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SEWING A NEW PATTERN FOR T: If Sally Singer had had her way, Don DeLillo would have written a story for her debut issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, which comes out this weekend. DeLillo turned the assignment down. But for her Mick Jagger cover story, Singer turned to an old friend: She went with “Notes on a Scandal” author and journalist Zoe Heller.
DeLillo and Heller aren’t the type of writers you would usually find in the Rolodex of style magazine editors who are used to handing out softball assignments. T, after all, is supposed to be a cash cow for the Times and it’s that way for a reason — the magazine is expected to attract advertisers, not critical acclaim.
But Heller’s piece — which is occasionally quite biting — is hardly the only thing about Singer’s debut issue that stands out over the previous incarnation of T. There’s a piece written by Misha Glenny on Wikileaks and Julian Assange; a story on Imam Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, and a excerpt from Allen Shawn’s book “Twin,” which is about his severely autistic twin sister. Sober stuff.
“That’s probably a bit new for T — to buy a book extract for something that has absolutely nothing to do with style other than the stylishness of the writing,” Singer told WWD.
Singer, who spent more than a decade at Vogue and has worked at the London Review of Books and New York Magazine, is clearly taking the magazine in a different direction — one less bound to luxurious products and style.
“It’s a holiday issue, which essentially means that’s an issue that was probably originally designed as a gifts issue,” she said, but added that, “Not everyone who gets T is a devout follower of fashion.”
Singer said she gets excited “over seeing a shoe and a pair of earrings as much any person,” but that’s not enough to fill up her magazine.
“If one were to strip out those elements of T that you find new or noncommercial, then what are you left with? You’re just left with stuff,” she said, pronouncing “stuff” with some disdain. “The wonder of stuff — the pleasure we all take in stuff if we have the time or money or resources or the space in our brain to think about it — is that we allow ourselves that time because we’re thinking about big things too, you know. If you’re not, it just becomes a catalogue. Who wants that? You flip through it and you’re done. When I do a magazine, I want people to live with it.”
But, then, how is T different from the Times’ Sunday Magazine?
“Well, there are an awful lot of extremely pretty people in it and lots of wonderful things to buy and cook,” she said. “There is lots of fun in it.”
Singer said her cover subject came to her instantly.
“It was immediate and decisive in my head,” she said. “I actually thought, ‘Whose face to me says gifted and I’m a gift more than any other person in the world?’ And I thought Mick Jagger. I didn’t even think of Keith [Richard’s] book coming out.”
Nor was she expecting Assange to be filling up every headline of every news outlet over the last week when she sent photographer Max Vadukul and features director Jacob Brown to Europe to shoot him in late September. A photo, by the way, that Assange never agreed to or willingly participated in.
“Max and Jacob chased him —well, not chased him, but followed him throughout Europe,” she said.
And even though Singer said the timing was perfect since the issue closed a while ago, it is sure to be one of the more dissected pieces in her debut issue. In fact, that has already started.
On Wednesday night, Slate Group editor Jacob Weisberg — husband of Deborah Needleman, the editor of WSJ. Magazine, whose debut issue also hits newsstands this weekend — took a shot across the bow at Singer on Twitter: “Bad timing for Times to puff Julian Assange in T Holiday issue. ‘The Gift of Information’ (not yet online).”
“Misha Glenny doesn’t write puff pieces and his record shows that,” Singer said. “He wrote about the game-changing nature of Wikileaks and not the personal character of Assange.”
And though Singer said she was an admirer of Needleman and her former magazine, Domino, she claimed she won’t pay much attention to WSJ. Magazine.
“I’m just solipsistic enough where I do my thing,” she said. — John Koblin