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Stefano Tonchi’s Next Move

The former W magazine editor and George co-founder Michael J Berman are betting on luxurious print publications for wealthy American enclaves, starting with Palm Beach.
Stefano Tonchi has been named the editorial director of Palmer, a new bi-annual title about Palm Beach, Florida.
Stefano Tonchi has been named the editorial director of Palmer, a new bi-annual title about Palm Beach, Florida. (Getty Images)

Key insights

  • Stefano Tonchi and George co-founder Michael J Berman are launching Palmer, a luxurious print title about Palm Beach, Florida.
  • During the height of the pandemic, many wealthy families relocated to enclaves like the Hamptons, Aspen, Montecito and Palm Beach.
  • Tonchi and Berman aim to take Palmer to other “seasonal” cities with similar makeups.

Stefano Tonchi hasn’t given up on print, and he’s partnering with the co-creator of one of the most talked-about glossies in American publishing history to launch a new magazine.

The former editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine and W has been named the editorial director of Palmer, a new title about Palm Beach, Fla., a seasonal destination for wealthy snowbirds that attracted an influx of permanent residents during the pandemic. Palmer’s publisher is Michael J. Berman, the co-founder of John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s politics-meets-lifestyle magazine George, which made waves when it was launched in 1995 with a provocative cover featuring Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington, and folded six years later.

The first issue of Palmer, a new magazine from Stefano Tonchi and Michael J Berman.

With its stacked roster of contributors, from Wall Street expert William D. Cohan, to chronicler of the wealthy Michael Gross and royals-watcher Michelle Ruiz, the first issue, edited by longtime Tonchi-collaborator Maura Egan, is a rich-looking hardcover, with thick, gorgeously coloured pages designed by former-T art director Shawn Carney.

Palmer’s print-first approach may feel old school, but “when you are working in the local markets, people still want print,” Tonchi said. The title’s focus on one of the richest places in the country may also be a boon. During the early days of the pandemic, many wealthy American families relocated to vacation enclaves including Palm Beach, the Hamptons, Aspen and Montecito, Calif. Luxury brands, many of which already had stores in towns like these, expanded their local footprints. And while many transplants have since moved back to major urban centres like New York, some have stayed. Tonchi and Berman are betting that the transformation from a vacation town to a town-town comes with an appetite for a local perspective.

Unlike many local magazines — which often feel overly commercial, filled with ugly advertisements and top-ten restaurant lists that lack curation — Palmer is not only elegantly designed but composed of “global content with a local point of view,” Tonchi said.

A page from Palmer, Stefano Tonchi's new magazine about Palm Beach, published by George co-founder Michael J. Berman.

The first issue of Palmer is filled with luxuriously lengthy features, including Cohan on the gentrification of West Palm Beach and a profile of CNN journalist Clarissa Ward, as well as 40 pages of ads from luxury brands including Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Brunello Cuccinelli. (They eschewed the traditional regional ads from realtors and professional services, which can sometimes look cheap.)

“This isn’t a magazine about rich people doing rich people things,” Berman said, referring to the slew of regional publications that traditionally serve these types of communities. “There are no party pictures. If you’re looking for that, that exists all over the place.”

The traditional “front of book” is also gone, replaced by a digital component, set to launch later this year, which will offer information on local happenings, as well as concierge services. The city’s art scene is of particular interest to Tonchi, and while the aim is not political, it’s the interplay between the old money year-rounders, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago gang and the younger West Palm Beach gentrifiers that make the place interesting — and sometimes, controversial.

However, Berman and Tonchi also have ambitions beyond Palm Beach: The two aim to take Palmer to towns with similar profiles, including Aspen, Montecito, Saint Tropez, Austin and Monaco. For now, the venture is self-funded by Berman — his first entrance into print publishing since George folded in 2001 — although the company may raise capital in the future to fuel extensions like live events and podcasts.

A page from Palmer, Stefano Tonchi's new magazine about Palm Beach, published by George co-founder Michael J. Berman.

“We look at this quarterly print publication — with a few extra surprises — as a centrepiece of a small media brand,” said Berman, who spent the last two decades investing in everything from real estate to manufacturing, but nothing in print publishing. While print is no longer the cash cow that it was when Berman first launched George, he said that “people are wanting to return to a tactile experience… I don’t believe you can create a monetisable company solely on [print], but we are charging national rates — and [advertisers] didn’t baulk at the cost.”

In addition to his work at Palmer, Tonchi continues to consult, though he ended his relationship with L’Officiel, where he was Consulting Global Chief Creative Officer, in December after New York City sued the French media company’s American subsidiary, L’Officiel USA, for failing to pay more than two dozen freelancers. “As a freelancer myself, I could not be associated with them,” he said.

He also remains in a legal battle with former W-owner and Condé Nast parent company Advance Magazine Publications, which he sued for breach of contract in 2019 after being let go. (W magazine is now operated by Bustle Digital Group and owned by a group of investors that include BDG CEO Bryan Goldberg.)

“At this point, it’s really about honour,” he said, noting that he has spent more on legal fees than he believes he was originally owed.


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