On Tuesday, while sitting in a chic downtown office, W Magazine editor-in-chief Stefano Tonchi — dressed sharply in a blue suit with accompanying pocket square — excitedly shared his vision for the publication’s upcoming September issue.
September is undoubtedly the biggest issue of the year for any fashion publication, but this year is particularly significant for W. Not only does it mark the final work of former fashion director Edward Enninful before ascending to his new role of editor of British Vogue, but it also includes an accompanying augmented reality app. For W, which has significantly amplified its digital efforts in the past two years by quadrupling its digital team from four to 16 and finessing its video and social media approaches, this year’s September issue serves as somewhat of a beacon of these efforts.
For the AR integration, W looked outside the walls of parent company Condé Nast and tapped the expertise of The Mill, an integrated creative tech agency, the office from which Tonchi was discussing the end result. Though other publications have forayed into the world of AR — notably, fellow Condé Nast publication Allure, which launched an AR app in December that allowed users to virtually interact with its cover star, Gigi Hadid — W was determined to make its experience different.
Rather than show readers behind the scenes of the cover shoot or help them shop looks from the issue, the intention of the W app is to take readers directly from the print page to the screen. This begins with the cover, a robotic version of singer Katy Perry shot by photographer Steven Klein. Upon scanning different parts of Perry’s face with the app, users are taken to a variety of interactive experiences.
Inside the magazine, Perry’s editorial spread takes viewers further: They can stand alongside her on a bridge or drive with her in a car. The Mill team took a 3D body scan of Perry in order to bring her to life digitally.
“Having an app, or even AR, isn’t unique,” said Sallyann Houghton, executive producer at The Mill. “The challenge was: How do we make this different and stand out? After having lots of different creative ‘mind melts,’ we decided the one way is to seamlessly bring together the high aesthetic value of the editorial world with tech. Both have come together in the past, but there’s never been a continuous arc.”
Pages in the print publication with AR capabilities are tagged with an icon. Tonchi echoed Houghton and said what differentiates W from, say, Allure is the level of integration between the print magazine and its AR counterpart. Tonchi said W remains ahead of the curve, even ahead of publications like Vogue — which also announced its September issue this week, featuring Jennifer Lawrence in four separate covers, commissioned by different photographers and artists. W did something very similar two years ago, with its September 2013 issue covers featuring Jessica Chastain.
“It’s unique, the way we tried to integrate the tech into the magazine experience, rather than creating two different layers,” he said. “Our position in Condé Nast is to go first and take risks, because we can. We’re a younger, cooler publication.”
The entire process took six months to plan, from start to finish. Though the September issue doesn’t hit newsstands until August 14, readers can access the free app from the iTunes store starting today. W is also repurposing all video and AR content that didn’t make it onto the app or its website on its social media channels, and it plans to continue to use the app for future AR programming.
Tonchi said W’s focus on digital and social — including creating and sharing digital content, namely on Instagram, where W has an active follower base of 2.8 million followers — has translated to significant results, including large upticks in traffic. According to ComScore, W Magazine’s site had 1.8 million visitors in June, up from 1 million in June 2016, a jump of 80 percent. Its expanded digital focus and following have also helped the publication monetize, Tonchi said, as they’ve inspiring new sponsored ventures.
“At Condé Nast, we are one of the big winners in terms of audience development, and that is really thanks to our [recent] increase in content and the quality of our content, and to the very specific strategy that we started two years ago that’s social first,” he said.
Moving forward, Tonchi said he plans to work closely with W’s newly appointed executive digital editor, Anne Sachs, who joined the team in May after nearly a decade in digital publishing at publications like Glamour. His primary goal is to ensure the voice of the print publication doesn’t get muddled through the growth of its digital efforts.
“When we step into this new world of AR and VR, we try to bring our point of view,” he said. “If we don’t keep our DNA, we get lost. We think the magazine has a strong point of view. We are not for everybody.”