by Wilfred Okiche
In February, when Complete Fashion unveiled its latest issue with red-hot singer Burna Boy and the not-quite-hot soul singer Lami Phillips on the double covers, it was an unenthusiastic audience that received it. A decidedly unenthusiastic audience.
The magazine’s Valentine issue landed with a thud, displeasing subscribers and other random readers who took to popular websites and blogs to let their feelings be known. “I really liked Complete Fashion but lately it has been lacking good content. Its just bleh,’’ said Alero on BellaNaija.com. An anonymous reader was more direct in leading this on the popular comment box of Linda Ikeji’s blog, “Bought it yesterday and I am still regretting. Will never try it again!’’
They may be pretty strong reviews for a fashion publication but to dismiss them as merely the vituperations of ‘haters’ as we are bound to do in these climes would be to live in an extreme climate called denial.
For somewhere along the line, midway into 2013 precisely, something definitely went very wrong with the once beloved publication.
It used to be that every Complete Fashion issue arrival was a mini-event – at least for fashion lovers, bloggers and the style conscious. For at least four years since it re-launched with a larger-than-life size, the magazine had been knocking it out of the park.
What it lacked in content, it made up for in packaging. Arresting covers featuring the biggest and hottest celebrities, splashy colours, snazzy fashion editorials and big budget photo shoots cametogether to make for one irresistible package. It was also surprisingly affordable at an initial N500 (when vendors realised how hot it was, they began to sell for N1000 without the knowledge of the publishers). Very quickly, it occupied its niche market and was purring if not zooming along nicely.
It was so good; it spurned an entire industry of copycats – not just in content and double cover, but even in size. Not ashamed to flatter the forerunner with blatant imitation – Red Sheet, Editarnish, even the City People Fashion & Style Magazine. The magazine, forgive the pun, completely dominated the market.
Until, just as suddenly as it rose, it stopped.
The free fall began with the September 2013 issue covered by television actor Gideon Okeke and model Isio Wanogho. The finished product came as a shock to those already used to the magazine’s high standards. The covers were dull looking, colour separation was not quite sharp, photography by Kiki Melissa left a lot to be desired off, styling was a disaster, so was the make up. Even the content was missing some regular favourites like the Fashion Jury segment, a style review column modelled after Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police. No one warned any of the fans about this sharp detour. There was sign, no hint, nothing.
So everyone assumed it was a blip. The printer’s devil as those in the industry called it. Everyone has an off day. The magazine would be back.
But it only got worse.
The October issue which was planned to capitalize on the post Big Brother Africa sexy sizzle of ex-housemates Beverly Osu and Melvin Oduah was the one that made it clear this was no flash in the pan. The mighty had fallen.
Melvin’s overly air brushed pictures almost took the identity out of him. And Dear Beverly? Goodness gracious, she was covered in a hot mess – make up, styling and photography conspiring to gift her with the appearance of a floozy, her naturally pretty features barely recognisable behind the excesses of colour and make up. By the time the December issue came along with a globetrotting D’banj and UK X-factor winner Alexander Burke, even hard-core fans were too dispirited to care.
Yes, there was the surprise appearance of Ms Burke in traditional Nigerian outfit, complete with the ‘gele’, but we didn’t even notice. The heat had all but gone out of the publication it seemed and there was no one left at the scene of this accident.
The Complete Package
So what happened?
There is a common misconception that Complete Fashion started life in 2010 when a certain Franka Chiedu assumed duties as editor. The magazine had in fact existed long before that as one of the many publishing attempts of Dr Ibe Kachikwu, the high-flying businessman, lawyer and vice-chairman of oil and gas giants Exxon Mobil.
Published under his True Tales umbrella, Complete Fashion as with other now rested titles like Simply Woman and entertainment magazine HOT had been flying under the radar, in the shadows of the near Hints magazine from which it was borne, initially going with the title Hints Complete Fashion.
