Interview: Dylan Jones - Have you met Mr Jones?; GQ editor, style guru, husband, father, the man who slimmed down Kate Winslet - Dylan Jones accepts all these labels. But Jones the Welshman? That's pushing it.
''NEVER you mind,'' says Dylan Jones, editor of GQ, the magazine that slimmed down Kate Winslet for its cover, when asked where the `before' pictures of the Titanic actress in her underwear are being kept.
We are in his first floor office in Vogue House, the home to a stable of Conde Nast magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Tatler and House & Garden, on London's Hanover Square, near New Bond Street, and close enough to label-loaded Fenwicks for any fashionista.
The January edition of the upmarket men's monthly showed Kate Winslet in saucy corset and heels with legs as slender as never-ending baseball bats. This was the woman who said it was okay to be bigger and there was an immediate media brouhaha about her new silhouette. Jones admitted the pictures were `digitally enhanced' and sales of GQ reached around 170,000 copies - a success matched only by last June's cover of David Beckham in baby oil.
``The Kate Winslet cover probably had more publicity than any magazine cover in the last three or four years. It's the gift that keeps on giving that one,'' says Jones, laughing. He's skinny himself, tall, strides about like a military man - his Welsh father is ex-Forces - in a black polo neck sweater, discreetly checked trousers and black shoes.
``It's one of those things you can't really legislate,'' he continues. ``With some covers you do sense there will be a certain amount of publicity and sometimes there isn't at all. I was surprised by the amount of attention but it's a win-win situation in the end. I think everybody did well including a lot of national newspapers.
``She (Winslet) doesn't actually look that different. I think there's incredible double standards in newspapers and those double standards manifest themselves terribly when you talk about Kate Winslet. She's almost vilified for saying it's all right to be a size 12 and then if she dares to lose some weight or enjoy having her pictures taken, where there is some digital enhancement so she looks even better than she normally does, then she's castigated for it.''
Does that mean he's a man who prefers Rene Zellweger post Bridget Jones, when she shifted all the weight she was forced to put on to play the size 16 singleton?
``Whether she looks better before or after is of no consequence and my opinion certainly isn't of any interest to anyone. I think it's horses for courses, isn't it? I think if you are going to dress up in sexy lingerie or scantly clad clothes your body needs to suit it. If we were to take... and it's very difficult to say this without being ungallant... I think we could have taken pictures of a celebrity like Kate Winslet in that situation wearing different types of clothes and we perhaps wouldn't have done so much... this is going to sound terrible...but it's always done to try and make the person look as good as possible...that's what I'm saying.
``We're not trying to distort anyone's image. We're just trying to make them look as glamorous as possible. I mean it's showbusiness.''
Jones, in his early forties and married with two young daughters, is unmoved by any suggestion he might be setting unachievable standards for women. Doesn't he have some kind of responsibility to show the real picture?
``No. Absolutely not. Because if we're putting a picture of George Clooney on the cover, we want George Clooney to look as fantastic as possible. And if we have to alter his chin or take away a bit of stubble or if he's got a bit of makeup or a spot...we'll do everything to make him look as fantastic as possible. And that's no different to pictures that were done of Clark Gable, or Lana Turner, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway.
It's showbusiness and youwant celebrities to look as good as possible.
``You basically have two kinds of pictures these days - you have paparazzi pictures which are warts and all and then you have pictures which appear in glossy magazines which have been altered. I doubt if there is any picture, particularly any picture that involves a celebrity that hasn't been altered these days that appears in a magazine .''
But what if he's setting ideal standards and the partners of his readers (typically 25 to 32-year-old men, what Jones describes as `21st century yuppies`) become depressed by unattainable images? ``I could get depressed that Idon't look like George Clooney but I mean...I'll live, won't I?'' He laughs again.
``We're a glossy magazine. It's all about lifestyle and ambition and aspirations and there are more cutting edge fashion magazines that put odd looking people on the cover or more normal people and good luck to them. But that's not the world that GQ lives in.''
