The New Potato

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Dirk Standen

Style.com’s Editor-In-Chief On Print As Couture & Men Never Growing Up

Style.com’s Dirk Standen understands the importance of each and every medium when it comes to content. An early adopter of all things street style, Standen has always been on top of web innovations in the world of fashion and style. Not to mention, he’s just a dapper guy.

Standen refers to print as couture and digital as ready-to-wear, and his style.com was doing street style even before Scott Schuman launched The Sartorialist. Standen also sees food and fashion – out of all the creative pursuits – as the essentials. Enough said.

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From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

Let’s assume it’s Saturday and we’re in New York. I’ll get up early and go to the farmer’s market around the corner from our apartment in the West Village. I’ll pick up some eggs, scallions, tomatoes, a bit of cheddar, maybe some spicy turkey sausage, and we’ll cook breakfast at home. If the weather’s warm, the four of us – Susan, me, our son Damian, and our dog Cookie – will have lunch at one of the outdoor tables at Barbuto. In winter, we’ll go to Morandi. I like the minestrone with pesto and the Pasta con le Sarde with sardines, walnuts, and wild fennel. Or we might just order take out from Zampa. They make great salads and the best sandwich in the city, a Pan-bagnat on ciabatta, pressed. If it’s just the two of us for dinner, we’ll go to Il Buco. If we’re with friends, we’ll invariably choose Indochine. The owner Jean-Marc [Houmard] is a gentleman, the decor and service are perfect, and it has the best lighting of any restaurant in the world. We always order the same thing: spring rolls, steamed ravioli, the sole in banana leaf, and filet mignon. After dinner, we might go to Paul’s Baby Grand for drinks. There is a spirit to Paul Sevigny’s places that you don’t find much in New York anymore. He’s one of the city’s treasures. I could devise a more exotic itinerary for my ideal food day, but it’s hard to beat simple, well-prepared meals with family and friends in a city you love.

You’ve said publications shouldn’t necessarily just be on one medium anymore. Is one medium (such as print or digital) more important than another? Or do you see them all as equal?

I like to say print is our couture, because it’s such a specialized, almost handmade product, and digital is our ready-to-wear, because it’s designed to have a wider appeal. But I see all formats as equal. And it’s not just the magazine or the web site. There are our apps and social media channels. Plus, I’m fairly sure that entirely new ways of consuming and presenting content are going to come along in the next few years, and they’ll need love and attention too. You can’t be tied to any one medium anymore. You have to try to create a strong enough connection with your audience that they’ll find you and follow you in any format.

What is your personal definition of good content?

The first thing is, it has to grab you. Obviously there is now a whole science to writing the right headline and creating the kind of content that will pull in the maximum number of people. But I think the best content also stays with you a bit longer, whether it has an original insight or a flash of humor. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, good content has some soul.

With so much happening in digital, how are you constantly staying relevant?

We’re updating constantly. In fact, we’re working on a big redesign for September. But anyone in digital who tells you they have all the answers is lying.

When you first spotted street style photographers like Scott Schuman and Tommy Ton, what made you know you needed to collaborate with them?

We were already doing street style on Style.com when Scott launched The Sartorialist, but I was never very happy with the results. I kept saying we need someone like The Sartorialist, and finally someone smart on my team said, “Why don’t we just hire The Sartorialist?” When Tommy came along, he was the first person to tackle the same subject matter as Scott but with a completely different point of view. Tommy has an incredible eye for clothes and he has a way of capturing people in motion that is kinetic and engaging.

How has street style photography changed since 2005? Has it changed for better or worse?

At first, it was more about “real” people with great style. Over time, the focus shifted to the scene outside of the fashion shows, and that brought with it a lot of overdressed people in borrowed clothes. Did a certain charm or authenticity get lost along the way? Sure. But I think someone like Tommy is just a very good photographer, no matter what his subject matter, and so he’ll always find an interesting perspective. And by the way, street style continues to be one of our most popular features. We’re even looking to expand our coverage with the redesign and hopefully get back to documenting other scenes besides the fashion circus. We’d love to show that style doesn’t have to be expensive and should never be contrived.

Do you like or dislike that everyone now has a camera (either an actual camera or an iPhone)?

I think it’s great, though maybe you shouldn’t post every picture you take.

If you could make a prediction about where publishing is headed what would it be?

Predictions are always dangerous, but I think the dimensions of the screen will continue to change and in fact, screens as we know them are going to disappear. Google Glass may or may not catch on, but it’s clearly a sign of where we’re heading. And that will change the way we consume and present content. In broad terms, I think we’re entering a period where visual communication will become more important than the written or typed word and that’s a big, interesting change.

How does what you’ve done in fashion media compare to what you’d done in food media (at Epicurious)?

I loved working on Epicurious, but there’s a pace to fashion media that’s addictive, particularly during the ready-to-wear season. Between overseeing our coverage for the site and the magazine, going to shows, attending meetings and dinners, editing reviews and writing headlines, I’m on the move from seven in the morning to three or four am, seven days a week, five weeks in a row. And there are people on the team, in the production and design departments, who are up even later than me. That’s an unbelievable adrenaline rush. The only experience I can compare it to was when I worked on movie sets, but that was in another lifetime.

What are the major parallels between food and fashion?

Of all the creative pursuits, they’re the most essential. You have to eat for sustenance. You have to wear clothes for protection from the elements. For good cooks or designers, the question then becomes, how do I turn a necessity into a pleasure? If you go too far, it becomes ridiculous. If you don’t go far enough, it’s too basic. That’s an interesting challenge food and fashion share.

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Comments

  1. Nina

    July 29th, 2014

    This was one of the BEST interviews featured on this site so far! What an amazing man, what great insight!

  2. Aliona

    August 1st, 2014

    Dirk, you rock. The most inspiring, smart and delicious interview it is indeed. Thanks.

  3. sandy

    August 5th, 2014

    I agree with Nina’s comment: complete, interesting, nuanced responses with actual thought and wit behind them–great. Also, his chosen group for a dinner party leaves me stunned just to imagine it! Finally, a little hint to Dirk and other gents: What don’t men know about women that they should? Well, guys, we’ve got your number, but we let you think that we don’t:-)

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