In what was perhaps an anticlimax, Condé Nast on Tuesday ended a week’s worth of speculation and named well-tipped (including by WWD) front-runner Stefano Tonchi editor in chief of W magazine, effective April 12. Tonchi was editor in chief of The New York Times’ T magazine and, prior to that, fashion creative director of Esquire. At W, he will report to Condé Nast editorial director Thomas J. Wallace. Tonchi succeeds Patrick McCarthy, who helped oversee the transformation of W from a broadsheet into an oversize glossy in the Nineties and turned it into a title that has since received regular ASME nominations for photography and general excellence, including three nods this year. McCarthy remains chairman of Fairchild Fashion Group, parent of WWD, until the end of the year.
The appointment represents a homecoming for Tonchi, who began his career at Condé Nast Italy (working at L’Uomo Vogue from 1987 to 1994). He then moved to the U.S. to be creative director of Self magazine from 1994 to 1996. “To go back to Condé Nast is kind of a dream come true,” he said. “There’s been an incredible relationship between myself and Condé Nast and I’m very grateful to be back.” Tonchi had been eager to leave T for more than a year, lobbying hard for a senior position at Condé Nast — as well as exploring the potential of high-level jobs at Hearst Magazines and Time Inc.
Regarding speculation he will bring top-level T staffers or other editors with him to W, Tonchi said, “No comment.” He added he was still unclear about the staffing situation at W, following the reassignment of shared WWD and W senior employees to WWD last week. “There is no way to think about a team until you know, one: the game, and two: the players who are already there,” Tonchi said.
He also emphasized the transition will be a peaceful one. “Nothing is going to be traumatic,” he said. “I don’t think there is any rush to make a revolution. It’s an evolution, it’s not a revolution.”
However, Tonchi is expected to make big changes when he takes the reins at W, and those at the top of the masthead, such as creative director Dennis Freedman, deputy editor Julie L. Belcove and fashion director Alex White, are thought to be the most vulnerable.
For her part, White is believed to have been actively lobbying for the editor in chief’s position prior to Tonchi’s appointment, allegedly asking Karl Lagerfeld and other designers to write letters to Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. on her behalf. (White did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.) Meanwhile, insiders say Freedman has already reached out to Tonchi to discuss the incoming editor’s plans for the magazine, which reportedly include decreasing the high-fashion quotient so as to appeal to a wider audience.
Tonchi is expected to address the magazine’s staff today.
Meanwhile, Wallace spoke with W staffers Tuesday and, according to several people who attended the meeting, the Condé Nast executive emphasized the increasing importance of magazines’ Web sites as drivers of subscriptions and revealed the company’s plan to begin work on a digital version of W (for e-readers) this fiscal year, though it may not be published this fiscal year. “He made me feel more secure for the magazine in general by talking up the future,” said one W employee. “But as for me, personally? I think I will know better about that after tomorrow’s meeting [with Tonchi].”
As for Tonchi’s replacement at T, a Times spokeswoman said the search for a successor has begun and the company hopes to name a new editor by May 1. And, as to be expected, the guessing game as to who that might be has already begun: Former Domino editor in chief Deborah Needleman could be a contender, as could T’s online director Horacio Silva, though neither could be reached for comment. Other names being tossed around include Wallpaper editor Tony Chambers and Time contributor Kate Betts. Before a summer lull, there will be five Ts out between Sunday and May 23. Those issues are presumably well under way, which will allow Tonchi’s successor to put his or her firm stamp on the fall women’s fashion issue, out Aug. 22.