This happens to be a very special Woman Crush Wednesday, because it’s not every day you’re able to sit down with Porter’s Editor-in-Chief Lucy Yeomans, who embodies everything about women her magazine consistently celebrates. We find curling up with Porter is more like curling up with a great book, so when we had to time to sit down with Yeomans at Narcissa, we left no stone unturned. We spoke about the Porter woman, the separation of content and commerce, the future of print and why Claridge’s is just like Tiffanys…
The New Potato: From start to finish— you can go anywhere, travel anywhere— what would your ideal food day be?
Lucy Yeomans: I would probably always start with scrambled eggs and avocado at either The Wolseley in London which is owned by Jeremy King who revived Le Caprice and has now got The Delaunay and The Beaumont. It’s that kind of Viennese style grand café experience, which I love. Otherwise I’ll do The Electric, which is in Notting Hill. Again, brilliant avocado on toast. Mushrooms on the side and whole grain bread with real butter.
If I’m in the West End for lunch, I will do Scott’s, which is delicious. I love the lemon sole there— it’s such a wonderful menu. If it’s a bad day, I will have the deep fried haddock and chips. It’s the poshest, nicest fish and chips in the world. And in my dreams I would have their caviar every time, but that’s only in my dreams. In Notting Hill, it would be E&O which is amazing. I love Claridge’s for afternoon tea. It’s a bit like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where she says “Nothing can go wrong at Tiffany’s.” Nothing can go wrong at Claridge’s, it’s just where I would like to exist. If I were going to come back as Eloise, instead of staying at The Plaza, I’d stay at Claridge’s. No offense to The Plaza. It’s just so beautiful. I think what pulls a lot of those places together is a real emphasis on that old fashioned beautiful service, which is what I absolutely love.
TNP: What is your personal definition of good content?
LY: I think, for me, great content is really knowing your audience and being able to deliver a beautiful curation. It’s about having a really strong point of view. What I think is interesting now is that there is so much content everywhere; there are blogs, there is social media, there are all these elements. So for me, certainly on a bi-monthly fashion magazine, people are buying you for your curation. They’re buying into a certain point of view. So I think it’s really, really important that you have a point of view and an authority, and that you really understand your audience and are listening to them. You know who they are and you’re really talking to them.
TNP: What do you think about the marriage of native advertising and editorial – like with Condé Nast’s new 23 stories – of having magazine editors also doing native pieces with brands? Is that something you’re going to do?
LY: Somebody asked me something in an interview the other day regarding “Church and state, content and commerce.” Wind back not that many years ago and church and state was advertising and editorial. It was: ‘They must never meet; they must never ever have anything to do with each other.’ And what I’ve really learned from being at an amazing company like Net-A-Porter is that your audience doesn’t see it the way you see it. If it’s fantastic content and it’s really well put together and it’s got a point of view, they’re excited and they don’t see it that way.
For me, it’s about great storytelling. I do think to stand back and have that editorial integrity and beautiful curation is really important, but I also think we have to, again, be in her (the reader’s) head and think about what she’s getting. If she gets an email telling her that a new Fendi has dropped or that there’s an amazing interview with Sam Taylor-Johnson— it’s well done, it’s beautifully written with expert point of view— then it’s content for her. It’s something that’s entertaining and engaging and inspiring and informative, and that’s the main thing to hold onto— how well you produce it.
TNP: Do you think “advertorial” guidelines will become more structured online or do you think it even matters?
LY: I don’t know. I think it’s important to signpost. When you’re in a magazine, you’re using section heads or you’re using franchises so people know what they’re getting. People absolutely want to understand what they’re getting, so I think that’s part of how you present the content. I think it’s just really important to explain what you’re giving to your reader. If it’s, ‘Fendi bags have just dropped on Net-A-Porter! Here’s a history of Fendi,’ you kind of understand what it is. You’re not just sending a random email; there’s a commercial imperative.
But I think one of the things that’s been interesting for me about Porter is pre-US launch we had a lot of, ‘Is it going to be a contract magazine? Are you just going to be featuring everything from Net-A-Porter?’ It’s interesting, people feel very uncomfortable about some of those elements. And obviously, when we then came out, it had integrity; it had a point of view. It puts fashion in context. And it always puts her first.
What we’ve done with Porter is that we’ve added a service element to magazines, and I think a service element is what we all expect in our lives today. We want everything quicker and faster. We want to see something and have it. We want to watch our film when we want to watch our film. We want to buy the shoe when we want to buy the shoe. I think that philosophy of just really helping to make the woman’s life easier (in the case of Porter, a women’s magazine) is what we’re trying to do. I think that service element should never be underestimated. That’s very powerful. At Porter you can click on a Valentino dress when you’re in the digital edition or you’re shopping via your mobile phone. You can either buy that dress from Net-A-Porter, or you can go to Valentino.com and buy it from Valentino.com…and then you can also have another thirty-five dresses or tops or pieces of clothing in the same vein. So you’re just taking something that used to be one thing and you’re just making it really accessible and adding layers. I think that’s what the future of content is.
