A 10-Year Celebration

Moments, stories, and memories.

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I recall seeing mock-ups of the first issue of NUVO, a creature that very few who saw it at that stage could possibly have been expected to understand, given the dissonance between what existed in Canadian magazines at the time and what the purpose of this enterprise was. Even at that stage, debate was hot and fierce about the look and feel, inside and out—what it suggested about the magazine’s mandate, about its intended audience. I am reasonably certain those debates continue in some form to this very day, since nothing has ever been taken for granted at NUVO. I am not, in fact, prepared to say that any of the first crew had it all completely figured out; it was, by necessity if not design, a work constantly in progress. I think any self-respecting publication is always thus. Over the past 10 years, there have been, at least in my view, a legion of imitators, some more successful than others. But someone has to be the pioneer.

And so began NUVO, with its creator, Pasquale Cusano, at the helm. Effort, a lot of sweat and tears were left in the various offices in which NUVO was located during its first few years. The alumni, nameless all, I salute; without them, there would be no magazine today. The names on the masthead currently put in a lot of effort and sweat and hopefully not as many tears. The magazine grew in stages not quite smooth enough to be characterized as an evolution. It was, from the outset, supposed to be the best magazine it could be, and one with ambitions; it was to be something not quite in sync with the Canadian zeitgeist, but a publication that was willing to make a foray into the idea of quality for quality’s sake. How to define that, and how to execute it, became the work of the first two editors, Lyndon Grove and Jim Tobler—yours truly—and remains so for its current editor, Claudia Cusano.

Magazines tell stories in words and pictures. They are meant to tell you about their world—and by association, your world. NUVO was, and continues to be, a mix of words and pictures of sophistication and chic for Canada’s smart set. The material has always been entertaining, useful and insightful, each issue a journey. From the beginning, NUVO created its own niche, and became a magazine that consistently endeavoured to seek out the best, one that always makes a clear distinction between quality and luxury consumption.

Within a few years, NUVO was displaying excellence on all counts: the best advertising—better than any other magazine in the country; the best writers, including Jurgen Gothe, Jim Christy, Lesley Chesterman, Carl Morey, Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, Christopher Hume, Carol Besler, Angela Murrills, Steve Burgess, David Menzies, Deena Waisberg, Joanne Will, Elana Safronsky, James Dolan, Simona Rabinovitch and Alix Strauss; photographers of great talent including Sylvia Plachy, Marc Montplaisir, Sheryl Nields, Nino Muñoz, Brian Bowen Smith, Carl Lessard, Seiji Fujimori, Gaetano Fasciana, Adam Rankin, Clinton Hussey and Dustin Rabin; and fantastic illustrators like Leif Parsons, Drew Beckmeyer, Francis Léveillée and Andrew Zbihlyj; only a few contrubutors named here among myriad others. With such a stable of writers and photographers, the magazine led to untold riches for readers.

Many international figures have appeared in NUVO, including Sophia Loren, Viggo Mortensen, Cecilia Bartoli and Frank Stella. Well-known Canadians include David Foster, Celine Dion, Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Feist, Roy Dupuis, Wendy Crewson, George Stroumboulopoulos, Sonja Smits, Karen Kain, Colm Feore and Daniel Lanois, to name but a few.

And yet NUVO has never really been about names, but about relationships—both editorial and otherwise. I recall a taxi ride from Pearson airport down the QEW toward Jarvis Street, Pasquale sitting in the back seat, looking at those oversized mosaics that advertise some of our country’s giants in the business world. A great advertising scheme if ever I saw one. He looked out into the night, the ads all well-lit, and said, “I remember when we did not know anybody here in Toronto. It was tough, knocking on doors in those days. Now we have so many friends.” And to a large degree, that is why NUVO exists today. All along, readers were considered part of the fabric of what the magazine was “about”. What we always tried to do, and what is still done today, is to be directly interested in our community, locally and nationally. The trick is that Canada, and to some extent the world as it may be of interest to Canadians, is diverse, in taste, geography, and culture. So how does one magazine meet everyone’s needs? It doesn’t. But what it does is meet the needs of most of the people, most of the time. NUVO will continue to celebrate excellence in our culture and provide readers with distinguished writing and alluring visuals.

Magazines tell stories in words and pictures. They are meant to tell you about their world—and by association, your world. NUVO continues to be, a mix of words and pictures of sophistication and chic for Canada’s smart set.

Features, then. Musician Ry Cooder, who started the phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club. A photo shoot directed by John Varvatos, with clothing and models hand-picked by him. Ronald Winston. Paul Shaffer. So many great international chefs: Alain Ducasse, Charlie Trotter. Canadian chefs of international calibre: David Lee, Mark McEwan, David Hawksworth, Claudio Aprile. Wine, of course; wineries around the world opening their caves (and their bottles) in a most generous way. Fashion, upper-case F—notably in the men’s and women’s editorials. Travel in Iraq, Hungary, Israel, Bhutan, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Egypt. Philanthropist Phyllis Lambert, founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and Jack Rabinovitch, creator of the Giller Prize. Business stories including Christiane and Jean-Yves Germain, authentic boutique hoteliers who continue to bring outstanding quality and innovation to the Canadian hotel landscape, and theatre magnate David Mirvish. Royal Ontario Museum CEO William Thorsell, the person leading Toronto’s—and Canada’s—cultural ascension, and Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, who, in her tenure, has brought the VAG to an unprecedented international level; and the colourful characters who have appeared in Scalawags. A nice mix of established and emerging talent, with respect to both contributors and subject matter.

Along the way, many fine moments. Our good friend, now suddenly and sadly departed, Roger Forcier, was not so long ago standing across the street from his Chanel boutique on Bloor Street in Toronto, and I happened to be waiting at the same crosswalk. “Jim,” he said, “We have been waiting for this kind of quality publication for a long time.” A year or two later, Roger and I were a few steps behind Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp waiting to get into a Toronto International Film Festival party. I recall an insane crowd, and Roger saying, “Johnny, don’t worry—we are really civilized here in Canada.” It worked out all right, despite the mass hysteria.

I single this out only as a representation of what NUVO has always been about. I once spent nine hours on a Nelly Furtado feature, the first seven watching the photo shoot, the last two in conversation with her. I spent quality time in the green room at the Late Show With David Letterman with Celine Dion, who was amazingly nervous about her appearance there, but who, in all honesty, knocked them out. The list of those who have worked on NUVO is simply too long to include here; it was, of course, a team effort throughout, from the interns through to the editorial, art and design, marketing, circulation and sales departments, and on to Pasquale himself. Any of you who have met him will know this already, at least to some degree: Pasquale is a persistent, insistent and occasionally stubborn person for whom failure is simply not an option. So while we may have had our internal discussions, and all was not uniformly in accord at all times, the overarching philosophy was to accept nothing less than the best effort from yourself. NUVO as an entity would be the ultimate beneficiary of that, and in turn that would be passed on to readers.

Ten years is a fair amount of time in the Canadian magazine-publishing business. Now that NUVO has arrived at this august age, what next? There will continue to be much diversity, many stories to tell. And here’s to the next 10, one issue at a time.


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November 1, 2008
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