Dylan Jones GQ Editor and Chairman of London Collection Men, spoke with Fashion and Beauty Monitor’s Editor Sarah Penny at Conde Nast College of Fashion in Soho, in a new series of talks by The Industry. We learnt a multitude of things: from the decline of investigative journalism to his aspirations of becoming a photographer, we’ve shortlisted what Dylan Jones taught us.
“I always tell my interns that to get on, you need two things: you need to work harder than you’ve ever worked. Insanely hard! And very importantly, you need to be lucky.”
Work insanely hard
I was at Chelsea school of Arts, and then I went to Saint Martins. I left in 1981 thinking I was going to be a photographer. But I wasn’t a very good photographer. I was terrible! After I graduated, for a large part of the year, my sole existence was getting up very late in the day and then going to a nightclub. One day, a friend of mine called Mark Bailey who is a photographer rang me up and said that he’s taking some photographs for iD magazine the next day and could I help? Could I come and interview some people? And as I had nothing to do, I said yes. I went along and did the interview. I didn’t think anything of it until about 3 days later when I got a call from Terry Jones (Founder of i-D), offering me a job. It was literally as simple as that. When I got into it, I quickly realised that I never want to do anything else. I always tell my interns that to get on, you need two things: you need to work harder than you’ve ever worked. Insanely hard! And very importantly, you need to be lucky.
Follow the market
The market is very different now from how it was when I started. When I started, in the 90s, there was a lot of polishing in the magazine industry with the launch of magazines such as FHM, Maxim. However, they quickly became very reductive. They turned the men’s market, which was quite massive, into something down-market. To start off with, these magazines had huge growth, but with huge growth comes divide. That always happens. And when that happened, the only button these magazines had to press was sex. So they just became unappealing magazines to buy. This also coincided with the enormous digital revolution where you monitor the material quite tediously. So that sort of ‘down-market’ culture died very quickly. The magazines that were left tended to be the magazines that were occupying the upper strata of men’s magazine readers. For instance, majority of men’s magazine would have a man on the cover. 15 years ago, it was very difficult to put a man on the cover because copies wouldn’t have sold. You always follow the market.
“If you pay attention to quality, it doesn’t matter what form you use.”
Longform investigative journalism is dying
When I inherited the magazine, it was already incredibly successful. It was the lucky bible. It was renowned particularly with a certain type of man. It pandered its interest in finance, cars, sex – the good life. I knew that if there was anything I could bring to this proposition, it would be good journalism. So that’s what we did. We brought really good journalism work in the magazine and that became our DNA. It’s weird, ironic, and quite sad that as we continue to do that, we’ve seen a decline in long form investigative journalism in newspapers, because there simply is not enough money to do that anymore.
Quality beats medium
[With the transition from print media to digital formats—] Initially, like a lot of people, we made a lot of mistakes. An awful lot of mistakes! The tendency is to do a digital version of whatever you have but obviously, it doesn’t quite work like that. We had some problems in the beginning but like everyone else, we’re on all platforms now. We’ve got a fully functioning website, we’ve got a phone app, we have a tablet app, we’re on Instagram, and all of these things. You just have to try and protect your brand and make the material useful for those who read it. I think if you pay attention to quality, it also doesn’t matter what form you use.
“You have to be in very specific places, and you have to flatter your brand by flattering a particular kind of customer.”
You have to have a personality
[With publishing in many different countries —] All GQ’s various types of electronic media are calibrated so that they are geo-specific. So if you are in the UK, you’ll get a particular version. But I think you have to have a personality: as soon as a brand becomes homogenous, then you’ve lost something. For instance, if you look at all the big Vogues in the world — American Vogue, British Vogue, Chinese Vogue, French Vogue, Italian Vogue — they are all incredibly popular. However, each has a particular personality and they are all very different. You have to have that. The brands that you produce should be of the same quality but in terms of personality, they should each have their own.
It’s not about being everywhere
The big noise in terms of British GQ this year is that we, along with British Vogue, are the first Condé Nast magazines, digitally, to draw e-commerce in a major way. It’s very exciting. The interesting thing that’s happening in term of fashion magazines, is that everything has become about scale, and reaching masses. You can go to the newsagent in Selfridges and you’ll probably see hundreds of really brilliant fashion magazines – bi-annuals, bi-monthlies. They’ve all got great fashion in them. It is a cottage industry and it’s thriving. With good content, you attract readers, and you certainly attract advertisers. Brands know that it’s not about being everywhere. You have to be in very specific places, and you have to flatter your brand by flattering a particular kind of customer.
“The great thing about London is that we are very with tradition, and we’re very with rebellion.”
International brands are trying to kill Savile Row
London Collection Men’s idea was Caroline’s (Rush), the CEO of the British Fashion Council. She came and talked about a legacy to project the year of the Olympics. As we talked about it, it became apparent that we wanted to try and do something which was irregular – like having a men’s fashion week. It has been amazingly successful, but the important thing is that we built a platform for British menswear designers.
For LCM, I think around Season 3, I said let’s deliberately not over-market this. That was the season where there was a quantum leap, when we knew it was working. It was initially meant to be something that generated a lot of interest in our young designers and also try and bring big brands back from abroad. International brands are also trying to kill Savile Row. It was only when it became commercially viable, and the numbers started coming in along with aggressive interest from some of the other fashion weeks, that we realized we were becoming quite big.
LCM is something you won’t get anywhere but in London
If you decide to show [your collections] in Paris, you are showing in the bourgeoisie. If you show in Milan, you are showing in the most boring city in Europe, and New York doesn’t really have a men’s fashion week anymore. I think the great thing about London is that we are very with tradition, and we’re very with rebellion. If you look at the ingenuity and the dynamism and the fantastic work that these so-called ‘younger’ designers do in London, they have done this forever. You’ve got the incredible heritage of Savile Row, and you’ve got the biggest brands in the world, which are British (such as Burberry). That makes LCM something you don’t get anywhere else.
Since we were building it from the ground up, we wanted to make it fine. We wanted it to logistically sensible. So everyone was sort of in the same place and it started on time. None of this fanning around business. And we wanted to make it fun: encouraging people to have parties, dinners, performances and film screenings.
“When I was young, there was iD, there was high street, a bit of Bond Street, and Paul Smith, but everything was very narrow. Now menswear is like food. Everyone expects to be able to go out and buy an amazing dirty burger for £X.”
Menswear is like food
One of the interesting things is that you can design menswear with economic slump because it has always had a much smaller base. So when all these big womenswear brands were having these hemorrhaging sales forecasts, menswear was steadily moving on. A lot of brands were getting into menswear because they realized this is a huge potential market that they had. Also, it’s a generation shift. Men now have no qualms about experimenting a little bit. When I was young, there was iD, there was high street, a bit of Bond Street, and Paul Smith, but everything was very narrow. Now menswear is like food. Everyone expects to be able to go out and buy an amazing dirty burger for £X. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.
Britain owns every youth culture ever invented
In terms of LCM, British Menswear has the recognition globally of being the best in the world. London is the home of menswear. We invented the suit. We have Savile Row. We own every youth culture ever invented. It all started in England.
Commercially, I’d like to see that sort of recognition. I’d like to see a British Menswear brand as big as Ralph Lauren for instance. It is also important to continue to encourage the international community to come to London and use London as a base for shows, whether you are Tommy Hilfiger, or Calvin Klein, or whoever you are.
Words by Kriti Asthana
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A special thanks to The Industry for having us in the audience!
Portrait of Dylan Jones via Mail Online
Black and white photo of Dylan Jones by Giorgio Wolfgang