Around 8% of GQ readers are Welsh and the whole lot live mainly in urban areas. ``If he isn't single, he's living with his girlfriend, probably heterosexual, an achiever, an AB1. If he doesn't own the things in the magazine, he aspires to them. He's a 21st century yuppie but I don't think yuppie is a pejorative term. It's deliberately the most upmarket, aspirational men's magazine on the market. We are aimed right at the top of the market - at a man who has money or who wants money and is unembarrassed about that.'' So is it just a glossy gadget porn fest? The clear highlight of the March edition is a supermodel posing as, among others, Ursula Andress (`Easy Sabre Tooth Tiger!') and Brigitte Bardot (`French Polish') in a shoot entitled Heidi Klum Plays Pin-Up. ``No we are not porn but I think it's fundamental that a men's magazine has a libido. We are not The Spectator. We have writing in it that is as good as TheSpectator occasionally and we do share some of The Spectator's contributors - Boris Johnson is one of our car columnists - but I would expect that if I wasn't editing GQ.
``If I picked up a copy of it, I'd want to see some great fashion, some great gadgets, I'd want to see some sexy pictures of some sexy celebrities and I'd want to read some cracking features. But I don't think the idea of Peter Mandelson writing a political column and some fantastically sexy pictures of Heidi Klum in one magazine...I don't think the two things should be mutually exclusive.''
Jones' first floor office is surprisingly stark. Anyone expecting a fey or frivolous magazine editor in a showpiece interior of the kind shown in television's Absolutely Fabulous would be disappointed. He has a no-nonsense desk and office chair with a (Panasonic) television and a black leather sofa. Those who equate chic with newness might notice the rip in the leather. Those who think a patterned Axminster is the last word in luxury flooring might turn their nose up at the coir tiles.
``Are you saying I haven't got a flashy office? I've let you down, haven't I?'' he queries flippantly. ``A lot of the magazine business is like Absolutely Fabulous, but a lot isn't.''
It's not entirely bare of Ab Fab accessories.
There is an Agent Provocateur bag, with its distinctive black and pink livery on top of the TV, and a Prada bag on the floor by his desk. The walls are covered with a mix of colour and black and white photos of big red lips, a pig and his tail, fashion shots and a personally signed photograph of March's cover girl Heidi Klum in a black bra and knickers. On his desk there's a mug which says ``I am a genius'', a Bioforce tincture, a dictionary, a copy of Dazed and Confused, and photo of one of his daughters in an inflatable frame.
''What were you expecting?'' he asks. ``Even though we are an upmarket, sophisticated men's magazine I don't see why we can't have our feet on the ground. It's a business at the end of the day, it's not a lifestyle.''
Jones' journalistic career took off when he edited cutting edge magazine, ID, and then The Face. After that came the editorship of Arena before five or so years in newspapers. He came to `do' GQ four years ago.
``I wasn't interested in going back to magazines at all but when we talked about the job there seemed to be similar - it sounds terribly pompous this - but the aspirations the publishing company had for the magazine were very similar to things which excited me - i.e. journalism. If you look at the masthead of the magazine we have some of Britain's best journalists working for the magazine and probably writing about different subjects than they would in their newspapers. But the important thing for me was to try and produce a magazine that had really high calibre of writing without turning it in to a library book or The Economist.
``Since Peter Mandelson has been writing for the magazine we've generated quite a lot of coverage in the press ourselves. Politics is part of our agenda - everything from Ireland to Kuwait to Afghanistan to 9/11 - and we've done Blair, Prescott...We famously did the William Hague 14 pints story. We couldn't quite believe it when we read the transcript. Unfortunately once it was out it became everyone's story. We've recently done makeovers on Iain Duncan Smith and Tony Blair and we're doing one on Charles Kennedy at the moment.''
By early March they have already commissioned everything up to and perhaps beyond the July edition so mention of Iraq is difficult.
``Like most people I feel quite disappointed in Tony Blair. It's only natural. I think he becomes less believable by the month. In many ways, he's analogous to David Beckham in that he tries but he probably tries a little too hard. I don't like seeing a Prime Minister holding a guitar. I think it's very funny when he goes to see Bush and he has his cowboy boots under his jeans. He's just a little too literal. But hey, why not?''
