The third-floor offices of Cortex Publishing are sparse and simple, and remarkably quiet after regular office hours. The moment I enter, though, I am accosted by a tiny dog with a bark out of all proportion to its diminutive size. But a short word from its master, who steps around the corner at just the right moment, turns his little Cerberus into a jovial playmate.
Jack Krosinski, the Cortex V.P., invites me to sit down at a coffee-table, and, in true European fashion, offers me a cup of tea—which I gladly accept. (Black, two sugars, with a slice of lemon.) If his name wasn’t a giveaway of his Polish heritage, the large poster hanging above his desk, featuring the late Pope John Paul II, surely would be.
On the glass table, I notice two magazines: one intriguingly titled Plus, and the other—to my amazement—a copy of his new brainchild, Beautiful Magazine. Set to debut in 2006, Beautiful Magazine will be the latest plus-size fashion and lifestyle periodical to enter the market.
I am startled to see an issue of Beautiful already in print. Could this be an advance copy? But I quickly discover that it is simpy a cover mock-up affixed to a different magazine. For the time being, at least, the contents of Beautiful remain a mystery.
Nevertheless, over the next hour-and-a-half, Mr. Krosinski proceeds to reveal some of that mystery to me. Anyone who is curious about what this newest plus-size periodical will look like is sure to find his comments most interesting.
HSG: So, first of all, tell us a little bit about Cortex Publishing. What else do you publish?
JK: Here’s something that we did before [indicating Plus magazine].
HSG: Did before? Are still doing?
JK: We dropped this project, for the simple reason of Beautiful taking precedence over everything else. We did a couple of other custom publications, and things like that. Basically a custom publisher in that sense. One of our clients, for example, was Swarovski Crystal. So, you know, very high-end kind of stuff.
HSG: The title of this publication intrigues me—Plus. Was there anyone who, in looking at this magazine, suggested to you that you should do a plus-size publication? Or is it just a happy coincidence?
JK: It’s a happy coincidence. We never thought about it that way, but once we developed the concept a little bit, the similarities sort of jump right at you. See, what happened was, coming from a European background, “plus” means something very different to us than what the North American public is used to. To us, “plus” means something more. And Plus was a magazine about bringing something more to our readers, so its content has more of a Maclean’s type of feel to it. Other than that, it had nothing else to do with plus sizes, or anything like that. But as it turned out, fate pushed us in that direction.
HSG: Okay. Beautiful. The name. Why Beautiful?
JK: Why not? Always the same reaction. I always say, “Why not?” Beautiful is a statement. It’s very in-your-face to the industry, to the mainstream media. It’s a head-turner, in that sense. Once they see the cover of it, having a more voluptuous woman than they’re used to, will shake them up a little bit, will drop some jaws. Number two, it reflects our philosophy about the readership of this magazine. It’s a reflection of their voice. It reflects them, on the cover of a national magazine. And it’s basically a very hard statement that it’s time for everybody to drop the prejudice, to drop the stereotypes, to finally accept. It’s a complicated thing in itself, because, as you know, the name of a magazine is paramount to its success, sometimes. It either makes it, or it doesn’t. So we thought hard about it. We did receive a couple of comments saying, “It’s a little bit over the top.” But good. It is.
HSG: It will definitely be interesting to see people’s reactions when they see a plus-size model on the cover, with the word “Beautiful” emblazoned over the image.
JK: This was a concern voiced by very few women. We did a survey, as you know, and about 85% of them liked the name. The rest, well—you can’t satisfy everybody.
HSG: And you can ruin yourself trying.
JK: You can’t be everything to everyone. And 85% is pretty good.
HSG: Would you like to tell us anything about your own background in publishing?
JK: I started off with the company, with Cortex. Did a little bit of what we’ve done before. Personally, I do not have formal publishing education—as no one in the field does anyway. I come from a philosophy and a history background, so the writing experience is there, but that is not my role in the company. That’s the role of the editors, of the creative designers, and all of those people, taking care of that aspect of it. My area is the development, the voice of the magazine, in that sense. I’m passionate about it. I can be very…persuasive sometimes, if I have to be. And this is a perfect fit for me. I’ve done a little bit of business before. I’ve dealt in real estate, and other ventures previously, in my student years—which I did fairly well in. But that was a sleazy business, and I have my principles, as you see on the wall there [indicates image of Pope John Paul II].
