Printed lookbook, or brand magazine? How to choose…
Print is proven as an effective medium both for presenting products in creative ways, and for engaging consumers outside of commercial environments.
Until a few years ago, these two different purposes called for two different types of production: a lookbook or catalogue, or a brand magazine. Today, however, that line is blurred. Printed catalogues and lookbooks are increasingly likely to have the high production values of an independent magazine, whilst brand magazines, traditionally an indirect marketing channel, are now increasingly valued as commercial ventures by brands.
This article seeks to help brand marketers find their own optimal format, showcasing nine print production from brands which sell a variety of products at a wide range of price points: from everyday retail items to luxury cars.
Some of these nine productions come from digital-first brands founded in the last 10 years – many of which take strong stances on sustainability. This is clear indication that print is now widely recognised and valued as a sustainable marketing medium, and one that can work effectively in sync with a digital strategy.
As we’ll see, there is no simple binary choice to make between a lookbook and brand magazine, and no clear formula. Marketers are encouraged to draw inspiration from the very wide range of formats, shapes, sizes, and levels of investment in the productions featured here, in order to find the formula that works best for their audience.
Acne Papers: Age of Aquarius
A masterclass in creativity and vision, the first edition of the newly revived Acne Papers makes a broad cultural sweep, bringing together fashion, art, astrology and more in this 508-page hybrid between a book and a magazine.
A product of the ‘multidisciplinary luxury fashion house’ Acne Studios, the content jumps from archived fashion editorials to think-piece articles, to digital art, and includes a smaller astrological booklet inserted inside, making for a dynamic and varied reader journey.
The cover also doubles as a poster and is French folded to meet precisely in the centre of the inside cover. This fold, which would have been a significant technical challenge, elevates the perceived quality of this piece.
With its varied content and striking visuals, Acne Papers holds the reader’s attention through multiple uses. It’s an ideal coffee table book which provides customer value beyond the brand’s commercial offering, in creative and engaging ways.
One function of the book – showcasing its art – is also facilitated by its form; thread-sewn OTA binding allows the pages to open easily and lie flat, improving the presentation of double-spread imagery.
Luxury pyjamas brand Desmond & Dempsey takes a relaxed approach with its lookbook, now on its 12th issue.
In the form of a newspaper, horizontally folded and unbound, it evokes the casual Sunday mornings for which Desmond & Dempsey’s products are made.
A crossword in the back adds a touch of reader interest and furthers the informal tone of this catalogue, designed not for longevity, but to be handled, folded, and written in.
Sunday Papers provides an interesting counter to the intuitive idea that a luxury brand necessarily demands a luxury print production. Rather than seeking to reflect the brands’ premium price tag (none of the brand’s sets retail for less than £100), they’ve instead chosen to encapsulate the moments that its products are designed for, in an effective, yet affordable piece of print.
Lux Deco: The Style Guide – interior design catalogue
Lux Deco’s catalogue (printed by Park) serves as an example of how to elevate the traditional catalogue format through refined print design.
This production’s simple layout and neutral colour palette channels elegant, traditional style. Wide margins lend a sense of space and light, in keeping with the neutrality of the images inside.
The Style Guide fully embraces its form as a luxury catalogue. The matt stock, with a touch of gold on the cover, lend an indulgent yet natural feel, and set it apart from cheaper, mass-produced glossy magazines or catalogues.
The decision not to laminate the product minimises the plastic waste produced during recycling, and the catalogue’s uncoated, Edixion offset stock is FSC-certified.
Porter – Net-a-Porter’s brand magazine
Net-a-Porter’s editorial magazine, Porter, ran from 2014 to 2019, in a recognisable fashion-glossy style.
The magazine is an affordable production, appearing to be web printed, with lightweight pages, common features in mass-produced magazines. The fold-out Gucci poster in the magazine’s cover provides a touch of extra appeal for collectors or fans of high fashion brands.
In the context of 2022, Porter provides an opportunity to reflect on the changing role of print – and indeed, of brands – in the last few years.
Launched alongside Net-a-Porter’s online store, the magazine functioned as a curation of looks that readers could shop on the website, and in 2018 it had a global circulation of 170,000.
Recently, however, larger fashion houses such as Burberry have begun investing in print less as a shopping aide, and more as an engagement tool, with production values reminiscent of higher-quality indie mags.
With Net-a-Porter’s scale and ample budget, one suspects that if Porter was revived, the brand might consider a refreshed look and feel.
Noble Rot: brand magazine becomes a wine bar
Most branded print productions are produced as marketing tools for established business. Noble Rot – surprisingly – is the opposite: a magazine which was so successful, it led to the launch of an eponymous London wine bar and restaurant.
Printed by Park, the magazine describes itself as ‘genre disrupting,’ and is unapologetic in its indulgence of the eccentric.
This highly designed product certainly catches the eye, toeing the line between garish and appealing, with its highly saturated colours and leather-look laminated cover. This special cover, along with the magazine’s busy pages, eclectic style and varying fonts make for a dynamic and exciting reading experience.
Whilst nominally on the topic of wine, Noble Rot is accessible to the everyday reader. Its articles span a multitude of topics, and well-known celebs such as Grayson Perry are featured, adding a further dimension of interest.
For a publication so jam-packed, Noble Rot costs only £10 to buy, its small 170mm width allowing for a more cost-effective production, since it allows more pages to be cut from a single sheet when printing.
Beyond the launch of their wine bar, the success of this magazine is clear from the fact it’s now on its 29th edition.
