Port magazine founders Dan Crowe and Matt Willey have launched a new bi-annual publication with polar explorer Ben Saunders, described as "an adventure and innovation magazine for the international luxury market." We spoke to Crowe, Saunders and design director Alex Hunting about the title, and plans to expand it into a luxury lifestyle brand.
Co-edited by Crowe and Saunders with creative direction by Willey, Avaunt is aimed at affluent males aged 30 plus interested in science, geography, adventure, travel and fashion.
In a media pack promoting its launch, the magazine claims to cater to readers who enjoy taking part in endurance or sports events in their spare time, from marathons to long distance cycle races, enjoy buying expensive kit and are looking for a more style-conscious alternative to traditional adventure mags such as Wonderlust or National Geographic.
The inaugural issue, available to buy online, features an article on Oliver Steed's experience of living with the Kombai Tribe in Papua New Guinea while filming a new Discovery Channel series, an article by David Byrne on the science of sound, a behind-the-scenes look at BMW's innovation centre in Munich, and features on the solar system, bionics, literature, Amelia Earheart, freediving and space travel.
Alongside photographic essays and long-form content, each issue will include fashion shoots with explorers shot in rural locations and visual features on new luxury adventure gear and accessories, from watches to caribiners, radios and skis.
Saunders says the idea of collaborating with Crowe and Willey came about after he was interviewed for a Port feature in 2012 by ex-professional mountaineer Mark Twight, who is also featured in the inaugural issue of Avaunt.
"Mark's a great writer and a deep thinker, and the interview contained some of the most challenging questions I've ever tried to answer. With Dan's editing and Matt's design, it was the most satisfying piece of journalism I've ever collaborated in and sparked my interest in doing something bigger," he says.
"The original idea, three years ago, was to create a journal that documented pioneering expeditions, and that covered adventure in a literal, focussed and quite outdoorsy sense," he adds. "There will still be a strong thread of that running through it, but Avaunt has [since] grown to become a title that documents and celebrates adventure in a far wider sense, and we'll be publishing challenging content about human endeavour in fields as diverse as space flight, poetry, marine architecture and neuroscience. I think the popularity of TED is proving that there's still an appetite for intellectually challenging, long-form content in an age when our attention spans are apparently atrophying."
With its mix of gear, style, sport, adventure, in-depth features and beautiful photography, the magazine draws obvious parallels with National Geographic, as well as tech and style titles such as Wired, Port and Esquire, and the New York Times magazine. Saunders cites both National Geographic and Esquire as two of his favourite magazines growing up and says they provided inspiration for Avaunt.
"An enduring memory from my childhood is the huge faded yellow shelf of National Geographics my uncle had, and I used to spend hours picking them out at random, and reading them cover to cover," he explains. "[Then], as a teenager, I discovered titles like GQ and Esquire. Until that point, as a kid growing up in rural England who wore clothes my mum bought me, and who loved riding my bike and playing computer games with my mates, fashion and style were totally abstract concepts, so magazines have always been both escapism and education to me, little doorways into parallel worlds that I never knew existed."
When researching the magazine's design, Hunting says the team was also inspired by Twen, as well as instruction manuals and archive graphics and maps. As well as photographic essays documenting remote landscapes, it features some beautiful imagery by staff photographer Frederic Lagrange, such as the series accompanying Steed's article on the Kombai tribe, while text-heavy features make elegant use of type.
"We wanted to create something that reflected the energetic nature of adventure," explains Hunting. "We worked on creating a design language that can accommodate a wide variety of content within a refined and sophisticated framework - it's a classic style with a strict grid that we work within but break out of to surprise the reader, for example for energetic feature openers," he explains.
"The balance of typography was incredibly important to us to achieve a sophisticated aesthetic that still retained a bold and modern feel," he adds. "We have used the elegant serif Antwerp from A2 for body copy and standfirsts and Typewriter for captions and smaller text to give a technical / manual like feel. In addition, we use a custom stencil display typeface (also used for our masthead) which was a collaboration between Henrik Kubel and Avaunt, and a smattering of a custom rounded version of MFRED for more powerful and energetic openers."
Red is used as an accent colour throughout the magazine, and on a belly band produced on gloss stock with type in metallic black foil, which Hunting says is designed to provide a contrast with the uncoated black and white cover. "The bellyband allows us to hero the cover image by using the brand as a brief snapshot of what the reader will find inside, allowing us to keep the cover free from cover lines...The red PMS is used for small hits across the spreads such as for captions and info graphics to help the pages retain a bold feel, whilst reproducing crisply in one hit at small type sizes," he adds.
As well as launching the magazine, Avaunt has set up a website which will showcase features alongside films and podcasts. It's also hosting a two-day event in London in October, with talks from scientists, writers and explorers, and plans to set up limited edition clothing ranges in partnership with luxury brands.
As to be expected from the team behind Port, and with Willey heading creative direction, the magazine is beautifully produced, and has a suitably luxurious feel for a title aimed at high earners.
While gear, science and technology features provide an obvious crossover with titles such as Wired, Avaunt appears unique in its mix of geography, nature and travel alongside fashion and long-form content documenting expeditions and extreme adventures - and offers a distinctive approach to fashion editorial with shoots featuring explorers rather than models. In future titles, Crowe says there will be "a more or less consistent ratio of adventure, science and style."
The magazine's take on luxury is an interesting one - while mainstream and lower-end men's titles have had a challenging few years, it seems there is a growing market for high-end titles aimed at the discerning consumer, combining long reads with traditional glossy product shots of new gear and fashion, and stylish alternatives to traditional special interest readers (new watch magazine The Hour, featured in the May issue of CR, out next week, has adopted a similar approach to rival traditional luxury watch publications focused on specs and mechanics).
"I think magazines are in a really good place now. Five years ago people were writing a lot about magazines being close to the end; now there are more magazines being published than ever before," says Crowe. "Whilst they are, like Port and Avaunt, typically independent and with under 100,000 print runs, magazines now are more linked to the original tradition of publishing: sharing opinions, notions of quality, originality, great photography and writing: something the bigger mainstream magazines seem to have lost," he adds.
Repro and pre-press: PH Media
Crowe and Willey have already enjoyed great success with Port, and with plans to launch events, limited edition products and member offers, it will be interesting to see how the brand develops beyond the magazine.
Avaunt is available to buy online, priced at £30 for an annual subscription - for details, see avauntmagazine.com