LONDON — Nearly everything in Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou’s world is outsized, from her impossibly high Alaïa heels to the coils of black hair so long they spill over her shoulders and into the back of her black Chalayan coat; her big throaty laugh to her ambitions for 10 magazine, the love of her professional life.
Even in London, a city packed with big media personalities, Neophitou-Apostolou stands out. The founder, publisher and editor in chief of 10 oversees her own indie media group, Zac Publishing Ltd., which is named after her son. The glossy magazine comes out twice a year, while 10 Men is also biannual. There’s an editorial web site and an e-commerce site called 10 Curates that sells high-end, high-brow merch ranging from original artwork, to art and photography books to earrings by Delfina Delettrez.
Then there’s 10+, a supersized, deconstructed magazine that launched in late 2018. It comes in its own box modeled on the old yellow ones from Kodak, and has multiple parts, including a stack of giant, fold-out posters based on the title’s lavish photo shoots. Neophitou-Apostolou calls it a “book-a-zine.”
Circulation is 90,000 and it’s entirely self-funded — Neophitou-Apostolou has never taken outside investment. The business, which counts most of the major luxury names as advertisers, is also profitable.
Neophitou-Apostolou, who also works as creative director for Roland Mouret and Antonio Berardi and who served as collection creative director for Victoria’s Secret for a decade, said she can’t afford any vanity projects. Indeed, it’s been such good business that she now owns, among other things, the five-story Georgian town house in London’s Soho that serves as 10’s headquarters.
Neophitou-Apostolou, a Londoner with a proud Greek heritage and a great sense of family, loves being in control. She’s built and maintained her business with one eye on the copy, captions and cover stories, and the other locked onto the advertising and accounting.
Her friend and fellow editor and stylist Katie Grand, who helms the Condé Nast-owned Love, said that in a climate where it’s very hard to be a monthly magazine — or even to consider content to be anything slower than an hourly post — 10 continues “to shine bright.” Grand said the magazine delivers “a strong point of view, led by a very strong woman.”
Neophitou-Apostolou is marking the 20th anniversary of 10 this week with an issue called Best Foot Forward. It is packed with stories around sustainability and bio-design, gender fluidity and youth activism. For the latter, 10 photographed teenagers in their bedrooms, arguing that the floors, walls and tabletops reflect the individual’s soul and aspirations.
“It fixes this moment in time,” she said of the 20th anniversary issue, which is out today with pages of ads from Gucci, Dior, Prada, Fendi, Etro, Hugo Boss and MSGM. During an interview over breakfast at the Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, she said coming up with the anniversary themes was easy.
“With 10 we have always had those conversations — size diversity, age, gender and color diversity. They have been part of our everyday dialogue, every issue’s dialogue. I think more and more mainstream magazines have finally woken up to the necessity for those things to be part of the norm. They should never have been a separate conversation,” Neophitou-Apostolou said.
Here, in an interview with WWD, she talks about her vision for 10, why it has survived for two decades when so many other titles have failed — and the power of big thinking.
WWD: Why are you still printing a magazine in this digital age?
Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou: My initial incentive for starting the magazine really was quite selfish — I’m not going to lie. I was focused on creating a platform of creative freedom for myself and people like me. There were a few magazines at the time like Dutch, which I love, and Italian Vogue, which I absolutely love. Dazed was around, but it was much younger. I wanted to create a moment of luxury, a moment of aspiration and beauty.
Print still inspires me because it retains an element of the precious. You create images with longevity, a document that represents a moment in time but one that is timeless, too. 10 is less about representing trend, and more about creating inspirational imagery. I feel like I am perpetuating this moment of fantasy, this moment of creativity and within print you have this tangible document that can be referred back to. It’s not disposable, you are not going to see at the doctor or the dentist, it’s something you treasure.
WWD: Who reads 10?
