The Fall And Rise Of ‘Details’ – Fairchild Publications Inc. relaunches men’s magazine – Brief Article

David Walker

A Fairchild design team rebuilds the mercurial magazine and helps put men’s titles back on the high road

When Conde Nast announced last spring that it was temporarily shutting down Details and transferring the magazine to its Fairchild Publications division, the design team of Dennis Freedman and Edward Leida knew one thing for certain: They were quite clear on how their Details should not look.

They did not want the pretense of most celebrity and fashion titles or the guilty–and lusty–pleasure of the lads magazines in general, and Maxim in particular.

“The magazine was clearly going to be a more intellectual read, less sensationalism, less bare breasts,” says Edward Leida, the company’s svp/group design director, “and I wanted the design to reflect that.”

When Details relaunched last October, Freedman, Fairchild’s vice chairman/creative director, and Leida, along with art director Rockwell Harwood and director of photography Alice Rose George, had succeeded: They had crafted a visual package that was sophisticated and original, intelligent and elegant.

“We never looked at it as putting on Band-Aids,” Freedman says. “We were creating a new product.”

Leida, for his part, sought a balance between cool and warm, contemporary and traditional. He combined high-tech and traditional typefaces, and gave photographs breathing room. He also paid subtle homage to Web navigation in the way he delineated sections of the magazine.

Art director Harwood is the only member of the creative team who worked on the previous incarnation of Details–though that gig lasted barely a week. He was hired by former Details editor Mark Golin. Harwood had just started on his first issue when Conde Nast shut down the magazine.

But it wasn’t long before Leida called to show him a new prototype for Fairchild’s Details. “When I heard they were going to turn it into a fashion magazine, I thought it would be something I couldn’t connect to: strange boys in skinny outfits in tortured corners, sweating in Gucci or something,” says Harwood, displaying both his publishing aversions and a gift for delivering a bizarrely poetic quote.

Instead, he was impressed: “They took away the mystery of men’s fashion.”

Meanwhile, Freedman and Patrick McCarthy, Fairchild’s chairman and editorial director, had summoned Alice Rose George, an editor, curator, art critic and self-proclaimed photography snob, to help put the magazine’s photography on the high road. George respected the work of Freedman, who had made W a showcase for unusual fashion photography, and hired fashion photographer Juergen Teller to do portraits for the new Details, including a compellingly creepy series on O.J. Simpson at home.

“I work with very good photographers–I’m very snobby about this,” she says. “They’re not necessarily famous, but once I see what they can do, I put a lot of trust in them. If you don’t let photographers’ personality show strongly, you don’t have a distinctive magazine.”

Teller’s low-key, slice-of-life portraits of Brad Pitt in the January/February issue stand out as an example of how Details uses photography. “You don’t feel that there’s this major production going on and these celebrity subjects are doing something that’s false to them,” Harwood says. “Less produced is always more attractive to me. It’s such a relief to work here because every photograph doesn’t have to be an ‘idea’ or a ‘concept.'”

How well Details will fare in its new manifestation is unclear. But as a smartly designed and evocatively photographed magazine for grownups, it’s managed to cut through a lot of adolescent hyperactivity that currently dominates newsstands.

The Creative Team was selected with the help of Adweek Magazines sister publication, Photo District News. David Walker is a senior editor at PDN. Reuel Golden is the editor of PDN’s Pix.

COPYRIGHT 2001 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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