"If you're going to have a magazine that's devoted to shopping, I think it has to be affordable," says Lisa Arbetter, the former InStyle deputy editor who became editor of People StyleWatch this March, shortly after its founding editor was let go. The September issue, which hits newsstands Friday, marks the debut of redesign that looks a lot less like People and a lot more like InStyle, but for a different audience.
The biggest change — aside from a fresh, graphic aesthetic that favors clean layouts and pastels over primary colors — is the lack of any pop culture or home goods coverage. The focus is completely on fashion and beauty shopping, featuring a mix of product-packed layouts and street style images of celebrities, bloggers and editors. "There are places where you can find street style, where it's [merchandized] out, and there are some places where people talk about the styling," says Arbetter, who was part of the team that originally launched StyleWatch in 2007. "But there's no place that's taken all of that, editorialized it and put it together in big beautiful layouts. And that's what a magazine can do."
Street style images were a hallmark of Condé Nast's shopping-focused glossy, Lucky, which is currently in flux after launching an e-commerce business in February and putting its print operations on pause. (Disclosure: I worked at Lucky in 2014.) Editor in Chief Eva Chen, who departed in April, revamped the magazine in 2013 with an "aspirational" take on shopping, featuring luxury fashion in editorials and advertisements and relying heavily on street style images in addition to shoots. But even at the height of Chen buzz in September 2013, Lucky had a much smaller circulation than People StyleWatch — 2.6 million versus 5.6 million across print and digital editions, according to The Association of Magazine Media. The latter's numbers dipped slightly in June to 5.2 million.
People StyleWatch is clearly taking some cues from Lucky, with important modifications. It will only occasionally shoot its own editorials, instead relying mostly on street style images that readers hopefully haven't seen online. "We try to get exclusives or are not necessarily using images from outside the fashion shows, because a lot of that stuff isn't as wearable," says Arbetter.
Arbetter and InStyle Editor in Chief Ariel Foxman, who became editorial director of both InStyle and People StyleWatch earlier this year, had contemplated using street style images at InStyle, but ultimately decided against it. "Ariel and I had many discussions about this and we felt like sometimes women don't want to see real women because they might compare themselves and say, 'Well, I’m not the girl on the bike in Denmark,'" Arbetter says. "StyleWatch at the time was celebrity-focused and I think maybe there was some confusion in the marketplace about what the difference was between InStyle and StyleWatch. All that talk about street style sort of planted the seed of, 'Wouldn't it be fun to do a magazine that focused on that?'"
Wearability and affordability are key to the new StyleWatch, and most merchandise clocks in under $300. "It's a sweet spot to get under $100," says Arbetter.
But if the magazine leaves out luxury fashion, won't it miss out on valuable advertiser dollars? Arbetter says that idea is outdated. "I think business concerns have played into it at a certain point," she says. "For a long time the luxury market was doing better, retail has been struggling, there was a moment when beauty was struggling. It's cyclical. But I feel as an editor — this is what I learned from InStyle — you have to stay true to your point of view and this magazine speaks to its reader because it is affordable." And with 149 ad pages from Gap, Garnier, Starbucks, Jeep and more, the magazine appears to be speaking to brands, too.
Runway designers will still factor into coverage as indicators of upcoming trends, and Arbettter says she's still figuring out the balance between accessibility and inspiration. "I think one of our jobs is to introduce people to new designers and I want to do that also at every price point," she says. "It takes time to think about investing in a luxury item — it's not necessary that the people can't or won't — but this magazine is meant to be like a fun style hit... you don't have to like feel guilty about it."
As for how to shop a magazine about shopping — a question that plagued Lucky and led to its e-commerce play — StyleWatch isn't getting directly involved, but is still facilitating the process. The title has partnered with Blippar, an iPhone and Android app that uses image recognition technology to bring up links to retail sites on readers' phones when they find merchandise in the magazine they like.
Next up on Arbetter's agenda is rethinking the magazine's website, as well as expanding its companion site, The Outfit. "It is kind of a community of people who love fashion who are talking to each other, posting pictures, and anybody can contribute to it," she says. "I really want to build on that, I think it's a really beautiful idea."
Leading Arbetter through this entire process is Foxman, with whom she confers almost every day. The pair met in 1998, when they were working at InStyle for the first time. Abetter followed him to Condé Nast when he launched the short-lived Cargo in 2003, and they reunited at InStyle in 2009. "He and I are both highly therapized people who are able to communicate really well," she says. "We’re still great friends and great partners, we work really well together. We both have the same sort of values when it comes to trying to serve the reader."
Together they've determined the key values for StyleWatch — inclusivity and the aforementioned affordability — which are rare goals for print magazines today. "I love the idea that we can show diverse races, ages, hair types and body types, but especially diverse style," she says. "My goal is that someone can come to this magazine and feel included and see themselves in the pages." Only time will tell if it's the right strategy.