S.N-A: This is the really weird thing. I believed our demographic was 25 to 60 but recently, at fashion shows, more and more younger people have been coming over to me. I didn’t think we were reaching them. Instagram — and our web site — inform a lot of people in different ways. They inspire people to go and delve deep into magazines. A lot of the [younger] people who work for us have come from the London College of Fashion and Saint Martins and they say they go to the library and look for [archive] magazines to read. It’s brilliant, it feels like it has circled back — like people listening to vinyl again. I feel like there is a much more physical desire now to have beautiful product that really does delve deep into lots of topics beyond just, “The trend is yellow.”
WWD: Why have you remained independent for so long?
S.N-A: This is going to sound like I’m a control freak: The thing is that because I am independent, I can often make decisions that, on the face of it, might not seem commercially viable, but I have an absolute conviction and an absolute need to have those discussions. We have never done fur ads, much to my advertising director’s dismay. I just don’t feel like I want to, but I can make those choices because I’m an independent publisher. If I was part of a bigger conversation I wouldn’t have a choice.
With the 20th anniversary issue, the temptation was to create a retrospective, but I don’t want to do that. What I wanted to do — and what we have always done — is to create a platform for new designers, creative and photography so that 10 is constantly changing and morphing.
I have always tried really hard to maintain this independent voice, this attitude of irreverence and I think, honestly, if I’m under the “cosh” of somebody else, I worry about how much autonomy I would be able to have. How much freedom? The reason I began the magazine was for the freedom of speech, visually and with words.
My background was Condé Nast and the British newspapers. At British Vogue I was an intern when Isabella Blow was there, and I realized quite quickly that I wanted an element of creative independence and that the only way I could gain that was to create my own platform for like-minded people.
WWD: It is an unbearably cold climate for magazine publishers right now: In the U.K. alone Glamour has downsized, the local arm of Time Inc. has been sold twice, while Marie Claire has ceased publication after more than three decades. The sun is setting on the big magazine groups. Is the Internet solely to blame?
S.N-A: I came from newspapers, where it was all about speed and agility and recognizing changes quickly and not getting stuck in tradition. A lot of magazines now are having their hands forced because people are choosing differently. Readers have become much more discerning and a lot of magazines’ offerings are no longer qualitative.
Readers would rather spend the 10 pounds on something qualitative than something they are just going to flick through and throw away. I am only here by the grace of those people who want to buy print, keep it, look at it and put it up on their mood boards.
There is also a lot of waste. All of these people on staff at these magazines. What do they do, all of these people? The magazines haven’t made the changes to make themselves profitable early enough. They haven’t identified where the cancer lies, where the waste lies, and they have perpetuated it. Things that shouldn’t have closed down have, and it makes me sad, but still they haven’t changed. That is the bigger issue. They have been resistant to change. It’s like they are in a coma, or floating around in their flotation tank, with the windows and doors closed, oblivious to the changes, oblivious to what is happening.
I have got quite a business approach to my world, because I own it. Every penny misspent, every penny wasted impacts on my business and my business model. I also have people on staff who need to get their salaries. People are on proper salaries and that is something that I have always prided myself on — giving a value to the people that I bring into my world. My team is tiny, there are 10 of us here as opposed to hundreds.
WWD: You all must be great multitaskers.
S.N-A: You have to be multifaceted to succeed today. You have to be willing to roll your sleeves up. I still pack a suitcase, I am a very hands-on editor in chief. I read every single caption. You would be surprised how many people don’t do that.
WWD: In the maelstrom of magazine closures, one that remains standing is Vogue Italia. Tell me about how that title has influenced your work.
S.N-A: I learnt a lot from Franca [Sozzani, the late editor of Vogue Italia]. Franca was an amazing business woman, and so wonderfully brilliant. She never compromised the visual element of the magazine. She created an environment that people were super happy to be part of. It wasn’t the richest Vogue on the planet in terms of what they had to spend, but she had a very responsible attitude to what she was doing and it was almost run like an independent magazine. It was built on creative integrity — something I would never compromise. That is a key to making a good product. We cannot compromise our creative integrity, we just can’t.
WWD: We’ve talked about the readers, publishers and editors. Have the advertisers changed, too?
