L’Officiel Philippines: On fashion and fandom in the digital age

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(Left) Nadine Lustre photographed by Regine David. (Right) WayV photographed by Sang Hun Lee. Photos courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

In the world of costly print runs, overheads, and struggling circulation numbers, the magazine cover is an important piece of real estate. In the glory days of legacy print titles, the cover subject reveal is an anticipated event — unveiled usually a few weeks before the magazine is available on newsstands. A lot of work goes into that page — an image that acts as the monthly statement of the title. There’s the debate on who should be the subject, the massive production needed, and the careful selection of who should be doing the interview.

Vogue, by way of longtime editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, revolutionized the world of fashion magazines by featuring Hollywood celebrities on its cover, with Renee Zellweger on a 678-page September 1998 issue. But as the influence of magazines waned, there are those who found a way to innovate covers such as cutting-edge graphic design (New York Times Magazine) or featuring artists and personalities with niche followings that you wouldn’t normally see fronting a magazine (The Gentlewoman, Fantastic Man). There are also titles such as Monocle that remain steadfast amid industry shake ups, including the COVID-19 pandemic, by transforming into multi-platform brand by expanding into books, brand collaborations, and radio programs.

In the Philippines though, print magazines come far and few in between. Since Summit Media shuttered its print magazines in 2018, there is a significant reduction of local titles on newsstands. Mega Magazine (and its sub-titles) and Tatler Philippines are still around, devoted to the audience that they have carved through the years. Travel magazine Grid only occasionally exists in print. So L’Officiel Philippines launching this March 2021 is a welcome addition to a scarcity of exciting print titles. And as far as cover statements go, its three-cover launch says so much about how L’Officiel Philippines stands as a title.

But first, don’t consider this a comeback. While L’Officiel had briefly dipped its designer-clad toes here from 2015-2017 with the gorgeous L’Officiel Manila, there are a few things that make this year’s L’Officiel Philippines different. An obvious one is the name, trading the Philippine capital for a more comprehensive signifier that this edition is now a direct partnership with the parent company, Jalou Media Group rather than a franchise (as L’Officiel Manila was). Editor-in-chief Danyl Geneciran and publisher Chica Villarta were keen on saying that L’Officiel Philippines is continuing the tradition of fashion coverage that L’Officiel Manila has already set.

Nadine Lustre photographed by Regine David on the pages of L'Officiel Philippines. Photo courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

Geneciran, who has had experience working in Jalou Media Group titles before such as L'Officiel and L'Officiel Hommes editions worldwide, happened to have conversations with the publication’s higher ups about L’Officiel Philippines as part of their expansion in Asia, with Singapore and Vietnam as recent additions.

Geneciran wrote in his first editor’s letter, “Our first print issue portrays a direct representation of what you can expect in our content: global fashion and pop culture. And what better way to start than having Nadine Lustre, idol group WayV, and top model Yumi Lambert grace our covers, highlighting their relevance and their impact in their respective fields?”

Opening the pages of L’Officiel Philippines in the time of K-pop and Instagram influencers certainly feels different. Pop culture coexists with high fashion coverage, not merely the former serving as a means to prop up the latter.

WayZeNies will feel indulged in a rich 16-page feature that comes at the heels of the WayV’s latest release “Kick Back.” Though the album has its own photobook, seeing the group in a Philippine title has certainly elated Filipino WayZeNies.

Nadine Lustre’s cover spread is equally rich, with an immersive interview where the Filipino actress and singer opens up to her struggles. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Nadine on a print cover, too. On the other hand, the Yumi Lambert feature taps into the DNA of what has made L’Officiel a high fashion title in the last 100 years.

Elsewhere, there’s a feature on the Filipino boy group BGYO, an interview with designer Rita Nazareno, and an essay on the late artist David Medalla.

It’s undeniable that it’s the WayV and Nadine Lustre covers that have set online conversations alight. Geneciran and Villarta emphasized how they want the print edition of L’Officiel Philippines to be a collectible, with its online platforms coexisting with the magazine. The cover stories only exist in print yet there are articles and photo essays related to the WayV and Lustre cover stories on their website. Tapping the power of fandoms has been a boost for magazine sales, as seen in the success of the Esquire, WSJ Magazine, and Variety covers of BTS. Filipino fans commit to group orders of Japanese and Korean magazines featuring their biases. My recent magazine purchases were archival issues of a double-cover Vogue Korea featuring EXO and a T Style Magazine Singapore with Park Seo Joon. The WayV cover of L’Officiel Philippines is the first time in a very long time that I bought a local magazine. The recent NCT 127 Elle Japan cover has also set off a series of group orders on K-pop buy and sell Twitter.