HSG: Are you sure that you want me to include that reference to “sleazy business”?
JK: I’m very honest. I say what I think. If people like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. Genuine. Genuine is the way it is. Real estate is a sleazy business. Let Donald Trump take care of it. He has the, I suppose, the emotional discipline to deal with those people.
HSG: Have you assembled an editorial/creative team for Beautiful yet?
JK: We’re in contract talks with, um…perhaps I’ve said too much already.
HSG: This is your chance to tell the whole plus-size audience—
JK: That’s true. But there are certain things I cannot reveal, simply because of legal ramifications. But what I can tell you is that we are in contract talks and negotiations with…the best of the best. Of course this is going to be primarily a United States distribution anyway, so these are U.S.-based people, and it’s going to be very interesting when people see who will be leading the editorial in this publication. Another bomb.
HSG: In your press release, you invoke a powerful reference, one that is almost sacred in the plus-size community: MODE magazine. The original MODE has never been equalled among plus-size publications, in terms of quality, and so forth. So, because you invoke that reference, tell us, what do you know of MODE, and where did it leave off?
JK: MODE was an ideal within its first two years of its existence. First three. When corporate pressures start creeping in to publications, this is when things take a downturn. And this is something that we are not going to let happen. MODE was sexy. MODE was professional in design and execution. No other magazine came close. I’m not going to bash any of the other magazines out there that have tried, but the execution was lacking, the thing, you know, the undescribable quality was missing in those magazines, that MODE had. It’s very difficult to put it into words. But it’s that feeling that Vogue has—
HSG: Yes, it’s a certain kind of credibility. You could see MODE on the newsstands beside Vogue, or Elle, or whatever, and it ranked with them.
JK: It wasn’t just hidden at the back, somewhere. It stood out. It was a quality publication. But then…I know what happened, but…[indicating that he is not at liberty to say more] things started taking a downturn—for whatever reasons they happened to be. The primary thing that we are going to take from that experience is, not selling out to corporate agendas. It’s a very bold statement. Because, for a large part, magazines are either made or broken by advertisers. It’s big revenue. But we want to separate the influence of an advertiser from the editorial that we present.
HSG: That’s an interesting statement. Right now, Charming Shoppes has a custom publication in which advertisements and editorials are, in a manner of speaking, blended.
JK: Yes. It’s a magazine, but, it’s a different kind of magazine.
HSG: How do you see the difference between editorial content and advertising content?
JK: From experience. There is pressure, sometimes, not always. And it’s not always explicitly stated, like I say. Everyone knows about it. But people in the industry don’t talk about it, because sometimes, it is a taboo subject. But I don’t care. I’m breaking all the rules. There are certain hints, by advertisers, sometimes, about presenting certain editorial…not favourably, but impartially, sometimes, when it shouldn’t be. Sometimes they push you in a direction, from an editorial point of view, where you don’t want to be, where you are becoming an advertorial for a certain brand, for a certain industry. And you lose editorial credibility. You lose editorial freedom. You lose your original idea of what you wanted the magazine to be.
HSG: And you do think readers pick up on this?
JK: Whether or not they do is reflected in the success or failure of a million other magazines who have sold out, and they fail. “Selling out” is a very harsh term. But it’s very simple, it brings the message home. And readers are our number-one priority. And this is why we’re putting the emphasis on the reader, on subscriber support. Because if the reader wants us to remain impartial, they have to support us in our efforts. And if the support is there, our 110% is there as well. To keep a publication afloat is not, for lack of a better word, cheap. And if you have a choice of massaging an editorial in one way or another and printing a copy, or not, it’s a very difficult decision to make. And you do print. So, as you may have noticed, on our Web site, and in our press releases, we are reaching out to the readers to support this initiative, to help us change the perception, to change the perception of media—whether it is online media, or broadcast media—to change the perception, to change the discriminatory practices.
HSG: One more statement that I wish to pick up on, from your press release: “Vogue-type executed fashion editorials.” There’s another powerful reference. Do you think that you can achieve this? Because for all that one can (rightly) criticize Vogue for its size-0 standard, one has to give the magazine a grudging kind of credit for its unshakable belief in its own aesthetic, and its ability to present that (questionable) aesthetic in a glamourized way.
