How this Filipino print magazine scored a BTS cover

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Publisher Chica Villarta answers our questions about the L’Officiel Philippines January 2022 issue. Photos courtesy of L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES

Boy group BTS is currently one of the most in-demand acts in the world. Group endorsements and collaborations, like the McDonald’s BTS meal and the BTS edition of Samsung’s Galaxy S20+, often result in a significant increase in online searches for the brands. It’s also no secret that members RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook each have a huge influence on brand reputation, with sales for products shooting up whenever they are associated with them.

Though the group last visited the Philippines in 2017 when they held their Wings tour in Manila and filmed a Summer Package special in Coron, Palawan, their presence has endured through their many commercial endorsements with McDonald’s and Smart Communications in the past two years of the pandemic. This month, they appear on the cover of fashion magazine L’Officiel Philippines.

Done in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, the shoot and series of interviews were first published as a joint cover in the Korea editions of Vogue and GQ, as well as across several titles, including the Hong Kong and Singapore editions of Vogue and the Australian edition of GQ (titles also under publishing giant Condé Nast’s umbrella) and Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia.

When we interviewed L’Officiel Philippines publisher Chica Villarta last year ahead of their launch in the country, we asked about the strategy of placing celebrities on the cover. Villarta referred straight away to the success of BTS’s previous covers with major print titles like Esquire, WSJ Magazine, and Variety: “Imagine in a world where everyone was on digital, a print magazine had to reprint because their choice of cover was very deliberate and I think that’s also best practice that we want to do at L’Officiel Philippines,” she said.

READ: L’Officiel Philippines: On fashion and fandom in the digital age

This month, Villarta and the rest of the L’Officiel team finally get to cross BTS off their cover wishlist with their forthcoming Men’s Special Edition, out Jan. 17. The issue, which features two covers and over 60 pages of BTS content, was first teased on their social media pages a day after Christmas. Filipino ARMYs were quick to take the hint after seeing a video of the L’Officiel logo appearing over a lilac background and scored with a classical version of the group’s single “Butter” appear on the publication’s Instagram.

Below, L’Officiel Philippines publisher Chica Villarta tells CNN Philippines Life about how the #BTSxLVbyLOPH partnership came to be.

Congratulations to the team on the new issue! BTS is a major get, and notoriously difficult cover stars to book. How did L'Officiel Philippines manage to strike the deal with Louis Vuitton to become the only publication in the country to publish this shoot?

Thank you! We’ve been trying to find ways to reach BTS since we started, specifically through their local endorsements — at one point since our launch I’m sure I’ve mentioned this desire to Louis Vuitton Philippines, although I’m sure we expressed it as a kind of “it would be nice” sentiment as opposed to a formal proposal, given that we’re talking about the most in-demand artists in the world.

It’s long been established as well — something we discussed in our [previous] CNN Philippines Life interview — that part of our cover strategy is to featuring Korean artists as our way of capturing the pulse of the worldwide audience, so through our nine months I think we’ve successfully established that kind of reputation with our audience, and the brands that observe our next moves.

So I guess you can say that this partnership was kind of hanging in the air for a while, and when the opportunity to syndicate the BTS shoot was open, L’Officiel Philippines was top of mind over at Louis Vuitton. For that we’re very grateful.

I'm also curious about your thoughts on Louis Vuitton’s deal with this shoot given your experience in the industry and status as L'Officiel Philippines publisher. I know that it's common for Condé Nast to cross publish photos between their different titles, and for luxury brands to sponsor shoots. But this BTS shoot I feel is different because it seems that they really went all out for it, with them gracing the main cover of several Vogue and GQ editions, along with other publications not under the Condé Nast umbrella like L'Officiel Philippines and Harper's Bazaar Indonesia. What do you think this says about the evolution of the publishing industry and the way brands work with magazines?

I’ve been in the business of branded content for a decade, even back when people thought that all magazine work was all editorial — and to this day, it’s never considered a glamorous or romantic part of publishing or any kind of media. But now, rather than advertising partnerships being automatically dismissed as intrusive or inauthentic, if done well, brands are now considered as valuable subject experts for a vast number of editorial themes — in our case, fashion. Aside from being trusted wells of information, brands like Louis Vuitton now have become great storytelling partners that breathe insight and depth to our magazine covers.