“If there is one thing Dr. Kachikwu is in love with it is the magazine industry,” said someone who once worked with him but is no longer on speaking terms. “He truly believes in the power and beauty of gloss. It is because of his love that these magazines have survived, and he has kept building new brands, even if they don’t bring him any money.”
From the offices in Ojodu, Lagos, he kept churning out a slew of magazine titles in between struggling to keep Hints alive. Somehow, Complete Fashion broke through the clutter, the favourite of tailors and others in search of the latest ‘styles’ thanks to the company’s managing editor, Maureen Otti. Still it lacked any kind of wow factor, and more importantly, the mainstream respectability important to its founder.
Enter Franka Asindi
The editor of the now rested ‘Family’ magazine – another brainwave of Dr. Kachikwu – she was to serve as general editor of the struggling magazine. It was, apparently, the best thing that could have happened to the entire enterprise.
Asindi took to Complete Fashion like fish to water – aggressive like a woman with plenty prove. Armed with a very small team, and the same rusty establishment, she rebranded the glossy, paying obsessive attention to the design, photography and distribution.
If the battle for magazines is won on the covers, then Franka came to Complete Fashion fully armed. It went out of the way toenlist some of the biggest names – delivering them in stunning poses, fluffy interviews and beautiful photography. Each cover was such a hit you would find it on BlackBerry displays and Twitter bios.
Complete Fashion also pioneered the double celebrity cover – featuring a man and woman on both front and back pages so as to carry along the gentlemen – fearlessly staking its own place, even if no one had done it before.
One of the first products of this experiment was the Mai Atafo/Dakore Egbuson splashy cover. The industry had not seen anything quite like it. With a peerless distribution plan second to none (Dr Kachikwu has one of the magazine industry’s strongest distribution networks across the country, Complete Fashion soon became the highest selling glossy on the newsstands with sales said to be topping 10,000 units per issue (a representative for True Tales declined to provide actual figures).
Complete Fashion was one of the few magazine publications to be found on new stands in different parts of the country from Lagos to Nnewi, Abuja to Kano. And not just for the sake it, this was a product the market was in love with.
‘’I dey carry Complete Fashion well well,” said Emeka, a vendor at Ojuelegba bus-stop in Lagos. The market dey move. If you put am for front, people dey rush am’’. He says has been a slight decline in readership but insists it is a general problem. “E be like say e no dey fine like before but even the ones wey dey fine, people no dey buy like before.”
But, industry hands are in unison on this one: this is not the magazine they used to know.
Letter from the editor
“Of course, it’s still going to live off its glory days,” says a photographer who has worked with the team but declined to be named. “But no one is proud of the s__t it has become. I mean, how do you get so bad? There is no style, no cohesion, no beauty, nothing to look forward to. The magazine is a typical case of what happens to Nigerian brands. It makes me so sad.”
Another, a popular designer who again spoke anonymously because ‘it’s still a force to reckon with after-all’ added: “It’s not as if it’s the end of the world, but Complete Fashion used to be the IT brand. It wasn’t high fashion or high taste like Arise, or to some extent FAB, but it had its finger on the pulse, people wanted to be in the magazine; it’s new editions meant something to the market. Something has just gone off with it. It’s now become something of a joke in fashion circles.”
So what went off with the hallowed Complete Fashion brand, a name that was on its way to consolidating position as the fashion and style authority; more for a lack of real competition than for it’s unquestionable authority yes, but who cares?
Industry insiders are quick to point 2 names only.
Never has the reason behind a success been so blatant, and the evidence of absence been so clear.
Dr Ibe Kachikwu dreams the dreams, drops the cash and conjures up the vision (and one has to be impressed by the scale of the vision – Hints, HOT, Simply Woman, Family, Beauty Box, Hello Nigeria, Complete Fashion, Complete Fashion XTRA), but Franka Asindi as editor was the one who brought the glow back to his enterprise, the glue that kept it all together with drive and hard work. Complete Fashion made True Tales Publications a place to be, once again.