JK: I’ll refer you to your previous question about…staff. And leave it at that. I will not put my name to something that will not reach the highest standard of publishing right now. I’ve been very open, very public about this. It can make or break a career, sometimes. And I will do everything that is possible to exceed every single standard that has been set right now. So, it may sound like I’m trying to promote something, or not, but it’s genuinely what I believe. If you put out a publication that has the standard, both editorially and visually, of a Vogue, of a MODE at its best, and exceed those standards, exceed MODE at its best, our message is getting through. We are getting noticed. 70 million women—their voice is getting noticed. There is no more, “Well, you know, it’s a fringe publication, for who-knows-who.”
HSG: That is what no one needs right now—a second-rate publication that would offer an unfavourable comparison with the high-fashion glossies; something that would suggest, “Those are for the skinny girls, while this is for you—in the margins.” Will there be any difference in content between the Canadian and U.S. editions of your magazines?
JK: We’re looking at about 35% of a different editorial profile in terms of straight editorial.
HSG: That’s quite high.
JK: It’s something that you have to do. I mean, we are a Canadian company, and we want to provide Canadian content. At the same time, we want to be relevant to the largest segment of the readership, which is the U.S., so it’s going to have a U.S.-biased content. So there are two separate issues. And it will give an opportunity to advertisers as well, to have a U.S. edition and a Canadian edition.
HSG: In your press release, you use the phrase, “size positive.” What does that phrase mean to you?
JK: “Size positive” puts a different spin on what is acceptable. Zero was acceptable. Size eight was acceptable. The rest was looked at negatively. If you go over a size 12, again, you invoke the image of a fringe sort of imagery where it’s something not to be touched by the media, and ignored, and not cared about. We are being very positive in that sense. We are promoting it. We’re saying that, you’re a size 20, and you’re beautiful. You should feel good about yourself. You are more beautiful than a size two. You’re more beautiful than a size six. You’re more beautiful than a size eighteen. And this is what size positive means. It means the promotion of beauty at a new standard. It’s a new standard that we’re setting, in that sense. It has been set before, by MODE and other publications, but we’re reviving that, as you may have noticed in the press release. We’re reviving this movement. We’re basically starting a war.
HSG: My goodness.
JK: We’re starting a war. And these are hard words, but this is what we’re doing. We’re taking the fight to them, and they had better watch out, because we’re coming. There isn’t only 70 million women who fit our demographic and target audience. There are also those who support this standard—the husbands, the friends, children, parents, grandparents, who support this size-positive movement. For us, a big concern is being healthy at any size. You don’t have to diet. You don’t have to be thin to be healthy. You can be a size 18 and be healthy, and look beautiful, and feel good about yourself. And this is the key.
HSG: You just used a word in that response which brings me to my next question, and this is one of the most significant questions that I will ask you. It concerns a practice that MODE strictly avoided, a practice that was basically considered unthinkable, until one plus-size publication finally committed this atrocity. So the question is, will you be running diet ads in your magazine?
JK: We have explicitly stated we will not. Diet ads would ruin everything that we’ve worked for. They would sort of sneak that doubt in there again. “Yes, yes, we were there, but…” This is a message that we’re not going to be sending. We are not allowing any sort of advertiser, any sort of editorial suggestion, that has anything to do with that.
HSG: That’s another important point. Not only will you be rejecting diet ads, but you won’t be slanting your editorial toward the promotion of dieting?
JK: It’s a touchy subject, because our biggest concern is about the health of women, and our readership. But health, not through dieting. Health through all other available means that are not telling you how bad you are. And, the movement is there as well for awareness about the risks of dieting. There are millions of women who bought into the myth and have been permanently scarred, permanently hurt by this. Many have died. That’s not the way. There is a big industry behind it. Money drives everything. Tthe message is still being pushed. “Yes, people are dying. Yes, people are unhappy. Yes, people are unhealthy dieting, and doing all of these things—but yet, we are still pushing it, still promoting it.” You still see these dieting ads, you still see these mixed messages, you still see these editorials saying, you know, lose 50 pounds and feel better, and all of that stuff. Well, you don’t have to lose 50 pounds. If you feel bad about yourself, look inwards. Look what’s really at issue. Is it the people around you who are bringing you down? Is it the people who are commenting about the way you look? Or is it yourself? If you look within yourself, and love yourself for who you are, you become more confident, and that emanates from you, and you’ll begin to change those perceptions in your surroundings, in your area of influence. But then, if more people start doing that, more people get converted to the cause. If you’re a size two, and you’re a bad person, if you’re a size 20, you’ll still be a bad person. It’s about yourself, it’s not about the way you look.
