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So What Do You Do, Ariel Foxman, Managing Editor of InStyle?

Print vet Foxman fashions a style mag with substance for the digital era

By Amanda Ernst - March 10, 2010

-Photo by Matt Furman
Sitting at the top of the masthead at InStyle, Ariel Foxman is tasked with keeping the women's fashion title and its 16 international editions fresh. If anyone can do it, it's Foxman, who helped launch the now-defunct Cargo, envisioned as the men's version of shopping magazine Lucky.

And Foxman is unfazed by the seeming threat new technology has on the magazine industry. He tried out augmented reality on InStyle's cover last year, and he's enthusiastic about the prospect of the iPad, revealing that Time Inc. is currently working on a version of InStyle for the new device for 2011. "I think there will always be a place for print, especially for fashion magazines," he said. "But, I am thrilled to learn that there is going to be another category where we can distribute our award-winning content. I can't speak for the industry at large, but I know that we would embrace whatever is popular and use it to distribute our content to readers. I think it's going to be something that broadens our audience as opposed to shrinking it. And I think it's really exciting."


Name: Ariel Foxman
Position: Managing editor of InStyle
Resume: After jobs at Crown Publishing, Details and The New Yorker, landed at InStyle as senior editor. Left to work as founding editor at Cargo at Condé Nast, but after it folded he returned to InStyle, first as editor-at-large and then as managing editor.
Birthdate: February 6
Hometown: Bergenfield, NJ
Education: Harvard University
Marital status: Has a partner
First section of Sunday New York Times: Style
Favorite TV show: 30 Rock, Intervention, The Oprah Winfrey Show
Guilty pleasure: "Spending too much time on Facebook."
Last book read: Food Rules by Michael Pollan
Twitter handle: @arielfoxman: "I am on Twitter, but I don't Tweet." (There's also an @InStyle Twitter account with almost 1.6 million followers)

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me usually begins with a breakfast with someone in either the fashion industry, Hollywood community or one of our partner clients. Then I come upstairs and the first thing I look at is a red folder that my amazing assistant Lauren puts together, which is the reader mail that we've received overnight. We answer all the letters one way or another. I feel like that sort of sets the tone for the day and is a great reminder that we're not just creating this magazine for 10.5 million faceless, nameless, opinion-less people, that these women are really engaged in the brand. I connect with them in the morning.

I go through the more urgent emails, look at proofs and layouts and locals. And then there is a series of meetings. I meet with people from the publishing side to come up with fun strategies for marketing. I meet with my editors to check in on any of the four issues that we're working on simultaneously. A good chunk of the day is spent fine-tuning our cover, whether that's selecting the film or the cover lines or playing with the banner, and I work with our creative director on that. I usually have a lunch, do a chunk of email, then we have layout meetings, and that usually closes out the day at the office. And then I have to go to usually a launch event, to support a new designer, a new line, maybe a screening of a movie that is showcasing a new talent that we want to check out and put in the magazine. It's usually something like that. Two out of the five nights there's usually a dinner as well, again with the same cast of characters. And then I go home and sometimes in the evening while I'm home, I read all our stories. I read everything twice. And I'm usually reading and doing research for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of the next day, to make sure that I'm as up to date as possible so that I can ask the right questions of whomever I'm sitting with.

You have a tremendous amount of responsibility at the top of the masthead of this international fashion publication, and yet you're fairly young. What do you attribute your success to?
I always wanted to work in print media. I knew it was either going to be books or magazines. I started out in books, but the pace was just a little slow for me. I liked everything about it except the pace. So magazines made more sense. I never spent any of my career testing out, trying out, experimenting. I jumped into my career of choice instantly. That's a major part of my success. And I think the second part is that I've had great mentors. I've worked for incredibly smart, ambitious, focused and really generous people who really gave me great advice along the way.

"When you are deciding whether or not to launch something, or join a launch, you need to figure out if this is something that will serve its readership for the long term. When the zeitgeist changes, will this magazine still serve its audience?"

