GQ’s New Masculinity Goes Global

By Chantal Fernandez

GQ is taking a progressive vision of masculinity global – one that’s more about exuberant personal style than suits and ties.

The September issue of Condé Nast’s men’s fashion magazine will feature the same cover star, Canadian singer The Weeknd, in 19 of 21 international editions, plus a portfolio of emerging musicians in all 21 magazines. It will mark the most extensive collaboration at the title since the publisher announced in December that one or two global editors will oversee each of its brands.

At GQ, that editor is Will Welch, formerly American GQ’s editor in chief. Along with his deputy, Adam Baidawi, formerly the editor in chief of GQ Middle East, Welch aims to push forward the point of view he brought to the US title, where he moved away from the magazine’s historic role as a handbook for elite manhood.

In its place, he made “new masculinity” a mission statement, aiming to reflect an era in which men’s role in society, and the clothing they wore, were becoming less tied to gender norms and more reflective of progressive values. The concept was epitomised by the November 2019 issue featuring the singer Pharrell Williams in a gown-like Pierpaolo Piccioli for Moncler coat.

GQ\'s new global team is led by Will Welch, formerly American GQ’s editor in chief. Along with his deputy, Adam Baidawi, formerly the editor in chief of GQ Middle East. Matt Martin and Nina Manandhar

GQ’s new global team is led by Will Welch, formerly American GQ’s editor in chief. Along with his deputy, Adam Baidawi, formerly the editor in chief of GQ Middle East. Matt Martin and Nina Manandhar

It’s a mindset that will require different degrees of adjustment for GQ editors and readers around the world. GQ Germany’s Instagram, by contrast, tends to feature traditional masculine icons such as Don Draper from “Mad Men and Pierce Brosnan over Jaden Smith.

In an interview, Welch pointed to a shared set of values the international GQeditions already agreed to last summer, that included an emphasis on “diversity, gender equality, sustainability, and mental health.”

But he acknowledged those ideas are more popular in some parts of the world than others.

“It is possible that a piece that most of the world would be really excited to publish could be unpublishable in a given market — and we understand that and are prepared to have those conversations,” Welch said. “What’s most important is that everybody, globally, is just bought into the point of view of the GQ brand, and what we stand for in terms of progressive values.”

Condé Nast is betting the new, global approach to content — underway in some version or another at all its titles, but furthest along at Vogue and GQ — will help it survive the digital era after years of financial losses. The publisher’s US business and international business operated independently before merging in 2019. That meant GQ teams around the world competed for the same cover stars and advertisers.

Now by sharing more content and selling its brands’ global reach to advertisers, the publisher is aiming to cut more costs and invest in all things digital, where readers and advertisers are most engaged — and where their competition is Netflix and TikTok.

The American GQ September cover publishing Monday features The Weeknd in a suit and turtleneck by Ralph Lauren, while other international editions will feature one of a handful of different cover images, all shot over the same day in Los Angeles by Dan Jackson and styled by George Cortina. A profile of the singer written by Mark Anthony Green will also appear in each of those issues.

I don’t think our readers are demanding 21 different takes on a fashion show in Paris.

“What this is not is Adam and I having a two-person Zoom and then coming back and telling everybody what to do,” said Welch. “We’re actually just meeting a team of equal voices who are all trying to figure out: what is the next phase of this new masculinity project that we’re all bought into?”

For the September issue, for example, GQ’s team in the US designed a layout of the portfolio on the emerging musicians and shared it with the other international editions, who were welcome to replicate it or highlight the artist they submitted as they saw fit, said Welch.

“And then we’re seeing [what the different editions decide to do] but, at this point, we don’t have to approve it,” he said.

While Welch described the new GQ structure as “one global team,” ten editorial and operations staffers at US GQ have also been promoted to global roles. Noah Johnson, for example, is now the global style director, in charge of print and digital style coverage across the titles, while Dana Matthews, who books the covers for GQ, is now its global entertainment director.

Welch said inefficiencies, like sending multiple GQ teams to the men’s fashion shows each season, are “ultimately hurting all these other parts of our business,” he said. “It’s what’s best for the reader always, first and foremost, what’s best for our revenue, and what is just sensible and logical at a time where we need to make every pound, euro, dollar and so on that we spend count.”

A global strategy is easier said than done. Condé Nast has been grappling with a string of high-profile editorial exits, mostly from Vogue, as well as new logistical issues like global contracts with freelance contributors, which were previously signed separately with each market.

Condé Nast also has different degrees of control over international editions. The publisher owns and operates GQ in Western Europe, Japan and Taiwan, among other regions, but the title is licensed and operated by local publishers in places like Australia and Portugal. China and Russia have a closer relationship with the publisher than the licensed editions but are technically published independently via copyright cooperation.

The question remains how this global strategy will affect the local approaches that differentiated each GQ edition from one another, especially now that the publisher’s American editors and executives are firmly in charge.

Welch and Baidawi said some of their structure and practices may change as more global issues are published, adding that each edition will not necessarily have one cover star like September.

“In so many ways, 2021 is the transition year, and we’re building the pipelines in the structure,” said Welch. “And then 2022 we’ll be really free and clear, and we’ll have some learnings and some data on our side.”

Baidawi brings a global perspective to GQ’s leadership as an Iraqi-Australian most recently living in Dubai. For his new post, Baidawi recently moved to London to better liaise with what they’re calling the GQ Global Leadership Committee, a group of the heads of editorial content in each region.

In some cases, like Mexico and India, editors in chief have transitioned directly to the new roles, reporting to Welch through Baidawi. In other regions, like the UK and France, longstanding editors in chief have departed and/or editorial heads have yet to be named. British GQ’s Dylan Jones exited in May after 22 years leading that title, and there is speculation that French GQ’s editor Olivier Lalanne will follow suit, but the publisher isn’t commenting. Leaders are still to be named in Germany, Italy and Japan. In Taiwan, fashion managing editor Kevin Wang is now the head, while former editor in chief Blues To moved to a role working with the commercial team.

“We’re really excited to unite and expand upon the GQ sensibility that Will and his team lit the fire on in the US,” said Baidawi.

He added that they will do so in a way that is sensitive to local audiences.

“I don’t think our readers are demanding 21 different takes on a fashion show in Paris, but they are demanding really tailored, radically local storytelling,” he said. “By just telling those big stories that are inherently global once and really comprehensively, we can then unlock that time and those resources to tell nine other stories that also really matter to our readers.”