HSG: The media always presents weight-loss as the modern snake oil, the magic potion, the fix-all solution for every ill.
JK: You’ve got to look within. You’ve got to see what’s really bothering you. If you’re unhappy with your family, or with your husband, or your children, this is the problem. The problem is not physical. In fact, you should like yourself more. You should be out there. You should be confident. And this is the message that we are trying to promote at this magazine. That, “Hey, look at me—I’m beautiful.”
HSG: To get back to something physical, one of the main criticisms that was levelled at MODE towards the end of its run, when people started losing faith in the magazine, was about the size of the models—i.e., that while the magazine started by using genuinely full-figured models, their sizes dwindled until they were practically straight-sized.
JK: It’s funny you should mention that. I’m getting a lot of enquiries from models wanting to work with us. Naturally. I’ve rejected a number of them outright—not for the reason that they’re not beautiful women. Women are of all shapes and sizes. But we have a cutoff. It’s not a size 12. It’s a size 14. We’re not going below that. This is the lowest we will go. Because it’s true. “I’m a size 12 and I’d love to model for you.” And they’re saying it’s a great idea. They’re supporting it. But I’m sorry. I’d love to work with you, but I can’t. I don’t want to. It will wash out the message that we’re trying to send.
HSG: Washing out the message. Yes, that is exactly right.
JK: And then we’re going to go to size ten? Size eight? And that does not work. Catalogues—there’s another thing we’re trying to change. Show me two, in North America, that actually use genuine plus-size models.
HSG: Catalogues? Not many. Sometimes in Canada—
JK: Yes, Canada is better.
HSG: The Reitmans group—
JK: They’re pretty good about it. The rest are still following the old idea. And we are not going to go that route. Because again, we’re changing mass media.
HSG: Now, one of the reasons why MODE was so popular was because of its gorgeous models. Will you be using professional models in your publication? Or just average readers?
JK: We will use a combination. Again, it’s a different approach. There are a lot of women out there who aspire to be mainstream models, and who do not fit the size-zero standard. We want to give them an opportunity. So, we’re going to be looking for aspiring women who need that chance, who need the exposure. Of course, we will also be using professional agencies who specialize in plus-size models.
HSG: Among the strongest arguments for using professional models is their ability to respond to the camera, their ease of movement—
JK: You could go either way. But I think, if you have a beautiful woman, she’s beautiful whether she’s a professional model or not, and her abilities should be developed, and given a chance. Sometimes, you see a girl on the street, and she’s just perfect. So we’ll be using a combination.
HSG: You say that you will be doing celebrity interviews. Celebrities in general? Full-figured female celebrities?
JK: Full-figured female celebrities, because—why not? Celebrities whom the readership can relate to, and whom they can recognize—celebrities wherever they are. So we can use a Canadian celebrity in a Canadian issue, and someone in the States who is more recognized in the States in the issue for them.
HSG: Is there a targeted age demographic for the magazine? Because one of the criticisms of Grace was that it targeted an age demographic that was rather on the high side, resulting in content that was somewhat sedentary, and not that exciting.
JK: Yes, there’s definitely an age demographic. These are women 24–34. That is the primary. The secondary, of course, is women older and younger.
HSG: Will be you including any teen-oriented material?
JK: That’s more of an editorial decision.
HSG: Do you expect to attract the major advertisers to your publication?
JK: Yes. I am confident that they will take this opportunity, because this is a great opportunity for advertisers to break out of that mold, and to show all women that they accept all women. It’s an opportunity for them to finally be true to some of their messages, where they say, “for real women.” “My product is ‘for real women.’” Is it really, when you are showing a figure that is not reflecting anything even close to the reality of the situation? So we’re asking them to change that. It will take a little bit of an effort on their side, but it’s going to give them an opportunity to finally be true to their word, and to connect to their reader. And these are both from the apparel industries, as well as cosmetics, and fragrances, and all sorts of other advertisers that you see in all of the other magazines.
HSG: Do you have a sense of the balance between fashion and the rest of the magazine yet?
JK: Yes, the editorial has been divided up. It’s 20% fashion, 20% beauty, 20% health, 20% relationships, and the remaining 20% will be a lifestyle mix, so travel, finance…
HSG: What would you say the advantages of a plus-specific magazine are, over a generalist publication?