The WayV spread on the first issue of L'Officiel Philippines. Photo courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

Having big groups and important actresses on the cover certainly counts as making your title collectible — compared to merely having them on a digital cover or mass-produced photobooks. “One of the best practices we saw was Esquire, Wall Street Journal, Variety’s BTS cover and they were absolutely successful,” says Villarta. “And in a pandemic world they had to reprint. Imagine in a world where everyone was on digital, a print magazine had to reprint because their choice of cover was very deliberate and I think that’s also best practice that we want to do at L’Officiel Philippines.”

Geneciran himself has had connections with the K-pop world. He’s the CEO and brand director of Privé Alliance, which has collaborated with EXO’s Baekhyun for his unisex fashion line. His last cover as a fashion editor of L’Officiel Hommes was styling NCT’s Jaehyun on the cover for the Thailand edition.

Below, we talk to Geneciran and Villarta about launching a magazine during a critical time, creating timeless content, and engaging with niche audiences.

How does it feel to launch during a critical time, during a pandemic and in, to some extent, a post-magazine era Philippines.

Danyl Geneciran: Well, I gotta be honest too. I was one of those people who felt that fear that print will eventually be a thing of the past considering a lot of the publications here, and even in the world... newspapers are becoming obsolete and the readers are getting their information right away online. But I always mention that print stands as a stronger platform in storytelling. It’s important to adjust to what’s accessible right now. And how do we do this? Through interactive ways [of] telling stories, maybe through short films, or like being active on social media or hosting events or virtual activities. But basically telling stories in a method that’s convenient and current without really killing print.

Chica Villarta: I think if there’s anything that we want to emphasize as well is that we’re not just launching print in a digital world, in a pandemic world wherein everything is on digital but it’s really being able to release a multi-platform brand wherein print harmoniously coexists with digital. Even internationally, L'Officiel developed a centralized digital system wherein all L’Officiel websites around the world…currently we’re in 29 countries and all of these 29 countries, all our websites are connected to each other. So if you visit the L’Officiel Philippines website, one click could lead you to the U.S. website, to the Mexico website, to the Lithuania website and even in terms of sharing content, we’re all sharing content. It’s very easy for us to syndicate content and in fact right now [on], around 40% of our content is syndicated.

"We really want the magazine to be tactile memorabilia and once you go on our web you discover something about them. It’s a more holistic fan experience," says L'Officiel Philippines publisher Chica Villarta. Photo courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

As a multiplatform brand, that’s mainly known for being a print legacy, what are the things that you’re keeping in mind in terms of longevity and sustainability in terms of your business?

Chica Villarta: First is we want it to be more like a collectible magazine. How does a magazine become a collectible? Well, number one, I think our content is really more irreverent, they’re really more timeless. The DNA of focusing on what’s hot in the market will always be there but I think we always take a look at what’s deeper, what’s the story behind the brand, what’s the story about our subjects, our personalities that no one has read before?

Danyl Geneciran: We really want to make sure that the ones we put on our covers are relevant and have a huge following and fan base. But at the same time, the type of followers they have are the kind of niche that we want to target. I think niches are important — they’re very loyal and committed. One way of how we want to run L’Officiel is by gathering these groups of niches, not just the fashion enthusiasts and print lovers in the country. To give you an example, for this issue we put WayV who has a huge fan base and Nadine Lustre but at the same time we don’t want to stay away from fashion and how L’Officiel truly is. That’s also one reason we included a top mode [Yumi Lambert] on the cover. The first issue [covers] really represent the type of content that we want to feature.

I wanted to ask Danyl, because you had an experience working in Korean magazines and you saw how the Korean wave swept the world through print. How do you want to transfer that experience in L’Officiel Philippines?

Danyl Geneciran: Well, it’s really a matter of observing what’s relevant and I pride myself with a network with the industry of K-pop or Korean dramas and even in Hollywood. To make it simple, I think [it’s about] what’s relevant in the country and being that platform who’s able to get these specific talents into our magazine.

What are the things that you want to maintain in your magazine from the core of L’Officiel now that it’s celebrating 100 years?

Chica Villarta: Back [when] L’Officiel [began] in the 1920s, they also started featuring working women in the covers. You had opera singers, poets, artists who were in the cover of L’Officiel in the ‘20s. Now, I think that it’s gonna be the same for us. We live at a time wherein some creatives, believe it or not, have never had their works published in a magazine or a publication because sobrang konti na lang. There are so many young creatives [who] haven’t had the opportunity to be featured in print. It’s all [on] digital. At least with us, we’re able to give another platform for creatives to display their work just like what happened back then in the 1920’s where designers and working women were also able to feature themselves.