Jones, who attends the men's fashion shows with the publisher and four or so people from GQ's fashion department, enjoys the catwalk stuff. ``You have to. Unless you enjoy all the social aspects of it, it can be very trying.
``It's all very well pontificating about the magazine but essentially we're a vehicle to sell trousers to men. We're a lifestyle magazine. The bulk of our editorial and advertising is to do with fashion.
``Why should it be mutually exclusive that someone is bright or intelligent and successful and is interested in clothes?''
GQ was the first monthly men's magazine to launch in 1988. ``Men no longer felt so embarrassed about buying cosmetics and generally taking care of themselves. And then in the 1990s, with the launch of some of the younger, mass market lads magazines like Loaded and FHM, there was a huge groundswell and I think, for four years running, the men's magazine sector of the market was the biggest growth area in publishing. Now it's flattened off but it's still a huge market and there are now 10 very self-sufficient enterprising magazines out there making lots of money.
``Advertising is up, circulation is up, we're going through a very good period. I think that's got a lot to do with the fear of recession and fear of a war because people tend to go core in those times. They go with something they know and trust which is definitely benefiting GQ at the moment.''
The news stand ratified ABC figure is around 130,000 a month. On top of that, there's the National Readership Survey (NRS) figure of around 800,000 or 900,000. The first figure is for bought copies.
The second estimates the additional number of people who will read one of those copies.
Jones' Welsh links extend to a period of very young childhood living in Anglesey, Welsh grandparents and a Welsh father, Michael, who ``had a farm in Wales for a while''.
Jones was born in Ely in Cambridgeshire and, with his wife and two daughters, aged four and two, visits the Brecon, Abergavenny and Builth Wells areas for walks with friends he describes as `proper Welsh'.
``I do have quite lot of Welsh links but I don't consider myself Welsh. I mean I'm English... British....'' He pulls a face.
Asked if he thinks Wales has anything going for it, Jones mentions the plaudits dished out to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and describes the whole place as `in broad brush strokes - obviously one of the most beautiful places in the world'.
``I think the best hotel in Britain that I stayed in the last couple of years is St David's Hotel and Spa in Cardiff. Fantastic, yeah, it's brilliant, better than any Ian Schrager hotel. I know Olga Polizzi (Sir Rocco Forte's sister and designer of his hotel interiors) and she's done places in Manchester and Rome and all over.
``I know that's not indicative of everything that's happening in Wales. In fact I went back to Anglesey a couple of years ago to do a story and Holyhead is probably the most depressing place I've ever been in my life because it's one of those places that's become a kind of urban wasteland....because of industry moving out, drugs, deprivation and what have you.''
He's careful what he says about the Welsh having a stereotype of not being overly fashionable. ``Do they?'' he asks. And he laughs at the rush on white socks in Merthyr story. ``Ididn't know ... that's very funny.'' Does he think rugby can ever be as stylish and sexy as football has been made by the likes of the iconic David Beckham. (Of Beckham, Jones says, ``He's vain but I think he's vain in a good way. Whenever he does a shoot for GQ he enters into it with such a generosity of spirit. He's the only other celebrity who can guarantee a bigger sale than covers like Liz Hurley or Kylie Minogue...) ``We're doing a lot more about rugby. A lot of men seem to be more interested in rugby than they have been. A lot of that's to do with television with the fact that football coverage is on satellite and more rugby is on terrestrial TV. We have got a piece on English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson in the March issue. He looks pretty cool. I think they have got a bad rep. They are no less articulate than any cricket or football player. Some of them are considerably better looking.''
For the last word on fashion, Jones suggests the warmer months will be a fashion nightmare for boys. ``British men can't seem to do the summer properly. I used to work at The Sunday Times and on those rare occasions when we had burst of sunlight, all guys poured out of offices in the city in their lunchtime. All the tops would come off and they'd sit there in their suit trousers and their brogues and their black socks, possibly with a tattoo, trying to catch rays. British men in the summer are pretty awful.''