Who are some of your mentors?
Susan Morrison and David Remnick at The New Yorker were incredible mentors and really encouraged me to spread my wings and to not feel compelled to stay at The New Yorker simply because it's The New Yorker. They saw other talents in me and encouraged me to investigate them. Martha Nelson has been a great mentor here at Time Inc. I worked for her when she was the editor of InStyle and now she's my direct manager as the manager of the style and entertainment group. And I've always been able to call on people who I've worked [with]. And I've always received candid advice. I've never been afraid to ask for that counsel and advice, and I think that's been really useful.

You left a stable job at InStyle to launch the now-defunct magazine, Cargo. What would you tell someone who is thinking of launching a new project like a magazine, or going to work for a new launch?
I think you have to realize that there's nothing like a launch in terms of time and energy that needs to be invested in it. What's most challenging is that you're working on something and convincing consumers and clients that this is something that's going to be great. So to work on something and all the while have to be convincing other people that what you're investing your time and energy into [is going to be great] is draining. But at the same time, there's nothing like a launch to engender so much passion and shared love in a team for a product. It becomes a real family, partly because you spend more time with those people than you do with your family.

When you are deciding whether or not to launch something, or join a launch, you need to figure out if this is something that will serve its readership for the long term. When the zeitgeist changes, will this magazine still serve its audience and/or be able to change along with the times? The most successful launches serve their readers when they launch, and they serve their readers today.

You also recently decided to shutter InStyle Weddings. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Of course. It's always a difficult decision to stop producing something that you know is being so well-received. That was a decision really based on what's happening in the ad community from wedding advertisers. And that was a pure and simple business decision with a lot of readers left saddened by the fact that this was a magazine I love or when I go to plan a wedding it won't be there. So that was very difficult. And of course to have to tell people who have done an amazing job working with you and for you on a product, [to] say this is a decision that is outside the excellence you presented. The excellence is not a factor in this decision. But unfortunately, you are the casualty of a very straightforward, black and white business decision. But the nice news is we have launched a new special issue InStyle Hair last year that we're doing again this year. We continue to do InStyle Makeovers, which has some crossover with the talent and contributors from our previous specials. It was not a sign of audience engagement or vitality; it was really a sign of a very sad and fractured wedding ad community.

"You have to really stay on top of what's happening in technology and what's happening in business, because at the end of the day, a magazine editor is a partner in the business of fashion and beauty and Hollywood."

What are some your favorite things to read from readers?
My favorite things to read from readers are when they write in to say that they read something in the magazine and it inspired them to make a change. They'll send us a picture of a new haircut, or they styled something differently. I think that's really fun and exciting and affirming. The other thing I really love is when people write in about being very engaged readers, and they've had the magazine, loved the magazine, and are commenting on something they have always really liked or something changed, or they just want to give their two cents. I just love when someone reveals themselves as a lifelong fan of the magazine, and they just couldn't not write us a letter to tell us something positive, neutral or negative. Something that passive is really fun. But I do like when people write in to say, 'Oh, you inspired me to cut my hair' or 'dye my hair' or 'try a new lipstick.' This woman wrote in that when she saw a J. Crew dress in one of our Instant Style pages and she was planning what to wear to a wedding and she wore this dress, and someone said to her, 'Wow, you look so in style.' And she sent us a picture of her, she looked fantastic. Those are the sorts of things that the magazine is really impactful.

What advice would you give someone who wants your job in five or 10 years?
I would tell them not to be myopic. Yes, it's important to be up to date and a voracious participant of magazines and fashion and beauty and celebrity. But you have to really stay on top of what's happening in technology and what's happening in business, because at the end of the day, a magazine editor is a partner in the business of fashion and beauty and Hollywood. You have to be really smart and strategic. Yes, I open up the Style section first, because that's my natural inclination, but I read the business section. And I read the Science section. All those things are really important to be prepared to take a position like mine and not feel like you then have to catch up on everything but the latest runway looks. And you can't do that overnight; you have to really stay engaged.

I think the other thing to do is to not just manage yourself up. Don't just impress the people who can give you the job, but to remain in close contact with your peers. Because when you do arrive at the position that you want ultimately, your peers will have also arrived, and these are the people who you will be collaborating with. Some of the stylists, writers and photographers I use today are people who I've known for years, and we've supported each other's careers mutually.


Amanda Ernst is deputy editor at Crushable.com

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