S.N-A: They want a more qualitative platform, something that is more in-depth, substantial and opinionated rather than “Here’s a page, here’s a credit.” And I do not think they are supporting the monthly dialogue. There will always be monthly magazines, like Vogue, that they support, regardless, but they are more into things like biannuals, bimonthlies. And they are the ones driving the bus.
WWD: That dynamic has completely flipped, hasn’t it? It wasn’t that long ago when magazine editors turned up their noses up at advertiser requests, even after pocketing their money.
S.N-A: There was a level of arrogance and snobbery. I worked at a really big newspaper, and I remember going to Milan, and the editor having this nonchalant attitude like, “You’re lucky if we feature you.” Now the advertisers have the power and can pull advertising [if they are unhappy].
Obviously I have always been an independent publisher so keeping the advertiser happy is very important. I am mindful of respecting their investment — and my environment — and I recognize that in the editorial that I give them. In the past, when other magazines were saying to advertisers, “No, you can’t come and play with us,” I would say, “Welcome to my table, everybody feast!” I think the mentality of the way we function has to change. It has to be more inclusive, it has to be more collaborative.
I think a lot of the young designers, not even just magazine editors or magazine publishers, but even designers now, the ones who will succeed into the future will be the ones that understand collaboration is the key.
WWD: Another dynamic that’s entered into the media fray is the influencer. How do you feel about them taking up space on the front row and grabbing their share of advertisers’ money?
S.N-A: There is a really funny story that I recount quite often. We were in the Tuileries and there was a frenzied activity of people trying to take pictures of someone with a teapot as a hat and some weird mismatched situation going on. Behind them, Jane Birkin was walking, but no one even registered who she was or what she was doing because they were too busy taking the picture of the girl with the teapot on her head.
Influencers are a bit like a sugar rush, the sugar rush of fashion. There are key ones who still represent a really great conversation because they are writers and they are observers and they are not just dressing up with teapots on their heads. There is still a place for the informed influencer, because an informed, eloquent influencer whose actual opinion you care about, is valuable. It’s not just any old random wearing an Instagrammable outfit.
And if the right influencer is chosen to align with a brand, they are winning because people respect them in the industry — and out of the industry — which I think is important.
WWD: What would your advice be to people working in magazines and media right now?
S.N-A: I feel like agility is something that should be injected as an absolute necessity for survival in any field, not just this one. Dodge the bumps. Find ways to avoid the pitfalls. Look ahead. Project forward. Always project forward. Sometimes you do fall foul of some decisions you make, but I feel like I can’t afford to make that many mistakes. I can’t afford to indulge in unnecessary expenditure in my environment in any way. I think if everyone approached what they did as their own business, there would be less waste.
WWD: What about your advice to anyone who’s thinking about starting a magazine today?
S.N-A: If you believe you have got something unique, something specific that you want to do, you have to be convinced that you will do it and you will find solutions to make it happen. People are scared. There is such a big fear culture of failure. I do not fear failure. I am not saying I have never failed or never will fail.
I remember in the very, very beginning I went to the bank to get a loan to [start the magazine] and the bank manager said: “If you were a restaurant you could guarantee me table covers, but you are not and you can’t guarantee me anything.” I just thought, “I’m not going to listen to you,” and so I went off and got a car loan in the same way that Giorgio Armani sold his Beetle and went around with his briefcase, aged 40, to get investment in his business.
In the beginning, people invested based on me as a person. Chanel, Dolce, Cartier all invested, in the very first issue — which is really rare. I didn’t even have a dummy, I had a folder where I just put photocopies in, and people believed in me and my process. Relationships are really important to me.
WWD: What’s next for 10?
S.N-A: I would love it to exist in China and we are having conversations with someone there. The magazine is already in Australia, and I would love it to exist in L.A. There are obviously places where I would like to globalize, but not at the cost of the brand ethos. And I would need to maintain my very specific dialogue. And — because I am a control freak — I would be controlling content constantly.
WWD: Would you ever sell it and move on?
S.N-A: I often have this conversation with my husband. He asks me: “How long do you think…?” and I say, “Indefinitely, because as long as I’m inspired by what I do, I want to continue doing it.” That is my big thing. When I’m not, then I won’t.