LONDON — When Richard Dennen was named Tatler’s new editor in chief, he came into the role with a very clear idea of what the monthly glossy should stand for: It was to be “impossibly chic,” with a high dose of glamour, a nod to the past and a modern, more international outlook at what high society looks like today.
“What’s really exciting in the 21st century is to have these old heritage brands and to be able to update them into something which is very modern and cool — and one of the cool things about Tatler is that it’s so old and has this incredible heritage of culture, politics, high society and fashion,” said Dennen in an interview at his minimalist, all-white office at Vogue House. It’s decorated with a poster of one of his favorite Tatler covers from the past, shot by Norman Parkinson.
Dennen, who studied at St. Andrews University at the same time as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and began his career at Tatler under Isabella Blow, is endlessly fascinated by the history of the magazine, which was founded in 1709 and is the oldest enduring title in the world. He calls it the original social media; “It was the original media platform that talked about the social world. I thought that says it all, that Tatler was doing it before anyone else,” he added.
For his first issue, which hits newsstands today with Nicole Kidman on the cover, he marries the past with his vision of the future.
Kidman — in a Giambattista Valli couture dress — makes a case for the enduring appeal of old Hollywood glamour. She features in a pared-back, barely airbrushed shot by Victor Demarchelier, which mirrors the Parkinson image that sits behind Dennen’s desk.
“One of the things that I felt strongly about was that Tatler had to have very recognizable faces on the cover to really take you in. And here’s my favorite Hollywood actress, who has also been brilliant at playing an Englishwoman,” said Dennen. “That’s not to say that we can’t launch new people.” In that case, he said, they may have a bigger back story. “It might be a new ‘It’ girl. I like a mix.”
He applies the same mixed approach when it comes to the stories inside the magazine, which range from politics to couture to London’s best members’ clubs, in a bid to reflect the conversations taking place at high-society dinner tables. They’re mainly about “Brexit and the new Annabel’s,” according to Dennen.
“What’s special about Tatler is that it can be about anything. It’s got a shoe firmly planted in the fashion world, but it can also report on the most important developments in culture and politics. It’s a magazine about people.”
In the first issue, Sunday Times of London writer Rod Liddle writes about being a Brexiteer in a Remainer world, while the heirs of the Anglo-American Astor family pose at their new Côte d’Azur mansion. Middle Eastern correspondent Bel Trew offers an insider account at what happened inside the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, when the hotel was used as a lavish prison last year for high-profile Saudis.
“I really wanted to know if those Princes were ordering room service,” said Dennen.
He said he wants his Tatler to employ wit in a sophisticated way and develop an aura of authority. “I feel strongly that you can get wit across in a really sophisticated way, and I think visual wit is really important. I didn’t want it to be puerile, or silly but rather something beautiful that both a grandmother and granddaughter can pick up. So nothing rude,” he added.
Dennen is introducing men’s content with his first issue, which features a men’s wear shoot inspired by Rupert Everett’s new film on Oscar Wilde, “The Happy Prince,” and an interview where Everett discusses gay relationships.
Elsewhere, he offers his take on today’s young high society, which puts rugby stars like Maro Itoje and restaurateurs such as Ire Hassan-Odukale next to aristocrats, including Philippa Cadogan, also a new contributor to the title.
The days of assuming status through inheritance and posing in tweed in old mansions are over, according to Dennen: “In the 21st century, it’s not just enough to be the great-grandchild of someone who was in Tatler before. We are a high-status magazine, but what I wanted to recognize is that we get status in many different ways today.”
As he establishes his vision for a more international Tatler, Dennen is also aiming to broaden the magazine’s audience and rework the web site into a buzzy, stylish destination that keeps up to speed with the pace of the Internet. He started by reporting live on the royal wedding with his team earlier this month, giving readers the scoop on all things Meghan Markle — whom he claims to be obsessed with — but also on all the aristocratic wedding guests.
“I see that I actually edit two different publications. One is this beautiful print edition that sits around for a month, and the other is this very buzzy, bright, stylish web site that’s much more fast-paced. It can grow to be a mix of high-society-meets-E-Entertainment, that’s where we can go with online,” he added.