ICON tries to give readers something they didn’t know they wanted.
“We want to surprise our readers,” explains Peter Smirnakos. “We’re always aiming for timeless quality, rather than this month’s celebrity fix.”
The magazine focuses on well-written and unique portraits of exciting people from all around the world – “vår tids inspiratörer” (the inspirations of our time), as the magazine’s tagline goes. These may be people with power and influence, entrepreneurs, chefs, musicians, directors, architects, designers or environmental activists. The main point, according to Peter, is that there is some connection that arouses the reader’s curiosity.
“It’s hard, for example, for us to write about an entirely unknown but revolutionary artist from Afghanistan, however fantastic he or she may be. It’s important that there is some form of recognition or link either to the person, or to what he or she does. We wrote about the legendary Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, who is completely unknown to most people. But everyone eats sushi, and it was Matsuhisa who brought sushi to the wider world.”
Matsuhisa, Hollywood producer Bob Shaye, the young chess genius Magnus Carlsen, horror writer Stephen King, rock hero Slash, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actress Noomi Rapace are just some of the icons that have been featured since the first issue hit the stands in November 2011.
In 2011, ICON became the first Swedish magazine in 20 years to interview author Stephen King.
A month with Noomi
Peter is extremely pleased with many of the articles, not least the one with Noomi Rapace in the latest issue (3/2013).
“We’re hardly the only magazine in the world writing about Noomi, but we got to follow her for a whole month and were therefore able to write something that no-one else could. This allowed us to bring something unique to the story.”
Peter’s wishlist is topped by Richard Branson and Hillary Clinton, not to mention Swedish music producer and songwriter Max Martin.
“He has never actually given a single interview, so that would be a dream scoop.”
Tired of the lifestyle genre
Peter Smirnakos shares the job of editor-in-chief at ICON with Joel Persson. The two met when they worked at Café, a Swedish lifestyle magazine that clearly targeted a male audience.
“We had both had enough of Café and the way the whole lifestyle genre had become increasingly indistinguishable and generic,” explains Peter. “We thought, quite simply, there was a gap in the market for a really good quality magazine.”
They made their first dummy in 2009, drawing inspiration from many, not always obvious, sources.
“It’s something I’m really proud of about ICON, the fact that we are a blend of very many different influences. It sets us apart from many other magazines that either belong to an international network or are a Swedish version of a magazine.”
“We have our own style.”
Design-wise, Peter and Joel are inspired by American news and business magazines such as Fortune and Time, but aesthetically also by the fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar and classic publications such as National Geographic and New York Magazine.
“You could say we’re a lifestyle magazine in a business magazine format.”
No-one sent to LA on three days’ notice
As the digital media become a force to be reckoned with, there is increasing talk about the difficulties of launching a paper-based magazine. At the same time, newsstands are overflowing with magazines and the number of different titles has never been greater. Despite a certain amount of oversupply and tough competition, Peter and Joe never hesitated in launching a magazine.
“No, magazines in paper format have a bright future, if you do them properly,” says Peter.
“We learned a huge amount from our previous experience in the industry and avoided a number of pitfalls.”
“It’s important to have a smart way of working,” he continues. “ICON is seen by many as a ‘major’ publication and we have the Bonnier publishing house backing us, but the truth is that we have an extremely slimmed down business model. There are just five of us on the editorial team and we always focus on being highly cost-effective. Planning is everything, according to Peter.”
“The fact that we want more timeless content rather than the very latest news allows us to plan much further ahead. We don’t, for example, send anyone to LA on three days’ notice and when we do travel, we tend to do several jobs at once.”
Editor-in-chiefs Peter Smirnakos and Joel Persson.