In 2020, Louis Vuitton just celebrated their 200th year in fashion. And though nobody wanted or expected it to happen, the launch of the BTS x Louis Vuitton shoot also happened just a few weeks after the death of Virgil Abloh. As a fashion magazine title, featuring BTS on the cover is our way of commemorating the enduring 200-year legacy of Louis Vuitton, and at the same time, a bittersweet tribute to Virgil’s last runway collection with the fashion house. We’re glad to have paid homage to him in this way.

That’s why I think that the #BTSxLVbyLOPH partnership is a beautiful practice of how magazines can harmoniously collaborate with brands: through our BTS covers and the cover stories that come with them, there are already so many layers of stories to discover: a rare look into the individual minds and current aspirations of the most successful musical group of today, the vibrant legacy of one of the most prestigious French fashion houses, and a posthumous tribute to a modern fashion phenom.

The Men's Special Edition of L'Officiel Philippines has two cover options which feature over 60 pages of BTS content. Photo from L'OFFICIEL PHILIPPINES/INSTAGRAM

What can you tell us about the content can we expect from the 60+ pages of BTS? You previously said that L'Officiel PH is all about "being able to provide what fans want." Will there be an exclusive cover story (or even exclusive photos) different from the ones published in GQ/Vogue/Harper's Bazaar Indonesia that Filipino ARMYs can look forward to?

Filipino ARMYs can rest assured that we absolutely tried our best to request for an exclusive interview, but at the time, the boys were already on their rare extended vacation. While the images and cover stories are shared throughout all major global publications, we’re very happy to provide an extensive number of pages for fans to enjoy — this is our longest cover story to date at 60+ pages.

Moreover, we know the struggle of Filipino fans to order international publications whenever their idols appear in, say, Korean or USA covers — shipping alone can get very pricey. We’re glad to offer local availability of the shoot they’ve been seeing all over online. The day we launched the BTS covers, we saw tweets from local fans saying how happy they are that they no longer have to spend thousands to get their hands on a physical copy of this shoot. That alone makes us feel very fulfilled and motivated to provide more and better covers for Filipino fans this year ahead.

I noticed that previous L'Officiel PH print cover stories have not been posted online. Will this be the same for the BTS cover? And if so, what was the rationale behind this print-only decision? And now that the magazine has published quite a few issues, would you say that the strategy has been working?

Yes, we always want to keep some content exclusive for print precisely because they are meant to be enjoyed that way. As we mentioned in our previous interview, we want each L’Officiel Philippines magazine to feel like a collectible — and that includes allowing our audience to take in our content in such a fully immersive and experiential way that they can feel the magazines pages in their hands, view the images in full size and color without having to zoom in, and immerse themselves fully in our stories without the intrusion of a notification or the need for internet connection.

I can liken this to fans still raring to get a physical copy of their idols’ newest album even if the songs are already available online. While the digital and physical realms are both valuable to the fan experience, having the album — in this case, the print magazine — in your hands is a really different high.

The January issue is a Men's Special Edition issue and outside of L'Officiel PH's usual seasonal publication schedule. Would it be okay if you outline the process of putting this particular issue together? Was it similar or different to the process of making a regular issue?

We often joke around about how the entirety of L’Officiel Philippines is proof that working-from-home works. (Laughs) Without revealing much about our workflow, I’d say the only major adjustment we had to make was producing two print issues consecutively. Our “machine” is structured to create quarterly print releases apart from our regular digital churn, and not long ago, we had just worked on and subsequently launched our December print issue.

So upon confirmation [of] our BTS x Louis Vuitton partnership, we already knew we would be working outside of our regular routine, instead of sort of “kicking it back” until the New Year. But all is well and good at the L’OPH HQ— having BTS on cover was definitely up there in our list of dreams, and we’re happy to achieve it in less than one year in.

Your previous full pop group cover was the idol group WayV in 2020, which was a cover that attracted the group's fans from all over the world. Now that pre-orders for this issue are ongoing, how would you project the success of this latest issue?

More than being extremely talented musicians and very effective brand endorsers, BTS is a group that has transformed the lives of so many people for the better — especially during this pandemic. They are amazing role models to people of all ages, and they have infused so much positivity in millions of people’s lives, both through the glaring manifestations of their hard work and simply just by being themselves. That said, it’s no surprise to me that this print issue is gearing to be our most successful one yet.


Order the L'Officiel Philippines January 22 Men's Special Edition here.