It has been more than two decades since Gustav Temple began publishing The Chap, a satirical fashion and lifestyle magazine designed for the modern gentleman. Armed with a penchant for suave style and a good dose of humour, The Chap has artfully succeeded through two turbulent decades of print journalism, emerging perfectly coiffed and relevant as ever. Sophie Gargett spoke to Temple about the magazine’s inspirations, and what it’s like to be on the niche side of the industry.
When did you first develop the idea of The Chap and how did that turn into a magazine?
It came out of a conversation at the pub with my then writing partner, Vic Darkwood. We’d joke about doing gentlemanly voices, acting as if we were old-fashioned fellows confused by the modern world. We both had huge collections of vintage magazines and Victorian journals and we thought it would be funny to put this banter into a little zine.
In 1999 zines were a big thing and the first edition was really cut and paste. We distributed to a few London comic shops and sent it to some newspapers on the off chance. The Daily Telegraph wrote about it and overnight we had 700 subscriptions. We made a second issue and it grew from there to what it is now. It was totally organic – we didn’t expect to make any money out of it, we just wanted to entertain people.
The Chap has survived the supposed death and rebirth of print over the past 10-15 years. What has kept the magazine going?
I do often wonder about this, but there are several reasons really. Firstly, the very point of the magazine lends itself well to print. The core readership have been with us for about 20 years now and they are fiercely loyal. It’s the only magazine that speaks to their lifestyle, so they will keep buying it because there’s nothing else publishing that information.
Adding to that was the big mainstream trend for vintage style around 2012. We went from being an obscure, left field publication to being the voice of that scene. We were suddenly fashionable, which helped smooth over the cracks for a while.
I also think The Chap message is so entrenched in the British psyche, and that’s why it was successful in the first place. The idea of mocking the modern world through the eyes of an old English gentleman is always going to be popular. It’s a very British thing. It wasn’t something completely new like punk; we were packaging something that had been there for centuries, just with a whimsical, arched eyebrow and a humorous P.G. Wodehouse angle. We were branding, giving it a name.
There is an eccentric, escapist element to the magazine that you don’t find very often. Do you think journalism today is lacking that playfulness?
Oh God, yes. I don’t think there was ever a golden age of satirical, funny magazines but there were certainly more when I was younger. Britain is famous for its satire. Perhaps back in the 18th century there was more, but now we have Private Eye, Viz and The Chap, that’s kind of it.
If you look at GQ or Vogue, it’s like reading a load of press releases and endless advertising. There’s no message other than to buy some expensive clothes – there’s no humour at all, it feels like a po-faced marketing exercise. We’ve been careful to hang on to our identity, so we take our humour very seriously.
What advice would you give to a rookie journalist who is looking to work in more niche areas of journalism?
This is a good question because I was in that exact position when I started The Chap. I’d say start your own magazine! It’s not the only answer however, and it’s important not to create a vanity project, which isn’t the best career move.
The advice I would give is to really carve out a strong identity based on what you write about, make it as broad as possible within a niche. People want an expert, someone who is steeped in something. Get contacts in that universe so you become the go-to person for that subject. Don’t become a general hack who will write about anything, there’s a million of those. You’ll have more chance of surviving the long term if you have an angle.
Want to hear more? Check out the clip below for Gustav’s tip on finding an angle.