Someone else’s Holiday
37 years after its doors appeared closed forever, America’s greatest monthly travel magazine was relaunched by a team of Parisians. Museum spoke with the French editor and journalist at the helm of Holiday about the mechanics of editing, managing the beloved title’s transition and how to flourish in the shadow of a borrowed legacy.
The rooms for rent in Galle Fort’s Leynbaan Villa are clean but spartan. A ceiling fan rotates noisily and the air-con unit, yellowed with age, struggles to combat the south Sri Lankan heat. On the dressing table is a white tray, and on the white tray are plastic water bottles and drinking glasses turned on their heads. Two wooden single beds are pushed together, their thin mattresses made one with a double-sized yellow sheet. The bathroom, shared with the other guests, is pink all over. Even the toilet seat is the shade of carnival fairy floss.
In Galle Fort you can buy a bag of popcorn for 30 Sri Lankan rupees. For 100, you can get plastic flowers in a pot, a pair of second-hand shorts or a serving of two-minute noodles dished up from a truck window. You can get apples sliced up in little paper bags, like fries. If you are in the market for polished gems—I am not, but many wealthy tourists lap them up in these parts—you will find no shortage of specialty shops, where well-mannered gentlemen offer you a chair, a tea and a real show. Ice creams are for sale along the fort walls, peddled by wiry old men riding bicycles; often letting off celebratory toots as they peddle past, left foot, right foot. On its side, facing a main street, the local mosque has stained glass windows and in the morning, when no one is around (breakfast is a 10am-or-later deal, and caters mostly to Westerners) they are flooded with the most glorious light.
You can get American coffee with your breakfast. A pot will cost you 300. Alternatively, there’s the Sri Lankan kind, which tastes a little weaker. Galle Fort is an odd place—there are remnants of the 2005 tsunami, and lashings of gentrification, and tuk tuks covered in motivational stickers—but it’s also very picturesque: blue water, yellow sands, charming Dutch architecture. It’s the right place to read a book, among all that sunshine, but even more, it’s the right place to send a torrent of emails to Marc Beaugé, the French journalist and editor at the helm of the relaunched Holiday magazine.
Most people find Holiday much too late in life. By that, I simply mean the American monthly travel title was so good, so astonishing in its calibre of writers and the freedoms they were afforded, in its unapologetically camp cover art, in the fact that it has managed to fly largely under the radar of mainstream appreciation (outside a Vanity Fair feature and some Josh Lieberman musings in The Paris Review’s daily column), that when you first find an old issue, and you devour it cover to cover, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t been collecting the thing for years.
The original Holiday ran from 1946 to 1977. Its offices, refreshingly, weren’t in New York, but Philadelphia, where publisher Curtis Publishing Co. was based. For just over three decades the smart, nonconformist title was everything, until it wasn’t anything at all. At its height, under the editorship of Ted Patrick, circulation sat at just under a million, and it was bringing in revenue of around $10 million a year. The assignments were big, and they had to be, because the vision was too sparkling to be shot at half-heartedly. AB Guthrie wrote on Idaho, Arthur C Clarke on space travel. In the first ever issue, published in March of ‘46, Carl L Biemiller reported from a clam and oyster opening tournament in Atlantic City (“Mr. Israel Weintraub, 300 pounds of jitney driver, leaned back in his contest chair, dabbed at his mouth with something less than Chesterfieldian grace, and explained his success in the clam derby.”) Joan Didion’s Notes From a Native Daughter was first published in Holiday, as was Truman Capote’s autobiographical essay Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir (“I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” it began). Other names commissioned by Holiday: Ernest Hemmingway, Gay Talese, Slim Aarons, Arthur Miller, Frank O’Connor, Ogden Nash, Jack Kerouac, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lawrence Durrell.
This was a magazine for post-war America. The America of transcontinental flight and vacation packages, of travel agents and sleeker, more sophisticated hotels, where members of the leisure-set one upped each other with adventure tales from far-flung, glorious locales. Its investigative journalism, travelogues and essays make mockery of today’s travel listicle and hollowed-out hotel advertorial. The editorial staff threw ample budgets at the best minds, sent them to document the world as they saw it and waited for them to return with something meaty. In Michael Callahan’s Vanity Fair ode to Holiday, photographer and former contributor John Lewis sums up their approach: “The concept was basically to get famous authors who had maybe one or two weeks in between their books or projects to go and travel and write glorious pieces … So you’d have James Michener sent off to the South Pacific, for example. It was an intriguing way to put together a magazine. It was an oddball publication that used photographs to tell stories.”
