How This Woman Is Changing Men's Mags For The Better

Photo: Courtesy of Maxim.
When it was announced in September 2014 that Kate Lanphear was leaving T: The New York Times Style Magazine to become editor-in-chief at Maxim, the fashion world's response could be summed up in two words: "Come again?"

Previously, Lanphear had been style director at Elle, an in-demand runway stylist, and a bona fide street style star, instantly recognizable by her white-blonde crop and tailored tomboy separates. For an editor of that stature to leave the fashion world for a men's magazine is a rare thing, indeed. There was a fair amount of speculation about what Lanphear's appearance on the masthead would mean for Maxim — a massive brand perhaps best known for its "Hot 100" list and a certain Axe-scented vision of masculinity.

Doubts about whether Lanphear is a good fit at Maxim will be easily laid to rest for anyone who picks up its March issue. Debuting on newsstands 10 days ago, the issue makes plain that Maxim's feel has been completely revamped, from its cover (featuring makeup-free VS Angel Candice Swanepoel giving the reader face instead of body) to its very last page (which includes a crossword puzzle themed around Women's History Month — gods be praised!).
It's far from becoming a fashion magazine, to be sure, but there is an exciting elevation in the style coverage: moody editorials; a smart, cheeky tone that makes its Q & As with Swanepoel and others about more than T & A, and excellent feature-writing throughout. Just try to not be riveted by the profile of pickup artist and The Game author Neil Strauss, or articles about spearfishing or hardscrabble Russian boxers. Overall, it's a way less slick, more stylish take on men's content — appropriate for its theme this month, which is "Raw."

We spoke with Lanphear to get her take on being a self-described "tomboy in the men’s world," and how she plans to makeover Maxim into something "more authentic, and not an overdrawn fantasy." Read on to see why she is just the woman to do it.
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Photo: Courtesy of Maxim.

How were you approached about the Maxim position?
"I was working at T (The New York Times magazine) when I got the call. I saw it as an incredibly unique opportunity, especially after I learned more about the changes already taking place at Maxim. A determined new owner had already started assembling a talented team, and there was a commitment to increase style coverage, so given my experience in fashion, it seemed like it could be an intriguing fit. It’s been one of the most exciting times in my career."

What did you previously think about Maxim?
"For me, Maxim was always fun and a bit irreverent. I related to that. However, what I didn’t know and was surprised by was the reality of the brand’s robust and loyal readership. Its 2 million strong audience impressed me."

What's your mission statement for the new Maxim?
"We want to create a brand that celebrates men, their stories and successes, and captures the essence of men — the drive, determination, and ambition — with the fun and attitude that has long defined Maxim."

What three things would you most like to cultivate or enhance about the brand?
"Our vision is to inspire through engaging, thoughtful storytelling; provocative, beautiful imagery; and refined, sharp style coverage for men today."

What's it like being a female EIC in the world of men's mags? Do you think you handle the job differently than a man would?
"So far, it’s been great fun being a tomboy in the men’s world. Simply the fact that they approached me for the job showed a readiness to embrace change and to put more emphasis on style coverage into the brand. Ultimately, it’s about bringing a new perspective to the table. I see our readers as smart and confident enough to not shy away from new ideas or opinions."

I felt more welcome reading this issue of Maxim than I have, well, ever. Was female-friendliness part of your mission?
"First off — thank you! We put so much into this issue and so I’m really grateful to hear that. Maxim’s always going to be a masculine magazine, but we wanted to create something that’s authentic and not an overdrawn fantasy. With that in mind, we put our focus on bringing inspiring storytelling to the forefront. Men’s magazines have a history of great journalism, and we’re excited to continue that tradition. I think that’s something that anyone — male or female — can appreciate."

Does the mag hope to have a different approach to women, too?
"Definitely. Maxim is still celebrating female beauty, but we’re now dedicated to capturing a woman’s beauty multi-dimensionally, inside and out. Beauty is energy, vitality, and confidence."
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The fashion editorials are so beautiful and elevated — were you at all concerned the old-school readers wouldn't get your perspective?
"Since Maxim put out its first issue nearly two decades ago, men’s interest in sophisticated style and luxury has evolved, and we wanted the brand to reflect that. Style permeates every area of our lives and we aim to create a relatable context for luxury and fashion."

On the other hand, between the articles on spearfishing, rum cocktails, boxing,
 and power tools, there's still tons of testosterone here. What, if anything, do you hope to change about the way Maxim covers traditionally male topics?
"We didn’t want to just cover the topics, but are offering a richer, more immersive experience. My main focus is offering something relevant to our audience. Aspirational ideas surrounding success, sophistication, or even just enjoying life are timeless. As we experiment with how we can present and explore these pursuits in fun, new ways, I just strive for each issue to be better than the last."
Photo: Courtesy of Maxim.
Complete these sentences:
I hope longtime Maxim readers will feel:
"Inspired."

My dream cover star is:
"Candice Swanepoel!"

The one thing I'd tell someone who wants to get into publishing or fashion: 
"Internships are a great way to get your start, there’s no greater way to gain experience. Use every opportunity as a chance to learn something."

Finally, we have to ask: Is that you getting the word "Raw" shaved into your fade in the Editor's Letter?
"Yup, that’s me. A bunch of us on staff went to Levels in Brooklyn and all had it done when we landed on 'Raw' as the theme for the March issue. It’s certainly one of my most memorable haircuts."
Maxim's Raw Issue is on newsstands now.
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