Crème Brûlé! Will Wallpaper* Founder’s New Venture Get Burned?

In the opinion of Tyler Brûlé, the ever-stylish Wallpaper* founder, the suits are looking at today’s media landscape completely backwards.

These days, he said, news executives and big-time publishers are foolishly closing foreign bureaus, cutting trim size, reducing paper stock, overdoing local news and swapping editorial authority for user-generated content.

“We’re not in the business of trying to build a galaxy of bloggers and churn out copy all day,” said Mr. Brûlé, who earlier this year launched Monocle, a high-end newsmagazine.

While Time redesigns, refashions and rethinks its business model—and crowns “You” person of the year—Mr. Brûlé is now at the sixth-month point of publishing a glossy 225-plus-page “briefing on global affairs, business, culture & design” stuffed with original photography and a “manga” comic book.

And as major newspapers like The Boston Globe shutter their foreign bureaus this year, Mr. Brûlé sees opportunity: next week, he said, Sydney will open as the London-based Monocle’s fourth bureau, joining New York, Tokyo and Zurich.

Across the pond, Mr. Brûlé said that Monocle—which he has compared to a hybrid of The Economist and a lifestyle book—is reaching a growing niche.

On Sept. 3, The Economist will relaunch its annual lifestyle publication Intelligent Life as a quarterly, with the following tag line: “Lifestyle. Now with substance.” Mr. Brûlé said the redesigned publication “would [not] be launched if it wasn’t for Monocle.”

And British Esquire just rolled out a redesigned September issue that Mr. Brûlé said has gained the reputation in London as a “poor man’s Monocle.” (Incidentally, British Esquire’s new editor, Jeremy Langmead, was Mr. Brûlé’s replacement at Wallpaper*).

But just because cultured Europeans get it doesn’t mean Mr. Brûlé will find an American audience for the magazine.

On the morning of Aug. 20, Mr. Brûlé was dressed smartly—from dark blue blazer down to white slip-on sneakers—and seated in the dining room of the Four Seasons Hotel, discussing over scrambled eggs and bacon just how “this funny thing called Wallpaper* got in the way of everything.”

Mr. Brûlé, now 38, said that for years he’s considered launching a newsmagazine in the tradition of the “confident, robust newsstand weekly” he found in Germany, packed with “60 pages of foreign reportage.” In 1994, while freelancing for one such German magazine, Mr. Brûlé was struck by a sniper’s bullet in Afghanistan.

But the idea for Wallpaper* was also percolating during his recovery in London, and that’s the one that took off first, in 1996—clearing a market for aspirational cosmopolitans (yuppie-porn, to some). The category has skyrocketed since, with upscale shelter mags clogging the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble.

The following year, Mr. Brûlé sold the magazine to Time Inc. for $1.63 million, and founded a design agency, Wink Media (later Winkreative), in 1998. Mr. Brûlé remained editorial director until 2002, before leaving amid gossip about private jet expenses and disagreements with corporate higher-ups.

Before leaving Wallpaper*, Mr. Brûlé was already quoted in the press about his desire to launch a newsmagazine.

“That didn’t make them very happy at Time Inc,” Mr. Brûlé said, laughing. “Norman Pearlstine got so angry at me. I remember being screamed at on the phone in Hamburg.”

Mr. Pearlstine, now a senior advisor at the Carlyle Group, and formerly Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief, had championed the purchase of Wallpaper*. While still a fan of Mr. Brûlé’s editorial vision, Mr. Pearlstine said it’s easier to do so as a reader, rather than investor.

Crème Brûlé! Will Wallpaper* Founder’s New Venture Get Burned?