Something odd happened in 2014, when all that remained of Holiday were rare copies sold on eBay or forgotten in library collections, when its former art director—the great Frank Zachary— was almost 100 years old. Another celebrated art director, the Parisian Franck Durand, suddenly announced his relaunching of the title. He had purchased the rights to it three years before and believed the time was right to bring Holiday back. Durand’s Holiday is published in English too, though the articles are written in French and translated, and the staff is based in France, including editor Marc Beaugé. The new Holiday is not an echo of the old: it’s a title in its own right (with a fashion bent) that shares something of the original spirit. Think contributions from prominent voices in contemporary magazines: photographers Karim Sadli, Jamie Hawksworth, Josh Olins and Christian MacDonald, the writer Eric Reinhardt, the model Edie Campbell. The budgets are smaller—they have to be—but the emphasis on beauty and the editorial rigor remain, and each issue is a lavish dispatch by 2016 standards: to Japan, to Scotland, to the world of French aristocrats. Remember, the original title’s all- or-nothing naïve optimism was a product of its time—much of the euphoria of Continental travel has been dulled by customs queues.
When we spoke for this piece, via email, Marc Beaugé and I were both fittingly on holiday: myself, in Galle, Sri Lanka and Beaugé, in northern Spain.
LAURA BANNISTER Can you describe your surroundings to me? I’d like to understand your workplace a little, where you send emails from, where you do your research.
MARC BEAUGÉ Currently, I’m sitting in a hotel bar in San Sebastian, the sea in front of me. All is very quiet, as it’s six in the morning. Around me, loads of wood, leather and heavy carpets. It’s a very traditional hotel, created in 1902. I am always attracted to old, classical, dusty things and places. I do a lot of different things. I have weekly column in Le Monde magazine, one on Canal Plus (the French cable television channel), both on elegance. I am the chief editor for three magazines: Society, Holiday and Doolittle. I also own my brand called Larose Paris. So I work pretty much all time—from home, on the go. The Society offices are where I spend most of my time. Imagine a big open space, very white, very simple, packed with 50 young guys and just a few girls.
BANNISTER Can you take me through your own career as a writer? I want to know where your interest in journalism began, if and where you studied, what your earliest assignments were, the kind of stories you were interested in, in the very beginning, and what kind of stories you are interested in now.
BEAUGÉ I don’t ever remember wanting to do anything else. When a teen, I was big into sports and music. So, I would write fake articles about either at home. My parents were the only ones who would read them. Later, I started writing for fanzines. This is how it began. Then, in 2004, with a few friends, we launched a football magazine, different from all football magazines, called So Foot. I learned everything there. The magazine turned to be a huge success; we won many prizes, and became the biggest sports magazine in France. It’s still doing great nowadays. During the first few years of So Foot, we wouldn’t earn any money, so I found jobs elsewhere to make a living. I worked for sports paper L’Equipe. I wrote about music for a cool local magazine called Technikart. One article I wrote was about the way rock stars had been wearing the tie over the decades. They all have done it, even Kurt Cobain. That article gave birth to my interest in style, clothing, fashion if you prefer. I was soon hired by GQ as their style guy. A few years later, I moved to Les Inrockuptibles, where I would be a traditional reporter, working on the French far right wing: interviewing Raf Simons, investigating on why Johnny Hallyday doesn’t have any money left. I then came back full time at So Foot. In March 2015, we launched Society, a news magazine. It’s doing very well. We have been voted best media of 2015 in France. I am very proud of that magazine. We have a fantastic team.
I’m interested in a wide range of topics. I am curious in general. I have interviewed football players, rockers, politicians, and designers. All of them have something to say if you ask the right questions with the right smile. What links all of my work—from Society to Holiday—is probably the idea that a good article and a good magazine requires a lot of work. You can’t just be inspired. Journalists are not artists. Or writers. Or novelists. They have to work [hard] to locate the facts; they have to search, to investigate, to speak to people. Then the writing phase becomes nothing more than a conclusion. Adding a touch of humour to the finished piece isn’t a bad idea either.
BANNISTER How would you characterise your relationship to the act of writing? Do you find it easy? Are there certain conditions under which you find your ideas and sentences flow best?
BEAUGÉ Writing is a muscle. The more you train it, the easier and quicker it becomes. I am not a very gifted or natural writer, but I have practised a lot. I have reflexes. I think I know how to start a story. How to stop a story and thread analysis through it. How to conclude. As I said, journalists are not artists. We are technicians. There is no blank page, but we can have a slow day, or a bad day. I tend to write very early in the morning, from 5 to 8. No emails, no phone calls, no messages. I can be efficient. It’s more difficult during the day.
