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M: Editor's Letter — Kaplan and (M)e

Jim Windolf reflects on Peter W. Kaplan, the founding editor of M.

By
lifestyle/news
Peter Kaplan

Peter Kaplan in a photograph taken for the November 1992 issue of M magazine.

Photo By Greg Watermann/WWD Archive

Appeared In
Special Issue
Menswear issue M Spring 2014

Peter W. Kaplan, the founding editor of this magazine, sent an e-mail from the hospital late one Friday afternoon. Attached was the piece he had written to serve as his editor’s letter for the Fall 2013 issue. I opened the document and found myself taken up by the Kaplan style—rugged, musical, rambunctious.

Before making the argument that the jerry-rigged fashion business of mid-twentieth-century New York had become a gleaming global industry, he recalled his childhood visits to his father’s seventeenth-floor office in the clogged Garment District.

Down below, he would take me to lunch at frantic delis, for a tuna sandwich and a soda in a paper cup. The restaurants were full of industry men, and the streets were in wild, Hong Kong–like disarray, with pushcarts stopping the traffic and giant wobbly trucks cramming the lanes like huffing hippopotami.

I loved that paragraph. I loved its rhythm and energy, and I loved what it suggested—that its author was surely getting better and would soon be back in the office. But the meetings for the next issue took place in his hospital room, or over the phone, and the essay he had infused with so much life turned out to be his last published piece.

In my closet, between never-worn gift sweaters and a little-used golf bag, there are three or four much-pawed-through piles of magazines that struck me as particularly great when they came out on newsstands—old numbers of Spy, Musician, Mad, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, New York, Esquire, and other titles. Wedged in there, too, is the November 1992 issue of M. Its cover story, “The Wrath of Dave,” concerning David Letterman and the cultural significance of his rocky rise, was written by Peter Kaplan.

M’s editor in chief at the time was Kaplan’s mentor, Clay Felker, who had made his mark when he started New York magazine as a brash Sunday supplement of The New York Herald Tribune, in 1963. Felker devoted much of his November ’92 editor’s letter to Kaplan, calling him “an intense student of television talk shows as an artifact of American culture.” Beneath his words was a photograph of Kaplan flipping a pencil into the air in imitation of Letterman (who took the pencil-flipping bit from his mentor, Johnny Carson). There was no mention in the editor’s letter that M would be closing up shop, which is what happened just as Teamsters were loading their trucks with bundles of the November ’92 issue.

Kaplan went on to be the editor of The New York Observer, which is where I met him. I worked with him there for seven wonderfully insane years, and I was thrilled when I jumped aboard M the summer before last to experience, once again, the mad push and pull of putting out a publication with him at the helm.

He became the editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Media in 2009, and when he restarted M, in 2012, he brought to it a lot of what he had learned from Clay. I hope that everything in the magazine from this issue forward will have something of Peter’s sensibility.

He was an editor who believed in images as much as text, and he would have loved the contemplative photographs by Matthew Brookes that manage to capture our elusive cover subject, Ralph Fiennes. The same goes for the illustrations herein by Barry Blitt, John Cuneo, and Gant Powell; the extended piece of on-the-fly photojournalism by Alfredo Piola; and Lexie Moreland’s up-against-the-wall portraits.

Also in these pages: Matthew Schneier takes the measure of designer Alexandre Mattiussi, discovering a man whose ambition is not quite masked by a friendly demeanor rare in a sometimes chilly business; George Gurley conducts a loony anthropological study of jolly investment banker Euan Rellie; Terry Golway examines the almost comical reluctance of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to utter the word liberal; and media scholar Brendan Keogh immerses himself in popular video games, only to discover that their notion of manhood is more complicated than you might expect.

Matthew Lynch looks into Vine, the social network of the moment, and identifies a few especially inventive video upload-ers who have found an unlikely freedom in its six-second time limit. Erik Maza introduces non-Scandinavians to Jonas Hassen Khemiri, a Swedish playwright and social critic who detects something rotten in the Western world. And, in a series of caffeinated dispatches from the fashion front, Alex Badia notes the beauty and absurdity he encountered at the recent men’s shows in Paris and Milan.

Spring is almost here. To borrow a line from one of Kaplan’s editor’s letters, “Time chomps on.”

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