An Evening with Founder of UK Grazia Fiona McIntosh by Nicole Broad

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On Monday I went to my first Fashion Network event since becoming a student ambassador for TFN and Future Gen series. The night was situated in the womenswear department of Harvey Nichols, and I have to say it was a perfect venue for the evening. Surrounded by stunning garments and beautiful visual merchandising, I sat down with a complimentary glass of wine (always a nice start to the night), to listen to an hour-long talk with Fiona McIntosh – the founder of UK Grazia.

With a background in journalism, writing for newspapers in Australia then moving to the UK and becoming the women’s editor of the Daily Mirror, her transition into fashion is an interesting one. By her own admission, she had no background in fashion – and the progression seemed to be a natural one from journalism to fashion journalism. Her major step up the fashion ladder was when Company scouted her to become the new editor, and after listening to McIntosh speaking, it came across as her believing this was her big break. Four years of her career was spent editing Elle Magazine, and then back to newspaper journalism she went, working for the Evening Standard – Emap.

Her idea for a weekly fashion glossy was of course one of the best in fashion print media history, with the ever-changing speed of fashion, monthly fashion magazines were struggling to keep up the pace. With a lead time of 6 weeks for the average monthly glossy, there was always the worry that another print media would pip you to the post with your main story. By the time your magazine is printed, the world has moved on. Since UK Grazia opened its doors in February 2005, the fashion world and it’s followers haven’t looked back.

The major step for bring Grazia to the UK was adapting it to the UK market. Grazia is now available in 20 countries, with each magazine being carefully designed for the specific target audience. Each shows many differences, but there are also many similarities between the magazines – keeping the overall feel and branding of the magazine. In Italy, the front cover always features a model, but as we all know Uk Grazia features a different celebrity each week. The style of photo for this celebrity was important. Instead of a staged photo shoot, McIntosh decided that a high fashion paparazzi style photo would fit better with the style of the magazine. Originally it was admitted that the fashion side of the magazine was underestimated, with the focus at first being on the news features, but soon it became apparent what fashion hungry Britain wanted. And so Grazia was born, matching the pace of retailers updating their collections, showing garments that are hitting the shops at the same time as Grazia hit the news stands.

So what comes next for Grazia? The South African Grazia will be hitting their news stands in May, which McIntosh thinks will be an incredibly interesting concept, bringing together what have formerly been racial divides – intertwining the white and black women of South Africa. This will be the first print media to have done this – and I’m sure the outcome will be as interesting as the concept.

Moving on to McIntosh’s latest collaboration – with MyWardrobe.com, her first dabble into retail. After being approached last year, McIntosh has been working with the team to rebrand the site, giving a stronger identity and bigger online presence. Before hiring McIntosh, the website didn’t have a specific audience, and she wanted this to be defined in order for the site to move forward in today’s market. The mission for the site – everyday luxury. Selling products that could be worn every day, but still giving that touch of luxury that fashionista’s today need and want. The rebranding had to consider the photography, and with the rise of street style photography it was decided that this would be an interesting and fresh concept for the brand. Taking photos using one model outside their offices in Camden, using fresh out of college photographers – the photo shoots were both cheap and effective. These photographs were used across all media for the company – another idea to save money and create a well-rounded brand image.

The target audience was decided on 25-45 year old working women, and the tone of voice needed to reflect this. It needed to be sophisticated yet friendly, not a huge amount of copy but what was there needed to be bang on. And of course, McIntosh’s experience was extremely useful for this side of things. They banned Americanisms – a tone of voice favoured by competitors Net-a-Porter, as they wanted to push the fact that they are a British company for British women. McIntosh explained that this new direction of work was very interesting for herself as a journalist, as coming from a background of working in magazines she had become accustomed to the typical £50,000 for a photo shoot – but at MyWardrobe everything was done on somewhat of a shoe-string budget. It was also interesting for her to see how print media could be used in conjunction with E-tail, when she worked with the company to create style guides to be sent to VIP customers. These were a hybrid between a lookbook and a magazine, and admittedly an expensive venture – but incredibly effective to create the brand image and to see how print can work with digital.

At the end of the evening there were a few quick fire questions for Fiona, and here’s a few for you to read…

A career highlight?

“The launch of Grazia – it was the most stressful time of my life and it nearly killed me, but it was so worth it.”

If there was one thing you would like to know at the beginning of your career, what would it be?

“I would have loved to have known what it would be like now at the start, and how big digital media would be which has been a major change in the way the industry works. It’s fast pace but exciting, we need to stay on top of what is happening now.”

How do you decide where you will release the next Grazia?

“It’s usually that they look at where they form the best relationships with publishers. This is important for any Grazia – as for it to carry on we need a strong relationship with the people who will publish it.”

Theres been a lot of controversy in the media recently about fashion internships, whats your view on them?

“I think internships are great. The thing is, interns need to realise that they are lucky to have the chance to shine, and the amount of money being received shouldn’t be important to the people who are really passionate. It’s the ones who are willing to do anything that stand out to me. If you really want it, you’ll do anything, whether it’s making tea or photocopying. They’re also the people who I’m likely to employ afterwards. If companies are forced to pay interns the same amount as they pay their usually employees, the transition is blurred and a lot of companies wont be able to afford to give interns a chance, which would be a shame.

How can new businesses keep on top of the current higher demand, and with the rise of media content becoming free online – how can we keep media a profitable business?

“Apps are becoming huge now, I suppose you can charge for these apps online. A perfect example of this would be the Financial Times – who jumped on the idea as soon as it started. It’s updated all the time and worth paying for – I suppose fast pace updating is a major thing now.”

You say that each Grazia is different, are there any similarities to them all?

“Yes, definitely. There is a massive common theme in every Grazia, and that is they are all catered towards women, and what women want to know. There could be really important news stories each week, but if there’s a new launch of J – Brand jeans – this is what our readers want. Wherever the women live, they are all hungry for fashion news. We have a meeting each week called “news and shoes”, each news story goes through our Grazia sieve. We know whats important to our customers which is the same for any Grazia around the world.”

When you personally hate a fashion trend, can you bury it and pretend it’s not there?

“No! Definitely not, we love a bad fashion trend – it makes a great story. When we see one we get excited because it’s interesting to see how it catches on. Sometimes you hate it – but in two months will you be wearing it?!”

Whats your best business advice?

“Use your instinct and trust it always. It’s easy to get distracted and to forget why you’re doing what you are, but don’t let yourself. You have been entrusted with whatever role you are working in for a reason – so trust in yourself and how others trust in you and always remember that your opinions are what they are paying you for. It’s always easy to deviate from the beginning – but don’t let yourself forget it.”

This event was a @TheFashionNetUK event, held at @HN_Manchester, and I’m sure everyone who went will thank them for it.

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Article by Nicole Broad. Follow Nicole on her blog at http://cookoo-galleon.blogspot.co.uk and on Twitter @NixiHB!

Read more from our Fashion feature; Nadine MerabiBroken Doll CollectiveLivia LucieEmma Lee & Top 10 Fashion Icons.

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