BANNISTER Do you re-read your own work?
BEAUGÉ Very rarely. There are so many things to do and not much time to look back. And anyway, the most important article is the next one. The past ones, well, it’s better to forget about them, whether good or bad.
BANNISTER How did your relationship with Atelier Franck Durand— or with the man at the helm of it—begin?
BEAUGÉ Franck Durand and I worked together for the first time when we developed a magazine project for a big fashion house. We had met a few times before, but we had never worked together. The project never took life, but we enjoyed collaborating on it. So Franck asked me to work on Holiday. He had bought the rights of that old magazine a few years before but had never found the right person to work with him. I accepted the offer with pleasure.
BANNISTER What do you think he saw in you?
BEAUGÉ I don’t know. Maybe he saw me as someone who worked hard and was easy to deal with. I don’t do politics. I don’t fight. I don’t suddenly become mad. I try to put all my energy in the magazine alone.
BANNISTER I’m interested in the rationale behind rejuvenating Holiday, as opposed to launching an entirely new publication. What was it that confirmed to Franck and yourself that Holiday—that post-war ode to the American leisure set—needed to exist again?
BEAUGÉ There was no need for a new Holiday. But we had the will to do it. Both Franck and I have an interest in well made, long lasting things. We are more interested in craftsmanship than technology. We don’t reject modernity or consumerism. But time was slower decades ago and things seemed to be more carefully done. Holiday felt like a very a polished object, both beautiful and well written. It was very appealing to us to continue this. It’s not a fast magazine. Not a magazine that people would throw away. We hope people will keep their copy, because the pictures we publish are more like art, and the articles are close to literature. That is the goal anyway. That is why we commission [certain] writers and novelists to write for us.
BANNISTER How familiar were you with the original Holiday?
BEAUGÉ I had never had a copy in my hands, but I knew about it. I had actually read a long feature about the history of the magazine in Vanity Fair.
BANNISTER I know the one. That first Holiday, the one that closed in 1977, has diehard fans and collectors, and an almost unbelievable roster of contributors—EB White, Hemingway, Kerouac, Didion—thanks to handsome, pre-internet budgets. Is this the kind of heritage that makes you nervous as an editor?
BEAUGÉ I am not of a very nervous nature, thankfully. We don’t have the same budgets—that’s for sure. But we have ideas, we try to be clever and hopefully readers don’t feel cheated.
BANNISTER How did you resolve to make Holiday your own, to break from what Vanity Fair once termed its “undeniably American[ness] in its broad scope and naïve optimism”? Which elements of the original iteration do you retain, and which do you dismiss?
BEAUGÉ To be honest, I never immersed myself in the archives of Holiday. I knew that Holiday used to send writers on the road to bring back long features. I loved that and I thought it was important to continue. This is the main editorial idea of the magazine. In each issue there are three long articles written by novelists. Those pieces give a structure to each issue. Around them, we have articles written by some very good journalists. As a biannual magazine, we don’t deal with news subjects. We also don’t write articles to make brands happy or to help friends. Each issue is dedicated to a country and we focus on that.
BANNISTER There’s a great interview with Renata Adler in The Believer where she talks about the people she considers to be from her planet: Janet Malcolm and John le Carre (“when he’s writing the Smiley or other spy masterpieces”). I wonder who you perceive your contemporaries to be, whether writers or editors? People who you feel really share your approach to writing.
BEAUGÉ That’s a difficult question. I am a technician, not an artist. I like Glenn O Brien’s life, but I wouldn’t dare compare myself to him.
BANNISTER How do you and Franck decide on the new destination for an issue? Where to from there, once the theme has been set?
BEAUGÉ Franck comes up with the idea. He feels something, he sees an image and there we go. The first step is then to sit around a table, as a team, and express how we feel about that country, which characters from that place excite us. Very quickly we try to bring in a local journalist, someone who knows the country very well. With him or her, we define our targets in more detail: where to go, who to meet, which stories to tell. Then the job is to find the writers who could go there. A lot of them are often very busy, so it takes a bit of time, but we always end up finding more writers than we need. And even when are not available they are very enthusiastic: we give them a place to do what they like with great conditions of freedom, and they appreciate it.
BANNISTER Are you prescriptive in the way you brief your writers? For instance, do you assign particular stories, or do you find the writers you want to work with the writers you want to work with—Arthur Dreyfus, Éric Mension-Rigau—and give them free reign?
