It took a Down East homeboy turned New York publisher to take on the "Old Testament" of fashion-trade publications.
At 27, Machias-born Matt Coffin has launched a brash new alternative to Women's Wear Daily, the 86-year-old grande dame of fashion newspapers that critics compare to a dowager past her prime.
"Fashion is always about being new and fresh, so people believed in Fashion Reporter right off the bat," said Coffin, talking by phone from his Park Avenue office amidst the adrenaline rush of the fall fashion preview season.
Over the phone, Coffin sounds young, eager, and like a genuinely nice guy.
He describes his glossy new magazine as a hybrid product blending the informativeness of WWD with the breezily hip readability of Entertainment Weekly. It's as well-suited to a general audience as to trade insiders, he says.
When Vogue magazine started a recent story referring to Fashion Reporter with, "Move over, Women's Wear Daily," Coffin figured he had a winner on his hands.
"That generated a lot of buzz, and was very gratifying," he says, as were compliments from other publishers.
Hitting the stands in the past few weeks, the premiere issue features a cover drawing of three hot entertainers strutting down a runway: actress Jennifer Aniston of TV's "Friends," also known for the "Rachel" hairstyle named for her character; Academy Award nominee Sharon Stone, known for wearing no underwear in "Basic Instinct" and a Gap turtleneck at this year's Oscars; and Coolio, a hip-hop singer known for his sprouty hairstyle and Grammy Award-winning "Gangsta's Paradise" album.
The accompanying cover story examines the rivalry among fashion designers clamoring to align themselves with specific entertainers. Everyone knows how many ordinary people tune in to awards shows as much to see what stars wear, as whether they'll win.
A brief article aimed at men titled "Underwear Rides Up" reports on an ad campaign suggesting that "you can do just about anything in your underwear, even if it's on your head, as long as the name on that underwear is Tommy. Or Ralph. Or Calvin."
"The Age of Innocence" takes designer Isaac Mizrahi to task for the "backward" sensibility of his ad campaign featuring the likes of 28-year-old actress Natalie Portman in "vulnerable" poses.
For the most part, Fashion Reporter seems less a slave to fashion than an energetic celebrant of it as a form of expression, that should, nonetheless, be subject to criticism where it's due.
Yes, there's the requisite name-dropping, hype, and delight in gossip for its own sake one wants and expects in a fashion mag. Happily, an awareness of the industry's absurdities and excess is here, too. A straight-faced presentation of cadaverously grim models in bleak military-inspired "lean" fall fashions seems the one exception.
Model-handsome from the looks of his publicity photo, Coffin cultivates a "downtown image" for himself these days, he says, his tastes running from Calvin Klein sportswear to Armani suits.
Coffin first realized his interest in fashion during the same period he played basketball at Machias High School. As an avid information junkie, he remembers being fascinated at reading about the "huge star" Calvin Klein had become.
After graduating in 1999, Coffin went on to major in entrepreneurial studies at Boston's Babson College. He founded two successful campus companies there, where he also met his current girlfriend, owner of a modeling agency.
Coffin then became marketing manager for Model Properties in New York City. Within four years, he was head of that marketing company, and had launched a model-related Web site on the Internet.
The more he talked to fashion folk, the more he heard the frustration felt with WWD's primacy as an information source.
"They wanted something a little edgier, or at least something else ," he says. His research revealed fashion as the only U.S. industry not represented by at least two competing trade publications.
Before rushing ahead, the Down East-bred upstart carefully surveyed his potential readership market, picked the brains of publishers, and mined other magazines for potential staff members. He found a financial backer from the digital technology industry, actually someone a bit older he knew from Babson.
Happy as he is these days, Coffin predicts he will not be content staying strictly in the print format for long.
"I think across the country people are so fascinated with new media," he says. "The stock market is going crazy with anything to do with the Internet. Definitely my goal is to establish a brand name to roll into other media."
In assembling his staff, Coffin has hired experts in each area of the publication's business. "That's one of the things I kind of got from my dad," he says.
Greg Coffin owns a True Value Hardware Store in Machias, where his wife Marcia handles acounting. The elder Coffin has surrounded himself with a team of people, each of whose strengths embody some aspect of the business, a key to success, says his son.
Following his recent appearance on a CNN show, Coffin's parents faxed him their congratulations, saying how proud they were.
Like Coffin, his siblings have left Machias to attend college in Boston. Andrea, 21, attends Tufts University, and Aaron, 18, is at Babson.
"Everybody's been super supportive," he says of friends and family, back home and elsewhere.
Coffin is living in Greenwich Village and meeting famous people in the course of business. He says he is no longer awed by celebrities as he was in his first days in the city.
Likewise, he insists his string of successes culminating in Fashion Reporter hasn't changed him, and attributes his down-to-earth attitude to his Down East roots.
"Being from a place like Machias is an advantage," he says. "I'm much more grounded -- not as affected."
In fact, Coffin says the craziness of New York life has made him appreciate the subtler pleasures of Maine more each year.
While he expects to continue returning to his parents' lakeside place in Machias each summer, Coffin has not yet decided whether he might ultimately resettle there.
"If I'm as rich as Bill Gates of Microsoft, and can run my business by computer, maybe I could just sit at Bog Lake and work."