In spring 2013 I got a call from Mike Meiré asking if I would be interested in helping him redesign and shape the new GQ Italia, the monthly published men magazine by Condé Nast/ Milan — Hell yeah!
This certainly sounded very exciting and I was looking forward to work with Mike and the team again, plus I was curious about the newly appointed editor-in-chief of the magazine, Carlo Antonelli.
In the first days in the Factory I started the project at zero, which was a fun challenge, nevertheless a bit intimidating. Mike had the notion of vintage sophistication in mind and briefed me to review and experiment with the infamous designs of the men magazines from the 60s/70s like Playboy, Esquire, … and of the course the old GQ’s — without getting into a nostalgic trap but keeping it very contemporary at the same time. Here is an extract from Mike’s official press statement where he stated his vision more precisely:
A more masculine appeal was needed, as the diversity and depth was missing in the current GQ focus on post-modern hipsters. However, the title already carries a strong DNA that reaches beyond modern fashionistas: Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Carlo and I started a discussion on what it means today to be a Gentleman. Being a Gentleman is about style, charisma, performance, and disirability. It is a more enriched dimension of what GQ was until now: too restricted by hip and stylish looks — in other words: too flat. The aim was to create an image of a sophisticated man balancing post modernity with life experience and wisdom. In terms of design, this meant a more masculine approach, reflected in typography, layout, image selection and overall visual language.
Based on a retro-futuristic appeal, the visual language evokes a new vintage sophistication. A slight erotic subtext provokes masculine clichés, bringing forth a new quality in entertainment. Making a certain old school approach visible — yet on a contemporary level, balancing sophistication and post-modernism. […] It was my goal to develop a visual language that opposes the dictate and irrelevance of self-absorbed “hip and stylish” magazines, bringing in more depth, and ultimately bring back the Gentleman.
I began to dig deeper into the “patient” by going on a fascinating journey of exploring all these marvelous covers from the past, beginning with the title’s transition from Apparel Arts to Gentleman’s Quarterly in 1957:
The GQ (formerly Gentlemen’s Quarterly) is originally an American monthly men’s magazine focusing on fashion, style, and culture for men, through articles on food, movies, fitness, sex, music, travel, sports, technology, and books. “Gentlemen’s Quarterly” was launched in 1931 in the United States as Apparel Arts. It was a men’s fashion magazine for the clothing trade, aimed primarily at wholesale buyers and retail sellers. Initially it had a very limited print run and was aimed solely at industry insiders to enable them to give advice to their customers. The popularity of the magazine amongst retail customers, who often took the magazine from the retailers, spurred the creation of Esquire magazine in 1933.
Apparel Arts continued until 1957 when it was transformed into a quarterly magazine for men which was published for many years by Esquire Inc. Apparel was dropped from the logo in 1958 with the spring issue after nine issues, and the name Gentlemen’s Quarterly was established.
Gentleman’s Quarterly was re-branded as GQ in 1967. The rate of publication was increased from quarterly to monthly in 1970. [→ Source]
Needless to say I became pretty fascinated by the origins of this magazine. Just take a look at some of the covers I just couldn’t resist showing you. I found them to be quite remarkable, with the photography and design beautifully catching the zeitgeist of their particular era …
See the whole archive of covers here
But back to the work. It’s so easy to get lost in nostalgic wave of appreciation for the past and somehow old magazines always look cool. But we wanted to create a product for the now!
I started off with the typographic mechanics. We wanted a bold serif headline font and decided for the Prumo Text Black by Dino dos Santos and as an alternative the Century Old Style. Our sans-serif of choice became ITC Kabel, and for highlight-boxes the Neutra with a comicesque shadow.
But we also wanted a handwritten counterpart for the pagination and monthly categorization for every page throughout the publication and so I created a range of handwritten numbers and the lettering for every month which I afterwards digitized:
The numbers were a bit trickier. Of every number I drew five versions and with the help of a randomize script the numbers get mixed up throughout the issue, so for example for page 22 you have two slightly different 2′s which has a nice and more authentic effect:
It was amazing when we finally received the first bunch of “real” material and could start playing with some great works of world-class photographers in combination with amusing Italian headlines. The content we received from the offices in Milan were partly from other international GQ’s, or purchased from other magazines, or originally created for the issue. Overall it was always an quite interesting mix and selection by Carlo and his team. Here are some selected layouts from the first issues:
Seeing the first spread in this little selection of layouts above, I remember a nice little story. While designing the story about Giancarlo Giannini, Carlo roll over to me and shared some great stories about the actor and showed me old movie extracts on YouTube “he has the greatest voice in Italian cinema!” — but to prove this fact to me YouTube wasn’t enough for Carlo so he quickly called Signore Giannini on the spot, turning his phone on speaker so we could witness his real voice!
Anyway, to further summarize the graphical elements of the first issue I wanted to show you this video by Condé Nast (presenting the according iPad app for the magazine):
Video (c) GQ Italia / Condé Nast
Last but not least the covers. For me it is always one of the most exciting things you can design. For the first new issue we had to work with image from Mario Testino’s shoot with Miley Cyrus — for the second one a portrait of Lady Gaga by Inez & Vinoodh:
After the initial starting phase and three full issues I decided to shift my focus again to my own projects. A big thank you again to everyone at Meiré und Meiré, and special thanks to Mike and Agnes, Hannes and Tim — and Carlo Antonelli, Carlo Annese, Mauro and the whole GQ team in Milan! I’m very thankful for this experience.
Grazie mille a tutti!