JK: For me, the advantage is fairly obvious. We’re presenting what that particular demographic wants to see. A lot of the comments have been, “Yes, there are clothes presented in these [straight-size] magazines, but I can’t wear them.” “I don’t know how I will look in them, even though I can wear them.” We’re trying to show you how you will look in this fashion. So this is the biggest advantage. We’re showing something closer to who you are, as a reader.
HSG: Why has been no lasting plus-size magazine?
JK: [Making a thumb-and-forefinger motion] It’s always money. It’s always money and it’s always financial support from advertisers and such things. But in my opinion—and this is just me, and I’m nobody, really—but a lot of publications these days are wasting a lot of money. A lot of the previous publications would have made it, would have survived, if their corporate policies were changed, and were slightly more cautious in their spending. For me, it’s very difficult to comprehend how a publication can fail, having the success and the support from its subscribers such as MODE. There are other factors; however, I can make it work. My business model is, I run a tight ship. Some people like it, some people don’t. But for me, the primary concern is to make it a lasting title, not to be out there for one year, close shop, and see you later. The biggest challenge is the money aspect. But the money is—it’s there, if you’re doing a good job.
HSG: Speaking of money, a lot of people were first amazed at the high price of your inaugural issue, and then, even more amazed when you decided to give away copies of your first issue, gratis. It’s going from one extreme to the other.
JK: Yes, you’ll notice that I’m a person of extreme extremes.
HSG: I don’t think anyone has ever offered a free first issue before.
JK: Not a lot of people have given money back before, either.
HSG: Indeed, and to great frustration—with subscriptions not being filled, etc.
JK: So again, I’m bringing a different ethic to it. To me, money is not everything, and this is reflected in the philosophy of the magazine—pushing an independent editorial, etc. etc. I’ve had my money. Money is good, but so what? It’s not fulfilling. It’s something that you come to realize after you’ve been through it. And what I decided to do was to give them the magazine, to show them that I’m going to be presenting to you a magazine of superb quality. And I am investing a lot of money into this, personally, and I have a big stake in this. So the move to give the 200,000 copies away for free, shipping included, is basically me making a statement, saying I am confident that this will be a magazine that will meet your expectations.
HSG: That is what it says. You’re saying, one look, and you’ll be hooked.
JK: And then, you know, if you like it, I’d love for you to subscribe to it. No catch. There is no catch. Just sign up, and if you like it, you like it. And I know you will.
HSG: Distribution. Do you think that you will be able to put your magazine on newsstands, in the major bookstores, wherever people buy magazines?
JK: Most definitely.
JK: Oh yes. That’s a logistical question. That’s not a problem. That’s been arranged already. So the first issue has been debated. Previously, we’ve said that we will not put them on the newsstand. Now that we’re giving away 200,000 copies, it’s still up in the air whether or not they will be on the newsstands. We wanted to make the first issue very special, make it something for people to keep for a long time, and perhaps keeping it off the newsstands with the first issue will do something like that to it.
HSG: A collectible.
JK: On the other hand, from another point of view, and in terms of business, it would sell a lot on the newsstands, I’m sure. People would like to see what it is. And that’s still up in the air. But we’ll see. We’ll see. There’s still a little time.
HSG: Even MODE, although its distribution was quite good, was hard to find in some areas. And other publications have been far less visible. Getting it out there is quite important.
JK: It is. I’s difficult to get some retailers to come on board, some distribution networks to come on board, because it is such a different publication, etc., etc. But once you have a chat with them, “make ’em an offer they can’t refuse,” they work with you, and it’s good business.
This brings the first part of this interview, mostly concerning the practical details of Beautiful Magazine, to an end. Part II delves into more speculative matters, and includes further audio clips. The public is sure to find Mr. Krosinski’s extended thoughts on various topics relating to plus-size beauty and the publishing industry extremely interesting, so be sure to read on.
In the meantime, readers will undoubtedly agree that in his remarks, Mr. Krosinski has presented a blueprint of an exciting and desirable plus-size periodical. And while past disappointments have made the full-figure fashion market understandably leery of new publications, no one can doubt the solid philosophy on which Beautiful is based.
Ultimately, the success or failure of this project will rest on the shoulders of its editorial and creative team. But hope springs eternal, as the saying goes, and Mr. Krosinski’s words do invite readers to hold out hope, yet again, for the realization of that elusive dream—a worthy successor to MODE.
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