If you hadn't noticed (and you really should have by now) good-old-fashioned print publishing is having a rather hard time of it. Ad sales are down, as are newsstand sales and subscriptions. We're a few years removed from the great magazine die-off, but it's still a risky proposition (financial and career-wise) to launch one. It takes a new kind of talent to succeed in this new landscape and, insofar as we're concerned, if anyone's going make it in this upturned, rebooting industry, it's people like Cherry Bombe creative director Claudia Wu.
See, Wu is what you might call unique in the world of self-funded, self-run publishers. Having backed into a degree at RISD ("I had no idea what graphic design was," she says), she began her career in earnest at Visionaire and V, learning how to make award-winning, ground-breaking editorial on a staff of 10. After wearing many, many hats in those offices, she got an education in high-profile corporate publishing at Harper's Bazaar (where she met her Cherry Bombe partner, Kerry Diamond). But the regimented system there didn't suit her after a long period of freelancing for The New York Times Sunday magazine, Index Magazine, and others. She then founded her own boutique-design firm (appropriately titled Orphan), where she worked with Hugo Boss, NARS, Clinique, New Museum, Organic Avenue, and Intermix, and many others. During this time she founded Me magazine, a unique publication dedicated to and guest-edited by a different creative star every issue (Rodarte, Robert Geller, Mike Mills, Keren Ann, and many others have had their turn).
All of this is to say that Claudia Wu has the independent spirit, grit, unconventional perspective, multiple editorial talents, and drive to survive in a media climate that forces publishers to find news ways of reaching audiences and making money. Her latest venture, the fashion-heavy food glossy Cherry Bombe is proof positive. Funded through Kickstarter and featuring Sofia Coppola, Garance Doré, and cover star Karlie Kloss, it is, as Wu says, a new mix of "sustenance and style."
We visited Wu's studio (which doubles as Cherry Bombe HQ) to talk about her unique path, the perils of publishing today, and why a foodie-fashion mag is an idea whose time has come.
Declaration of Independence
“I’ve always been indie and DIY at heart. For me, going from very, very indie publications like V to Harper’s Bazaar was like night and day. There were so, so many people there you really only had one job. At V, I was doing art direction, design, layouts, production, press checks, working on Visionaire, and doing campaigns for the in-house ad agency. So, I was only at Bazaar for maybe nine months? Once, when I was freelancing at The New York Times Sunday magazine, I fixed a bad break in the copy and got yelled at by someone in the production team, because that wasn't my job. The one big thing that I found out about myself through...was that I never wanted to have a full-time job again! I needed to take back control. I guess you could say I started my first magazine, Me, out of frustration.”
“People have come to me through the years for advice when they want to start their own magazines. My first reaction is always, ‘Why?’ Look, it takes a lot of perseverance, and it's not very glamorous most of the time. I mean, it's wonderful to make a magazine that people appreciate and looks great. But it's another issue to keep things going, to make something that can be self-sustaining financially. Print-advertising dollars are drying up, and publishers are shutting down titles. It's difficult to survive without advertisers. Magazines and newspapers don't make enough money on newsstand sales to cover their costs. I think it points to finding more creative revenue sources — like how Stoli is sponsoring the content on ORGNL.TV. That’s the next big challenge we’re working on it at Cherry Bombe. For the moment, though, Cherry Bombe is a real labor of love.”
Chocolate Is the New Black
“Cherry Bombe is more of a traditional magazine in conception, perhaps because Kerry and I grew up reading fashion magazines like Vogue or Harper's Bazaar. People tell us we’re filling [a] niche that had been missing in food magazines — it’s sustenance and style. Actually, there seems to be a new food magazine launching every month. I think it's really great to see this wave of new points of view and different aesthetics. There really was not alternative, indie-food coverage when I was growing up. Food magazines might be the new fashion magazines!”
See more from Wu and other visionaries at ORGNL.TV
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Hair and makeup by Andrew Colvin