Sep 26, 2012

A Look at the Design and Influences on Fairchild’s New M Cover

[Originally published September 26, 2012 on the Folio: website]

The first issue of M magazine, the luxury men’s magazine last seen in 1992 and being revived by Fairchild Fashion Media, came out on Monday with a very distinctive and unusual cover. It’s not the cover subject, Bradley Cooper (People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive of 2011), but the design, format, and photographic style that makes M very different from the usual newsstand fare.

According to M creative director Nancy Butkus, the cover design was influenced both by European men’s magazines like Port and Huck, as well as vintage issues of Fortune. “We had a stunning 1930s Fortune as our cover inspiration, and in some way we just updated what they were doing—they had borders on the cover and so do we, but ours are asymmetrical.”

Like Fortune, M’s cover was printed on a rich, thick, uncoated stock, with a felt finish, making it both a visual and tactile treat. I’m guessing, however, that M will not be mailed to its subscribers in heavy cardboard cases the way Fortune was until the early 1950s. The idea that upscale magazine consumers will respond positively to superior production values has been floating around for a while; it’s nice to see someone actually trying it out.

Debut_MAlthough I would have loved to see M try to resurrect the very-80s expanded logo from the original magazine, they hired noted logo designer Jim Parkinson to draw a smart, modern, updated version. Parkinson has been creating and revising magazine and newspaper logos for years, but this is his best and most impressive work in some time (and that’s saying something!). It’s also very different for the Condé Nast/Fairchild magazines, most of which tend to have flat, relatively straight-forward type logos that aren’t nearly as “designed” as this one.

There’s a lot that’s “off” on this cover: the varied white bands on the right side and bottom, the quote running down the side, the use of the issue theme “Ambition” as the main headline. There’s a definite effort to make M feel stylish and a bit European, and for a luxury men’s magazine trying to distinguish itself from the crowd, that’s probably a smart move.

The photograph of Bradley Cooper, by Jason McDonald, is also very different from what appears on other American men’s magazines. It feels simple and authentic, almost non-stylish, and ridiculously friendly and intimate. Not to mention the power of those blue eyes, which are undoubtedly making members of both sexes weak in the knees.

Like everything else on the cover, it’s a smart way to establish a visual identity for a new magazine. The challenge for M will be in pursuing this idiosyncratic and slightly skewed cover approach every issue (it’s a quarterly), and not giving in to the demands for a more straight-forward, traditional design.