One of the trickiest decisions facing magazine-makers is when to change a successful formula. Whether consciously or not, readers develop expectations and assumptions about regular reads. As a result they may resist change, yet can quickly become bored if nothing changes.
Fantastic Man launched with Rupert Everett on its cover, and has maintained this approach ever since: using fantastic men, if you like, to highlight the magazines’ resistance to the use of professional models. It’s broadened its scope to include creative people from many fields – some, like Everett and David Beckham, very much in the public realm, others like Wolfgang Tillmans and Matthew Slotover a little less immediate. But all have been interesting, creatively-orientated individuals.
Such a simple yet successful cover concept eventually becomes a bind, and for their latest cover, the Fantastic Man team have shifted tack. ‘It had become a cliffhanger each issue, who would be on the cover?’ creative director Jop van Bennekom explained to me, ‘Each issue involved a reveal of our cover man.’ Although this had worked well in terms of PR each issue (and has arguably worked even better for the same reasons at sister mag The Gentlewoman), the team wanted to move on. ‘We decided not to prepare a cover story this time, but to see what came in from the other stories,’ says von Bennekom, ‘We all immediately went for this shot.’
Taken from a shoot by Mark Peckmezian in Peniche, Portugal, the group portrait of local men marks a shift from the single, known man to an anonymous group. ‘We wanted to work with a theme of manhood in the collective sense. It’s not a fashion image or a portrait – it asks the question, “who are these men?”’
The cover is a great step forward in my view; and from the response we’ve seen at the magCulture Shop, it would seem Fantastic Man readers are more than ready for the change too. With some relief, van Bennekom feels the same. ‘We’ve had such a positive response to this cover, and the way it is half way between fashion and reality. It was a risk, but it’s been a thrill to do something new. Now the challenge is: what’ll be the next cover?’