This magazine also broadens one’s appreciation of the power of print. Not only can it elevate a brand’s visibility and appeal, but it can generate such a following that it facilitates further business ventures. Furthermore, it’s proof that print is not only for big brands to boost their advertising, but can also prove a profitable venture for small, independent businesses.
War Paint – Makeup for Men: The Manual
The branding of this book may be recognisable to some. The Haynes Manuals, from Haynes Publishing Group, was a long-running series of books on how to maintain and repair a wide range of cars and other mechanical products.
War Paint’s makeup manual is an ironic play on the Haynes theme, making a clever and amusing way to market stereotypically feminine makeup products to men.
The sturdy hardback mimics the traditional Haynes manuals inside and out, with their step-by-step guides to applying War Paint’s products.
QR codes link to YouTube videos with further information – unsurprisingly for a digital-first, direct-to-consumer brand founded in 2018. The largely black and white theme nods to the Haynes Manual, while reflecting the brand’s message that makeup can be straightforward and simple.
War Paint’s manual is, however, a higher-quality production than the books on which it is based. A matt coated art paper, as opposed to the thinner and cheaper off-white pages of the original manuals, is used as the text stock.
Aston Martin Magazine
The long-running Aston Martin Magazine, which has recently printed its landmark 50th edition, is a superior-quality piece of print design which reflects the brand’s luxury image.
This special issue features a false half cover, which wraps around the magazine at half the page width of both the front and back of the magazine.
The false cover includes a white foiled Aston Martin wings logo, which adds a further touch of luxury, and is printed on an FSC-certified, uncoated paper. This provides a modern, tactile feel, whilst retaining a regular surface which allowed for accurate colour reproduction. This was essential as this cover used a special blue ink which was specifically chosen to compliment the Aston Martin DBX 707 shown on the front cover.
Magazine B – Patagonia edition
At first glance, Magazine B may look like a joint venture with its featured brands. Actually, the magazine is an independent publisher which researches and delves into one ‘well-balanced brand’ each issue. It features only those brands which meet its standards, judged based on four criteria: philosophy, price, practicality, and beauty. Retailing at £22.50, it contains no ads, and its independent perspective makes it a trusted voice on quality brands.
Despite the lack of an explicit commercial agreement, however, it does seem that its featured brands are often willing participants. In a 2016 interview with the magazine’s editor, Taehyuk Choi, he spoke of the positivity and energy from Patagonia, suggesting a willingness to participate.
Of course, Patagonia is an established publisher itself, with an extensive range of books, as well as a well-regarded sustainable and ethical brand. One might wonder, therefore, whether this brand would fear corruption of its carefully cultivated image by a third-party publication.
Magazine B is printed on a smooth, satin-feel paper, and each edition seems to carry the same production values. No indication is given as to the materials used or the sustainability of the production, which seems an oversight, given the importance the magazine places on the values of its featured brands.
Magazine B – Rapha edition
Direct-to-consumer cycling brand Rapha previously published its own brand magazine. But after the discontinuation of Mondial, printed by Park, which ran for seven issues between 2015 and 2018, it has now been featured in Magazine B.
Magazine B’s design in many ways reflects that of Mondial, perhaps in an intentional effort to reproduce the essence of the brand’s original. Echoes include the double-spread product imagery, stunning cycling landscapes and interviews with industry personalities.
Mondial was much more highly designed than Magazine B, making use of keylines to separate blocks of text, and even switching between coated and uncoated stock. While Magazine B attempts to reproduce this effect by using tinted pages to mark out different sections, it doesn’t achieve the tactile experience, nor the highly colourful and sharp image reproduction that was facilitated by Mondial’s periodic switches to gloss paper.
The design does, however, create a balance between the two brands, nodding to Mondial’s heritage whilst retaining the trademark look and feel of Magazine B.
Brand publishing: focus on differentiated customer value
With small businesses such as Noble Rot, and large enterprises such as Aston Martin and Acne Studios using print marketing to elevate their brands, it is clear that print can be an effective endeavour no matter your size or sector.
We’ve also seen that this leaves seemingly limitless possibilities for prospective publishers, whether this is in terms of their content, their layout or the sustainable materials used.
With dozens of brand magazines and lookbooks in our portfolio, Park would offer these key pieces of advice to a prospective brand publisher:
- obsess over differentiated customer value. The extraordinary degrees of creativity in the magazines featured here is not an accident, but a response to a need to stand out in a crowded marketing landscape. If there’s one thing that the digital era has taught us, it’s that there are no prizes for high volumes of poor-quality comms. The same applies in print.
- use print as an opportunity to communicate your sustainable values. It was surprising to see that none of the brands featured in this collection chose to talk about the materials and processes used in production – an increasingly common feature of independent magazine publishing. Given that paper is usage is both a concern for consumers, and a highly effective way of demonstrating a brand’s environmental commitment through the use of sustainable materials, this seems a missed opportunity.
- the sky’s the limit for what form your magazine or lookbook might take. Don’t feel constrained by conventional lookbook or magazine designs; take inspiration from the entire gamut of print design to find something that works for your brand’s audience, and differentiates your brand.
If your brand is considering print marketing, get in touch with Park. With decades of experience to share, we’ll be delighted to bounce ideas around and share examples from our extensive portfolio of printed brand comms.
Alternatively, visit our brand marketing hub here to read case studies and thought leadership on print marketing by luxury & consumer brands.