The media hoo-ha that met Stefano Tonchi’s move to W in the latter part of 2010 demonstrated two things: (a) that editors in chief of fashion titles really do enjoy mainstream celebrity status these days; and (b) that the combination of the magazine and Tonchi is an irresistibly powerful package. Which is why, to whispers of ‘the new Anna Wintour!’, a gaggle of cameras and microphones shadowed his every move at the September shows. Expectations were high for this highly respected editor, whose career in publishing began at the tender age of 17 when he created a homemade music publication (he describes it as a ‘pseudo-magazine’) with a school friend. In his twenties he set up a Face-like style magazine in Florence which he edited and art directed called Westuff, and in the late Nineties contributed to the renaissance of Esquire as its fashion creative director. During his revolutionary spell at the New York Times he launched a batch of new titles, including the highly regarded T magazine in 2004, as well as its award-winning online companion site. Hopes are high that he can bring the same revitalising energy to W.

Written by Elizabeth von Guttman
and Alexia Niedzielski

Portrait by Alex Salinas

Not a lot of people know this, but at one point in the mid-Nineties you were the creative director of J. Crew. How did that come about?

Yes, that was an interesting in-between experience. When I moved to the States, I wanted to learn as much as possible about mainstream America. I think if you come to this country, you have to experience the mass-market, and you know, you cannot be any more ‘Americana’ than J. Crew; I don’t even think Ralph Lauren was more ‘Americana’ than J. Crew. I had always worked on niche publications, like Italian Vogue ande, magazines which had the best photographers and writers but that were really meant for insiders and had a certain kind of snobbery. So, in coming to America, I tried not to have that attitude. At the time, Emily Woods was taking the company over from her father, who founded J. Crew. She was moving the brand in a new direction and she talked about the catalogues as if they were books or magazines, which she wanted to have a more editorial perspective.

Is it something you want to re-explore, working with a brand in the future?
I’m not sure — you never know where you will end up or where life will take you. At J. Crew, I never had any involvement in designing the clothes, that’s something that I have no interest in. I’ve been an editor, fashion editor and a stylist but unlike some other editors or stylists, I’ve never thought I was a designer. Just because you like clothes or you wear them well, it doesn’t mean that you are good designer; there are enough designers out there.

There’s been a lot of attention over your move to W. Was it difficult to leave T after creating a bit of a family there?
It was difficult. I created this group of magazines at the New York Times and they were really my little babies, my creatures. I had put together a team of people I really enjoyed spending time with and I think there was a certain kind of joy in the magazine and website that was apparent to the reader. At the end, it was also something I created for myself and not for somebody else, in terms of who the reader was and that’s always a good way to start, especially if you want to live a happy life.

Your move to W was so widely documented. It seems like the world has never had such a curiosity about the fashion industry. What do you make of that?
Fashion has never been as popular as it is today and that’s mainly because as a business it has become so powerful. There are such large budgets involved now and brands can really influence the way people think and behave. Some fashion designers are more influential than film directors or musicians but they don’t realise it. Tom Ford has had an incredible influence on society through his fashion. He thinks now he is a real artist because he is a film director, but actually he did something very serious as a fashion designer, not just through his clothes but through his campaigns and his conduct. He really pushed the boundaries; he was out there and he made that kind of ‘double-sexuality’ accepted, as well as bringing back a love of modernism. At the same time, it looks like fashion is becoming less and less creative. That’s kind of the contradiction: as fashion becomes more and more popular, it’s less creative because there is really less space for strange or original ideas in such a large system. I think it’s probably a growing crisis. It’s not just that designers today are less creative than they used to be — the environment is less creative.

Who do you think are now the most creative designers out there?
I like people who do their own thing and stick to it. I like Raf Simons very much. His work is very conceptual and considered: the idea comes before the clothes. I love Miuccia Prada; when you think about how big Prada is, how many stores they have but they still keep us interested in what they do and they take risks. And then you have Nicolas Ghesquière, Stefano Pilati, Alber Elbaz — they’re all very interesting designers with their own point of view.

There are so many shows at fashion week now, and you’ve said that you don’t think there should be as many. Do you think brands will continue to show collections in this traditional way?
I think they’re going to use more plat-forms. Still, the experience is unique — it’s an experience that you live and you hear and you touch and you sweat. We still go to the fashion show because the experience you get there really cannot be substituted by looking at pictures on a website. But I do think there are too many and some are really unnecessary. I think there should only be shows when there is something to show. And then you do a lot of technical presentations that are really for buyers and the people who are there to sell the clothes, and then you have a lot of other kind of events that can focus on special areas of the production. To have four full shows a year is ridiculous I think. At the same time, they should do as many showroom presentations as they need — that’s not the problem. It’s business. They have to put new stuff in the stores, because going to the stores is part of the entertainment experience. I mean, it’s what young people see as a form of sport, somehow.