I do value editorial integrity, I do value that massively, but I think underneath that it’s really important to layer. What’s been exciting for me being inside Net-A-Porter is there’s such focus on the customer, on the woman. How can we serve her better? How can we do things better? And I think that’s something that magazines can learn from. How can we look after her better? If that means making your content shoppable or providing a concierge service, that for me is what excites me and excited me about this proposition.
TNP: The same goes for retail stores in how brands are feeling pressured to be more technological when opening…
LY: Exactly. If you think of Selfridge’s in London, or Barney’s in New York, they’ve added that aspect of theatre as well, of entertainment. So everybody’s worlds are converging. I remember when I first went to the fashion shows in my new role – it was pre-Porter – brands just didn’t know where to sit me. I was kind of ricocheting around. Was I with the American press or the UK press? Was I with press or with retail? I literally was a silver ball in a pinball machine. But those are all categories, and we need to think in a more modern way about how we do things, because everything around us is changing so quickly.
TNP: How do you think UK and US magazines differ, if at all?
LY: I think it’s just different markets. For me, what was exciting about Porter was this idea that there is this international woman. The UK and the US have ended up being the two principal markets for Porter. One of the things that excited me about Net-A-Porter – and I’ve always thought was very resolute and visionary of Natalie [Massanet] to have that idea – was this idea of this global buyer, this certain type of woman. It’s not every woman, but it’s this certain type of woman. She was very clear that she wanted all the brands to be stocked everywhere in the world. There was no, ‘You can only have us if you’re in the UK, or you can only have us there…’ That very much mirrored the thinking of Google and those companies that were born in a more global age.
For me, localization in this world doesn’t work anymore. We are so mobile. Obviously I’m working for a global company, I’m editing a global magazine, but I’m literally ricocheting back and forth across the Atlantic. But my friends who are in finance, or who are lawyers, are all living those same experiences. So I think when you’re talking to somebody about a product or a story or an idea, they may pick up this magazine in Paris, but they may get ‘round to reading it in London. They may get ’round to thinking about shopping from it when they’re in New York. So this hyper-mobile fashion-loving luxury audience is very exciting to me.
TNP: How do you find food and fashion to be similar?
LY: God, that’s really hard. I think fashion is most exciting when it’s in context. I think people love to see things in context. It’s like where we’re sitting now [at Narcissa] you know. You’re here for the food, you’re here for the scene, and you’re here for the whole community aspect. There’s something hot and buzzy about it. I think if you take any one thing and you put a wall around it, it’s not real. It’s not how we live our lives. I always say, when we’re writing captions on a jacket, it’s not like ‘Wear this jacket so you will be on trend.’ Or, ‘Go to this restaurant so that you will be eating the latest food that is the thing.’ It’s, ‘Wear this jacket because you’re going to walk into that meeting and you’re going to own it, or you’re going to walk into that party and that man you’ve always loved is going to suddenly fall in love with you.’ That’s obviously a big exaggeration, but we love fashion because it makes us feel good. We wear fashion, we socialize in it, and we eat food in it. I think everything is so linked and is all the richer for being linked. For me, it’s about things that we enjoy and take pleasure in. They define us. Where we eat, what we eat, what we wear, where we wear it. It’s why your website is a genius idea, because it’s putting everything together, and we’ve really tried to do that in Porter.
You won’t ever find a trend report in Porter because I just think catwalk pictures— that’s for the industry. What we need to do is put it into the context of storytelling and tell beautiful stories around it, and help people get dressed. That context element is important for me, and I think it’s the same way if I’m reading about food. I want to read about it in context. I don’t want to isolate it just to ingredients. That would just be absolutely deathly. You want the back-story. I remember just before I started here, I talked to a few people including Stefano Gabbana from Dolce & Gabbana, and he said to me, “Don’t forget to tell stories.” You think of Dolce & Gabbana, and you can’t think of that lace dress without thinking of it wandering up a street on some sexy lady in Sicily. She’s going to go and sit in her café and have her gorgeous cappuccino. I think food, fashion, art — all these elements— it’s like if you were making a movie. They’re all things that define you and help you tell your story.
TNP: It was in Porter that we read that amazing article with André Balazs, and we’re in his space right now. He said that when he designs spaces, each space tells a story that he makes up in his head, which is amazing.
LY: Jeremy King [of The Delaunay and The Beaumont] has done exactly that with his restaurant. He’s got this character, Jimmy Beaumont, and he knows where he travelled, what he’s done, and he’s made this whole place around this man in his head. It’s a kind of mise en scène isn’t it— it’s a different approach. That’s the genius when people can do that because you’re in that world. It’s so aspirational. It’s somewhere you want to be. It’s the opposite of cold; it’s intimate. To have had someone think about that scenario playing out is really intimate.
I absolutely love the new Polo Bar here. I think it’s amazing. And I love his [Ralph Lauren’s] place in Paris as well. You’re walking into a world of Ralph. You’ve got his favorite food, you’ve got his favorite paneling, and you’ve got his log fire. I love places where you walk into someone’s world. That’s what I love about Nick Jones [founder of Soho House]. I’ve known him from early on. I remember going in a hard hat ‘round Babington House that was his first country place that he had, which totally revolutionized the way country house hotels were. He’s just got such a vision for how it is. I love places with really strong identities, strong visions, and distinct personalities. Food is a major part of it, but I love all the other elements as well. I love the familiarity— when you go somewhere and they know your name. All those elements just make me feel at home.