Danyl Geneciran: I think what we really want to maintain is the L'Officiel identity and its reputation in providing rich visuals and really focusing on fashion. I think there’s something about fashion publications that they were able to maintain an almost cult-like following in the way they link with the physicality of a magazine. For anyone who has a massive interest in fashion, I think the phrase September Issue means rich and carefully crafted fashion images and very strong visuals. [The magazine will have] more personal touch points with the brands and personalities that these followers tune in to and I don’t think it would create the same impact or generate as much engagement if that’s being translated into digital.

Chica Villarta: Which is why our digital content doesn’t cannibalize our print content, it’s very different. They supplement each other.

Top model Yumi Lambert on the first issue of L'Officiel Philippines. Photo courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

There are so many things that challenged magazines last year and it was surprising how they responded to the pandemic. Now that we are transitioning to another period, how do you want to respond to the times as as a multiplatform fashion magazine?

Danyl Geneciran: I think people just miss it.

Chica Villarta: Correct. I really don’t think that just because your content is about fashion it means that you don’t care. I hope that it doesn’t come across that way. In responding to the pandemic, we also have to find ways to recuperate, to decompress in terms of our mental health. To really seek refuge in content that gives us hope of a better future and I hope that this is one of the publications that is able to provide that.

Danyl Geneciran: I think it brings us back to the subject of making it into a collectible and it’s one of the reasons why we want to put big celebrities on the cover. Not just locally but getting talents anywhere. I think that’s because these people want something physical and want to collect something and not just [read] things online. In regards to the pandemic, everyone goes through the same situation and goes through suffering in their own ways at this time. But in order for you to move forward, you just have to work around with the current status and make it work. As someone from the industry, as a publication in the industry of fashion, we are also obligated to still contribute to the community by providing information.

Chica Villarta: Another thing that also makes it collectible, as Danyl said, the content is timeless so you know when you read The Gentlewoman or Monocle, even if it’s not the latest issue, the articles make sense. Parang ang sarap nya pa ring basahin. I hope that that’s how we come across and definitely that’s an art that we want to perfect in terms of creating content for the magazine na kahit na even if you pick up the WayV issue and you read this story on David Medalla six months from now, a year from now, it will still be relevant.

What are the things that you want to do in your launch that you couldn’t do because of the pandemic?

Danyl Geneciran: Definitely a launch event, a big one and then bringing our cover stars here, that was an idea.

Chica Villarta: Yeah, definitely introduce ourselves in a bigger way. Our launch was really a perfect way to show how print and digital can coexist. Our entire print launch was done on digital. We are also exclusively online for selling right now. We have plans to be on ground but right now, our point of selling is from e-commerce. By opening up our online e-commerce site as the only source to get L’Officiel Philippines right now, it’s like, you don’t have to go out to risk your life or be in a situation where you can’t socially distance just to get a copy of the print magazine. Even in our launch, for the audience, it may just be Instagram squares but that was really deliberate in the way that we unfolded all the teasers and materials to build hype for the brand. It’s these limitations that help us make sure that our digital and print platforms work hand in hand effectively.

"What we really want to maintain is the L'Officiel identity and its reputation in providing rich visuals and really focusing on fashion," says L'Officiel Philippines editor-in-chief Danyl Geneciran. "I think there’s something about fashion publications that they were able to maintain an almost cult-like following in the way they link with the physicality of a magazine." Photo courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

Last question, Danyl mentioned having niche audiences. Definitely your premiere issue will bring in different kinds of audiences who would not be familiar with the L’Officiel brand. How do you want your magazine to engage with those audiences? Or introduce L’Officiel and the content that you want?

Danyl Geneciran: Going back to my experience with other titles, they’ve actually been featuring celebrities on the cover, more specifically, most Asian titles have been featuring K-pop idols, Korean actors or Hollywood celebrities...

Chica Villarta: It’s being able to provide what fans want, that’s number one.

Danyl Geneciran: I guess the way we translate it is just finding that balance between entertainment and fashion. And also making sure that the cover subjects we feature are also fashion-worthy.

Chica Villarta: Or being able to use celebrities as a conduit for people to discover more about fashion. Obviously we heavily monitor fan sentiments especially on Twitter. It’s really so heartwarming. The responses we get from the WayV fans and Nadine fans, these are the younger generation and they’re like, “Oh my god. It’s my first time to buy a magazine.” Or “Oh my god, this is my first magazine in my entire life.” And it’s so heartwarming because we’re able to give that experience to them.

You know when we were young and collecting magazines, at the start of the month it was so exciting because sino kayang nasa cover? What will be featured now? People in this generation don’t know that feeling.

We’re happy that we’re able to give this tactile experience to fans. Once you go to the L’Officiel website you’re able to discover more about them as fans. We really want the magazine to be a tactile memorabilia and once you go on our website, you discover something about them. It’s a more holistic fan experience I think. And once you open up the magazine, it opens you up to a deeper understanding of fashion, lifestyle, and stories that are evergreen and you can read months and years from now.