Retailing at $175 a pop, Visionaire is a hip, elaborately packaged fusion of fashion and photography, and one of the country's most expensive art quarterlies. By consistently selling out each 4,000-copy limited edition, founding editors Cecilia Dean, James Kaliardos and Stephen Gan (who is also creative director at Harper's Bazaar) have shown that there's a market for expensive illustrated publications. Each issue is conceived around a theme, such as #18, The Fashion Special, which was packaged in a Louis Vuitton envelope, or #28, a fashion-based interpretation of the Bible in a Philippe Starck—designed plastic case.
But it wasn't until last February's publication of #37, a collection of 150 of Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland's memos from the 1960s and early '70s, that Visionaire took a decidedly literary turn, and added the written word. In fact, the issue is devoted entirely to text, in the form of memos that are both prescient and funny, such as this one on ironing hair: "What has happened to this delightful idea, we have not heard about it lately?"
Excerpted in the New Yorker, the Vreeland issue sold especially well in bookstores. "We sold more of that one than any of the others that Visionaire created," said Perry Haberman, owner of Madison Avenue Books in New York City. "We have several customers who have standing orders for them. They seem to have a built-in PR thing, so when the issues come out, people are looking for them." Allison Mills, general manager at Book Soup in Los Angeles, reported a similar experience. "We have a large clientele who love Visionaire," she said. "We have regulars in Hong Kong who call and ask if it's in yet. It's rare that people are turned off by the price."
Now Visionaire is hoping to build on the Vreeland success in book outlets with #38, its Love issue (Aug.), and its first book, Dreaming in Print: A Decade of Visionaire (Oct.), which designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld, a longtime contributor, is publishing under his Edition 7L imprint at Steidl.
The Love issue is co-sponsored by Tiffany & Company, which provided widely recognizable blue bags and boxes, as well as an Elsa Peretti silver heart necklace, to complete the package. Each issue is an actual novel from the 1930s, '40s or '50s, with photographs, poems, stories and letters tipped in to it. Special projects coordinator Brian Phillips compares the new issue to the copy of Herodotus carried by a character in The English Patient. "A book is something you [can use to] carry around letters and photographs," he said. Except, unlike Michael Ondaatje's Englishman's book, Love has a bookplate with a music chip that plays the theme from the movie Love Story. Literary contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Kenneth Koch and Jonathan Safran Foer. Hat designer Philip Treacy provided special feathers, and Peter Lindbergh contributed a photograph of his newborn son.
While expectations are high for Love, Edition 7L is printing more than twice as many copies of the publication's 10-year retrospective, Dreaming in Print, which will have a 10,000-copy first printing. "Visionaire is difficult to find and expensive, so we wanted to come out with a book that lets people have a piece of every issue," said Dean.