We’re all running around, sometimes leading lives with impersonal experiences, so I do love that sense of the personal when it comes to restaurants — places that have that personal touch. That doesn’t mean they have to know your name when you walk in, but just that idea of being very personal. I love that.
TNP: I feel like there are two ends of the spectrum. Porter is obviously at the very luxury end of the spectrum, and then there are the Buzzfeeds of the world. What do you think is in the middle? Do you think you can be in the middle?
LY: I like the idea that there’s fast and there’s slow. I think that it’s when you get in the middle that it gets a bit messy. I just think of my own life: I either want to grab something really quickly or I want to really enjoy it. If I’m having a meal, I want something quickly that I’m eating at my desk, or I want to really savor the experience. I think that’s one of the lovely things about Porter, and the reason we decided to do it six times a year. Previously, way back before internet or anything, you waited for your copy of Vogue or Bazaar to come out to find out what the Paris collections were. Sometimes it would be several months after they had actually happened. So now, we’re in a situation where you can find that information out daily; you can find it out in the blog that goes live that afternoon, or you can have it streamed instantaneously. I’m very pro fast news with culture being what it is, and then that very thoughtful curated content being much more considered. I think the middle is a slightly unsatisfactory place to be, both as a producer of content and as somebody who’s consuming it.
TNP: In terms of Porter, what would you say you’re most focused on right now?
LY: I’m really happy that we’ve got a very clear woman that we talk to. That sense of being a magazine that really empowers and enchants, that’s what I’d love the magazine to do — [laughs] I’m just stealing my own cover lines. I think having that empowering quality and that intimacy; it’s a curation of really great women and their great stories. I was talking to one of our upcoming cover stars last night, and she said, “I just want to make sure the interview is right because it’s very important when you’re a Porter woman. I want to be a great Porter woman.” I love that people say that about the magazine’s women. For us now, it’s just about getting that message out further. We have so many exciting plans, new franchises, possible events, and supplements. We have lots of ideas, but really it’s just about reaching out to more women. We’re a team that’s mostly based in London. We’re ever growing in our US office, which is very exciting. It’s really about spreading the word, making more noise, and thinking of other ways to amplify the message that we have just begun.
TNP: What else do you like to read besides Porter, especially online?
LY: I’ve got into this habit now where I’ve been reading too much stuff online. I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old, and I realized the other day that when I’m on my iPhone 6, she doesn’t know whether I’m answering an email, texting a friend, reading Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, reading a book, or reading the paper. As far as she’s concerned, I’m always on the phone. So I’m actually thinking that maybe I need to go back and actually read physical papers and physical books, and distinguish it, so that she can understand. Otherwise, it’s just like, you’re on the phone all the time rather than reading a book. I’m intrigued by that whole idea of technology. These things are like the remote controls for our lives. You take mine away, I would literally be sobbing and running around crazily screaming. I think it’s really important to differentiate what you’re doing.
My new thing that I’ve only discovered fairly recently is The Atlantic, which I think is brilliant. It’s really well written, with a great point of view and great insight. It’s a real mix of politics, science, technology, and of the issues that are affecting all of our lives. I obviously love The Edit, which is our own. I have a horrible addiction to The Daily Mail Online, but I’m definitely easing off that. That right-hand side bar is like crack cocaine. I read The Times; I read so many newspapers online. I read Business of Fashion, absolutely. All those elements now that you get emailed to you like Business of Fashion become part of your regular digestive of news. I love Instagram and Twitter— I think they’re great news feeds. Instagram is beautiful and lovely, but Twitter I use like a news aggregator.
TNP: Is there someone we should follow on Instagram and someone we should follow on Twitter?
LY: Twitter for me isn’t about one sole voice, it’s just such a good way to keep up on what are exciting stories. I’ve actually reduced who I follow because I just want to make sure I don’t miss great stories as they break.
TNP: In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what is ‘the new potato’ right now?
LY: Fresh air – more of it, everyday, for everyone!
TNP: What are your favorite cities for food and where do you go in each? When you stay in, what do you like to cook?
London: Claridge’s or The Wolseley for breakfast, Scott’s in Mayfair or E&O in Notting Hill for lunch, the Colony Grill Room at The Beaumont Hotel for supper. For a more casual supper or Sunday lunch, my local Italian (low key, very family-oriented) is Essenza in Notting Hill.
My best two dishes to “assemble” – using the word “cook” would be an overstatement – for a quiet evening in are: scrambled eggs with avocado or baked potatoes with caviar. I am not a cook. Indeed the last time I threw a dinner party, the legendary war photographer Don McCullin had a stroke on the way home. He had survived every major war of the past half century and while my shepherd’s pie was never confirmed as the culprit, it is still very much under suspicion.
*Lucy Yeomans, photographed at Narcissa in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.