BEAUGÉ My philosophy is that when you hire very good people you shouldn’t brief them too closely. The guys we commission are chosen carefully. They are experienced. We can tell them as much as possible about Holiday but in the end they know to write, so I tell them “go where you like,” “find the subject by yourself.” The only thing I am careful with is ensuring we don’t stray into fiction. All the features we publish are based on true facts.
BANNISTER Holiday has a really beautiful voice. I’m curious as to how purposeful or controlled this is. Do you have a strict house style?
BEAUGÉ We have found it issue after issue. It’s soft, maybe a bit poetic. We don’t go for provocative headline, or an intrusive style of writing. The elegance of writing probably matches the elegance of the pictures. We work on it with François, the co-editor in chief, Lakshmi, our dear translator, and Thomas, who is the best editor around. All texts go through four people before being published. That is a luxury. But some luxury is needed to produce a good magazine.
BANNISTER Can you explain when you are satisfied with an issue?
BEAUGÉ You always look for a balance; a balance between interviews and reports, between short and long texts, between young and old people, between women and men. I am satisfied when all is there, and the issue doesn’t lack anything. In all of this, I feel you need a moment of magic, an article that will stay with people for a long time. It doesn’t always happen, but we have had a few articles like this. The first article Arthur Dreyfus wrote for us—in the Ibiza issue—was magic in my opinion.
BANNISTER There are innumerable independent titles crowding newsstands. It feels as though there are new additions weekly. Obviously, many will only last a few issues, but there is clearly a thirst among young people to produce physical, tangible magazines. How do you feel about this? Is the rush to self-publish a good thing?
BEAUGÉ Scientists have proven that an article you read on paper will impact you more than an article read on web. Online articles are often filled with videos and links. Words carry more weight on paper. They are louder. This is even truer for pictures. Magazines are objects. Websites will never be. You don’t put [a website] in your place. You don’t collect them. You don’t put them in your bag. The relationship we have with magazines is special and even young people recognize that. The web is brilliant for many things and for daily news it’s better than print. But magazines that do not follow the news cycle will always look better in print.
BANNISTER What do you believe are the critical issues facing small publishers today?
BEAUGÉ We need to depend on sales, not advertising. Advertisers are not evil. But the relationship you should care about most is your relationship with readers. Don’t make an article to please advertisers if it will not please readers.
BANNISTER Which magazines do you always read?
BEAUGÉ I am inundated with articles to write, to read and to edit. I get sent links to articles all day. So, I confess to not reading magazines as regularly as I used to. I read magazines when I travel. I like New York Magazine. I like Wired. I like M, le magazine du Monde. I like when magazines mix investigation with show business, serious journalism on ‘light’ subjects.
BANNISTER What did you used to read a lot that you read less of now?
BEAUGÉ I remember, as a teenager, being so absolutely fascinated by some magazines that I’d almost learn them by heart. I had a period, at 12, where I read a French basketball magazine called 5 Majeur. I read everything there was in it. I then had a period where I would do the same with NME. I used to go to Orly airport with my dad every Sunday to find it. It was a cool tradition. Later, I read Libération religiously. I don’t anymore. I find the newspaper to be quite empty, lacking of proper reporting content. With the decrease of the sales, most titles have reacted by cutting cost, by commentating on events more than reporting. They can never win back their readers this way.
BANNISTER I was reading an old issue of Mono Kultur—the Dries van Noten edition—and Dries explained his waking habits are dictated by the seasons. He wakes up each day when it is light outside, which in summer can be before 5am. I’d like to talk about your ordinary habits. What do you have for breakfast each day? When do you wake and sleep? How do you organise your ideas?
BEAUGÉ I like to wake up early. During the week, it’s usually 5. In the past, it used to be often 4, but it’s too much. I would [end up] falling asleep in the day. 5am is ok. I can work for three hours before getting ready to leave. After a quick shower, I leave home at 9am. I usually have my first coffee at work. By midday, I will have had three. I am very organised—I have to be. I have a red agenda book, the same one every year, in which I write everything I have to do, from going to [pick up my] laundry to writing an article. It’s always with me. I couldn’t do without it. I try to complete my entire to-do list every day, but it’s a race I rarely win. I am back home at 8 in the evening. I don’t do anything for two hours, before opening the laptop and answering emails for one more hour. I go to bed around 11. I have to confess I live a boring life in a way, no alcohol, no parties, and loads of work.
BANNISTER Tell me about Holiday’s newest issue.
BEAUGÉ The issue is about Argentina. We have sent three people to Argentina [to produce] long features. One of them lost himself in La Pampa for a few days and came back with a bill for the renting of a donkey. I haven’t read the article yet, but I am sure I will like it.