And it wasn’t for want of trying that it had to fall on her laps. A revolving door had seen major talent including writer and actress Ireti Doyle, magazine publisher Toyin Eriye (who first made Genevieve the magazine to read as editor-in-chief and also made magic happen with the impressive Joy magazine), Julie Odia who now runs the well-known WOW!, and others. Somehow, it hadn’t come together.
Somehow, the hitherto unknown Franka, who had previous experience working in the print media, made it all come together. Some may dismiss, perhaps rightly, a lot of her work as ordinary “cut and paste” but it takes a special person to cut and paste their way to such enviable results.
Then in 2012, Asindi tied the knot with her Jude Chiedu, a banker based in London and had to relocate to start a family. Insiders say she was willing to continue in her duties, managing the glossy from her new base in London but her asking price was considered too high for the management.
“She had gotten too big and probably felt she deserved a lot more than she was getting,” said an anonymous source who was close to the situation. “Dr Kachikwu did not think so and had to let her go.” Asindi did not respond to multiple emails sent to her for this story.
“She won’t speak to you about it,” said an acquaintance who has done freelance work for the magazine. “She still has a lot of respect for Dr. Kachikwu and she has moved on with her life. But it wasn’t Franka being too big or asking for too much money that made her leave. I believe she would have stayed. But sometimes you just know that this stage of your life is over. They could have done more to keep her though. They should have for someone who gave her over her entire life to make that dream happen.”
Maybe they should have – if not for her sake, then at least for theirs.
If no one is indispensable, then that 31-year-old sorely tests the saying. At least since it appears she alone has the keys to the Complete Fashion success playbook.
Publisher/editor of Styleview magazine Dumebi Agbakoba, who is also daughter of the former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, was hired to oversee the publication soon after she returned to Nigeria, but her efforts have been, not to put too fine a point to it, unfruitful. After a couple of disastrous issues – and internal battles both with management and with her staff – she was “let go” under controversial circumstances.
Everyone from style editor Latasha Ngwube to blogger Ono Bello was tipped to replace her. The cloud finally settled and Onah Nwachukwu was appointed and charged with overseeing the transition. She is no longer with the magazine as at press time.
Then there is Zanile Blay, who came into the company, and the country, in a blaze of glory. She certainly came highly recommended. Correspondent for the Huffington Post, Digital Editor for ESSENCE, editor with Paper, editor with SEVENTEEN, blogger with British Vogue, professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and you get the idea.
She it was, apparently, who sealed up the Hello Nigeria franchise. She was editor in chief of Hello and editorial director for the entire enterprise. She too is however no longer with the company. Instructively, her personal website is scrubbed of all information about her work there, or any affiliation.
Yemi Olowu, a fashion blogger/editor opines that the upheaval is directly linked to Asindi’s departure, which was quite premature as both parts were growing together, finding their feet and were yet to fulfill their maximum potential. “She was the glue that brought it all together,” he says. “And (her leaving) was all quite avoidable.”
Asindi herself appears to be on a roll. Her social media activity shows a life well settled in the United Kingdom. Even better, early this year she kicked off an interesting new project, Blanck – a 76-page online fashion and lifestyle magazine that seeks to bridge the gap between high and street fashion. The simple but excellent cover page sports the fashion forward television presenter Eku Edewor and hints of high quality work, the kind not seen on the pages of Complete Fashion since her abrupt departure.
“In Blanck,” crowed leading style blog, BellaNaija.com, “We can see the uber glam direction Franka is taking the digital magazine.; one luxe page at a time.”
Thankfully, for those she left behind, there is reason to hope.
Complete Fashion has come out of a slump before. And this time, there is no lack of goodwill, competition from the high-end StyleMania and the periodic dazzle of WOW! Notwithstanding.
In any case, it has something none of the competition can ever hope to have. Two words: Ibe Kachikwu. He is not one to give up without a fight, and to boot he has more experience than anyone can begin to lay claim to in the Nigerian magazine business.
Making up for lost time is not going to be easy but if anyone can do it, then he is the man.
Here’s to his complete success.
– Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
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