So short sleeved shirts are acceptable? ``Yes, if they're worn outside their trousers. Can't tuck them in though, that's a cardinal sin. That is a sackable offence.''Short sleeve shirts worn with a tie? ``Sackable offence again .''
Jones believes men are becoming more sophisticated in the way they dress but he denies there is anything endearing about their lack of fashion savvy in the summer. Compare the cool Italian with the redfaced Brit, he says, scoffing at the idea the sock-less Italian might appear overly precious in his shorts and tasselled loafers. ``Would you prefer to see someone with a white pasty beer gut. With a tattoo, with burn marks on his shoulder. Wearing a pair of Union Jack shorts. With a bricklayer's crease. And a pair of hob nailed boots. Drinking a can of lager?
``You see more British men abroad like that than you do the quintessential Italian man with his loafers and bare ankles.
``I don't think that British men dressing in a better way suddenly makes them less masculine. It's just nice. It's like wearing deodorant isn't it?''
So magazines like his won't lead men to become overly self obsessed, to spend all their money on designer labels and gadgets, to stop having kids? To cause society to disintegrate like the Roman Empire because everyone has become too intent on enjoying themselves and lost all sense of responsibility?
``Shouldn't think so, can't afford to,'' he says. ``I think you're being very dramatic. Being able to make a decision about which trousers to buy and there being a choice of which trousers to buy is not going to be the downfall of Western civilisation.''
Which Welsh star does Dylan Jones think is a great guy? And who comes across as arrogant?
TOM JONES ''He's brilliant. We had our annual Man of the Year party at the Opera House in London's Covent Garden about three years ago. He turned up at the after show party. It was really celebed up. There was designer Tom Ford and Paul McCartney, lots of people, a brilliant evening, and after the awards ceremony there was a big party upstairs in the bar. Tom Jones turned up about midnight all by himself, no minders, no nothing. It was brilliant, just walked straight to the bar, ordered a drink, had a chat. He was a great guy. He was really good value.
''He's got a very odd relationship with his wife. I find that continually fascinating actually but who doesn't love Tom Jones? He's like the Welsh Michael Caine, isn't he?''
JULIEN MACDONALD ''We've got quite a big story coming up on Julien Macdonald. I met him at a Givenchy party we had last year and he seemed to be very nice. Very chatty. His designs are brilliant. They make women look fantastically sexy and I think he does something which we aspire to - and try to do - in GQ where he makes sexy women look even sexier but he doesn't do it in a tarty way. If you look at the things there's nothing to them, and these women are almost wearing nothing but they don't look cheap. It doesn't look sluttish. They just look fantastically sexy and iconic, monolithic in a way. I think he's very clever.''
KYLIE MINOGUE ''She's not Welsh! Kylie Minogue? Welsh? Kylie, along with Liz Hurley, she's our best-selling cover girl. We love Kylie. She's been on the cover three times. She does really well for us. I've been on our last two Kylie shoots. She's a total professional and very, very nice. No side to her at all.''
CERYS MATTHEWS. ''Never met her, I don't know her. I like the idea of her. She always comes across well in interviews and I quite like the records. She's kind of taking some time out at the moment or I get the impression she's not making records at the moment but she probably had too good a time, didn't she? She was in GQ when Catatonia were around. Great. Speaks her mind.''
CATHERINE ZETA JONES ''There you go. I don't thinks she's done herself any favours with the Hello! court case. Unfortunately I think they've come across quite badly in the press as very arrogant. I've never met the woman. I've got no idea what she's like. We had her in GQ. She was fantastic. She's a great actress but I don't think you'd find anyone who thinks she's come across well r ecen t
STEREOPHONICS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS, COOL CYMRU...
''You had the Stereophonics and the Manics and all that lot that were around at a certain period. I think they were, not the victim of media hype - they probably benefited from it to a certain extent - but I think it's always difficult, like Madchester, when the media is so focused on one particular thing it can only go off the boil. The media gets bored and moves on. They benefited and suffered from it at the same time .'' Dylan's fashion no-nos page 10
Dylan on the Welsh page 8
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Mar 15, 2003|
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