement about the spirit of the Esquire that I love the most, that shows you the rules you should break, not the ones you should follow,” he said. “That’s the spirit. That’s a key change in tone and feel.”
The theme holds true for the “zeitgeist moment” that we’re in, the editor said, referring specifically to the presidential race. Aside from Mortensen, the issue features 27 examples of men from different generations and backgrounds that embody Fielden’s theme. They include Kendrick Lamar, Pope Francis, Dave Chapelle, Harvey Weinstein, Henry Kissinger, Phillip Roth and John McEnroe.
With such a broad sampling of men — who then is exactly Fielden’s target consumer? Who is the Esquire man?
The editor hesitated to answer that — no one wants to dismiss potential readers — especially as magazine readership is under pressure. Instead, he gave a more academic answer about Esquire’s importance as a “cultural” magazine, which “at its best,” can “direct a conversation” and appeal to both men and women.
He brought in a slate of new writers — male and female — in order to achieve that. They include Dwight Garner, John Lahr, Terry McDonell, Jay McInerney, Katie Roiphe and Lisa DePaulo.
In terms of stories, Fielden noted that he’s looking to investigative stories and first person narratives to help deliver that “umph” and nod to the magazine’s heritage of weighty long-form journalism and insightful, humorous essays.
In the summer issue, Fielden pointed to a feature exploring the potential construction of Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. Written by John H. Richardson, the story examines if it would be possible to construct such a wall, logistically and financially.
“It turns out it is not possible,” said Fielden, who commissioned a design team to produce an eerie computer-generated image of the wall to accompany Richardson’s feature.
In terms of fashion, Fielden, who had been editor in chief of both Men’s Vogue (shuttered in 2008), and Esquire sibling, Town & Country where he now serves as editorial director, said he’s “amping up” the coverage.
But, don’t expect elaborate, glossy fashion shoots and typical market pages. Instead, the editor is trading off Esquire’s journalistic heritage to tell fashion stories.
In the current issue that translates to a story on how to wear a black suit without “looking like a limo driver,” he said, and a spread on sneakers, depicting the evolution of the fashion sneaker over time as worn by stylish men.
“To me, Esquire at its heart is a magazine that has tried to understand the world through writing,” he said. “The imperative is to talk about fashion in a journalistic way.”
But making fashion relevant to readers who may not consider themselves “fashion guys,” isn’t far from how other men’s magazines approach the topic.
When asked about that and GQ as Esquire’s primary competitor, Fielden said defensively: “Number one is, GQ is a supplement of Esquire in terms of who’s [preceding] whom, let’s be genealogically correct.”
“What I think is, these are very different magazines. I truly think that. I think they think that,” he continued. “If you look at what this is going to become and the kind of tack they’re taking [is] that they are for very different readers.”
While Esquire publisher Jack Essig agreed, he did note that he will now have a greater chance with Fielden to grab ad dollars in the grooming, watches and autos space.
Fielden said he is still in the process of making changes, but a hasty redesign won’t be one of them.
“I think it would be disrespectful and would undermine the weight of the institution,” he said, offering that since his predecessor, David Granger, left at the end of March, the magazine has already undergone a “fairly refreshed approach.”
And as for masthead shakeups — Fielden hasn’t had too much of that yet.
“It takes a while to get the caliber of people who can create the team. I am aware of that,” Fielden said, while flipping through a stack of old Esquire assignment cards for writers ranging from Dylan Thomas and Dorothy Parker to Tom Wolfe, William Faulkner and Truman Capote, who was paid $25,000 for his tell-all “La Côte Basque, 1965.”
“For true change to take root and harden into a clear and consistent vision, it’s going to take a little time,” he said. “You set the bar high. You don’t do that by September. You do part of that by September. You set the bar over the course of a period of time where you can actually achieve it, and we will. ”