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2012 February 21

The Custom of the Country

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Valerie Salembier and Jay Fielden Valerie Salembier and Jay Fielden
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(NEW YORK) Dapper Men’s Vogue alum Jay Fielden is making Town & Country into a co-ed arbiter of journalism, with just a dollop of society gloss. Since September, publisher Valerie Salembier has been on board to revamp the business side. The Daily checks in on the relaunch…
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

Talk us through the new
T&C.
JF: The magazine was founded in 1846, so it’s obviously been doing something successful for a while! When I arrived, the command was to make the oldest general interest magazine in America new again, with a seamless evolution. 

Which is…
JF: I’ve been making the magazine more co-ed and truly general interest. I’ve also tried to give it more of a journalistic voice. Within the one percent, there are currently revolutions, economic crises, and arguments—whether Greek shipping tycoons helping their country, or taxes for America’s mega-rich.

So is it more newsy?
JF: I hate the word ‘news’ because it gives the reader homework as soon as they open the magazine. My goal is to sugarcoat everything so it’s very fun and charming to read. Hopefully, it still has weight and relevance.

For example…
JF: Our piece on tanning. In the old days, a tan in February meant, ‘I’ve been somewhere you’re never going to go.’ Now it has other meanings.

Gotcha. What did you do away with?
JF: I don’t think I’ve left anything in the past, per se—I’ve just brought my taste and sensibility. Take ‘Social Graces,’ for example. It’s been in the magazine for a long time, and that could either feel like an Emily Post etiquette column—or, in our hands, something much more invigorating! For one issue, we explored the prevalence and significance of tattoos—we found out that Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill’s mother all had them. Turns out, having tattoos back then was actually a high-born thing!

How have the society types reacted?
JF: I don’t edit the magazine to keep people happy or unhappy—I try to do what’s worthy of the brand. My general take is that it’s been very positive. Though it sounds almost impossible that we haven’t upset someone. Perhaps the measure of success is that you should upset someone!
VS: The people who attend our events say it all. 

How’s circulation?
VS: Our advertising was up three percent in the first quarter. Our readers know what they want and need—and they have the money, which is the most important thing of all. If Harry Winston or Cartier puts a $150,000 timepiece in an ad, that will actually sell to a Town & Country reader. Why wouldn’t the advertising community love us?  

How about the newsstand sales?
VS: We’re in good shape. The newsstand has been challenged over the past five years, and no one is really doing well. But since Jay has been here, our newsstand sales have gone up
five percent!

How does Town & Country compare to your previous stints in the Hearst Tower, Valerie?
VS: Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire are like my children, but I’m having the best time of my career. This is the first truly collaborative magazine I’ve ever worked for, and everyone here is very opinionated! We’re all insane about the publication, and that comes through in ad calls.

How is this job different from Bazaar?
VS: I don’t have to put all of my energy into calling on fashion accounts. Some of them will only advertise in a fashion book, and I understand. But our readers buy Montblanc pens and Cartier watches, they take cruises across continents…

Why did you want T&C to be more co-ed, Jay?
JF: Town & Country has been a kind of coffee table prerequisite in America for a long time, and men should want to pick it up just as women do. Men and women aren’t so silo-ed anymore by gender in terms of what we want to read—we share a lot of the same interests and issues.

What’s the trick to getting more male readers? 
JF: Everything was extensively redesigned! Our design director, Edward Leida, has done a beautiful job of channeling the magazine’s elegant personality. 

How do you get along with Edward and his team?
JF: From their point of view, I’m probably too involved! It’s an intense group. They’re very collaborative, and everyone wants to prevail in terms of the way they think the magazine should look or read. Yet they’re very diplomatic, grown-up people. We spend a lot of time in the office, on our knees, huddled around one computer to work on a layout.

 

Why doesn’t T&C have a website?
JF: It’s launching—we’re aiming for mid-year, and if not, then by September. There’s not much I can talk about, but we’re working furiously. 

A site-less mag puts you at a disadvantage.
JF: Definitely. It’s probably hurt us, but I see it as a blessing that I’m able to create this from scratch.

What’s the fashion POV at T&C today?
JF: We’re not having a costume party on our pages! We feature the clothes in environments where they’d actually be worn. We give a primer on the season’s big looks, and the reader is using us as a crib sheet.

What are some of your favorite T&C
features so far?
JF: I love the Hemingway and Richards covers—they were unusual, multigenerational, there was something there to say for each, and it wasn’t PR fakery. 
VS: I knew that we were on the right track when an LVMH executive called me two or so months ago and said, ‘Jay brought journalism back to Town & Country!’ I also hear lot of positive comments about our food coverage.
JF: I’m interested in it, having edited Jeffrey Steingarten at Vogue. No magazine is doing food like T&C. I always want to take the stuffing out of snobs, including food ones!

How else have you de-snobbified?
JF: We’re recognizing when something in the room isn’t so savory.

Examples?

JF: We’re annoyed by people like the Winklevosses, instead of ignoring them. Those twins look like perfect Town & Country dolls—but their behavior doesn’t live up to the standards of noblesse oblige.

How intense is the newsstand?
VS: There’s inherent respect for our competitors, but we stand on our own. Especially on the business side, we don’t sit around talking about how we’re so much better than X magazine. We know we are!
JF: Sure, we’re in the same homes and handbags as some titles out there—but I’d call them complementary, not competitive. I’m not competing for covers. The Hemingways were not getting called by five other magazines when I decided to do them. There are some stories I’d do that The New Yorker wouldn’t do anymore.

Why not?
JF: Because Harold Ross is no longer editor! 

Speaking of The New Yorker, how did you land your first gig in the industry, Jay?
JF: I’d like to think I got my job at The New Yorker because I was smart and knew where to put every comma. But it was really just because I wore a windowpane suit to my interview with the first and last woman at The New Yorker who could be seduced a bit by the man in the windowpane suit.




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