Them

 

‘What makes it Them is us.’

Phillip Picardi and his LGBTQ team are giving Condé Nast an authentic queer voice. Meet Them.

By Raven Smith
Video by Brigitte Lacombe

 

In a roundabout way, Them was conceived through anal sex. In July 2017, Vogue’s cover story featured it-couple Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik apparently ‘embracing gender fluidity’ by swapping clothes. It was a heavy-handed and tone-deaf approach to gender identity that outraged millennial readers and forced Vogue to apologize: ‘we missed the mark.’ Only a week before, little sister online publication, Teen Vogue, under the digital direction of Phillip Picardi, a then-25-year-old from Boston, had released a guide to safe anal sex, which said, ‘It’s important that we talk about all kinds of sex’. The use of ‘we’ here demonstrated the implicitly inclusive nature of the publication: peer-to-peer millennial discourse, rather than teacher-pupil education (albeit written by a millennial self-described sex educator). In a seismic shift, Vogue talking about millennials was eclipsed by Teen Vogue talking with millennials.With Picardi overseeing its all-important digital output, Teen Vogue was pivoting from mini-fashionista editorial to voice of a new, alert, engaged generation. Typified by that sex-advice feature, Teen Vogue’s sincere lateral tone of voice and non-salacious practicality resonated, shrewdly harnessing the power of the most underestimated group on the planet: teenage girls. Vogue’s little sister was woke and not going back to sleep.

Within days, Picardi – who was increasingly being recognized for spearheading Teen Vogue’s record-breaking digital growth – was summoned to have lunch with Condé Nast’s artistic director Anna Wintour to discuss future opportunities. A kind of Condé Nast carte blanche. And so, the idea for Them, a next-generation digital platform produced by and for the LGBTQ community, was conceived. According to Condé Nast’s press release about Them, Gen Z-ers ‘support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in personally’ and ‘more than half of Gen Z identifies as queer’.

A social-change-focused LGBTQ platform was an inevitable and savvy addition to the company’s portfolio.
Channelling Gen Z’s energy into meaningful audience-first editorial is now Picardi’s raison d’être. As chief content officer of Them (a role he has added to his continuing duties at Teen Vogue), Picardi is responsible for a team chronicling next-gen millennial stories and voices, harnessing and amplifying these expressions of change. Them puts LGBTQ identity politics front and centre as previously specialized social-media discussions punch into the mainstream consciousness. Them is a pastel-coloured rolling newsfeed of verbal and visual expressions of the modern (predominantly US-based) queer experience. Its stories showcase the intersectional narratives that have often fallen between the gaps of our worldview. It is a mix of earnest activism and bold optimism: a tender (and eerily accurate) self-care monthly horoscope sits alongside pieces questioning queer representation at the Oscars, fat-phobia in the bear community, and assessing whether ‘Ancient Egypt was totally queer’. The platform is an uroboros, receiving feedback as it’s transmitting; Them’s audience simultaneously absorbs information and responds immediately, with commentary that shapes future stories, adding to the endless reciprocal Internet conversation. A stream of consciousness from a generation of evolving thinkers, with ideas being processed and published in tandem, Them is a thesis developing in real time.

Earlier this year System asked London-based writer and creative director Raven Smith to interview Phillip Picardi, the man the New York Times recently labelled ‘Condé Nast’s 26-Year-Old Man of the Moment’. The first time in February 2018 during London Fashion Week the pair shared a pitstop high tea. For the second, a month later, Smith travelled to Condé Nast’s New York headquarters at One World Trade Center, where he also met and interviewed the Them team.

29/06/2018