Photo: Ysa Pérez
Will Welch didn’t plan on editing fashion spreads for GQ.The 30 year old began his magazine career a week or two before graduating from college in 2003 with an internship at The Fader.
He soon landed a full-time job at the independent music publication, although he still spent one night a week bartending at The Park to make rent. (“Sunday night was gay night,” he said during an interview in his office on Tuesday. “The money was great.”)
Welch spent four years at The Fader, rising to deputy editor before GQ‘s style editor Adam Rapoport – the coolest editor in New York – called and suggested he interview for a job at the Conde Nast publication.
Welch took the weekend to consider, then applied for the associate editor position.
That was four years ago.
Today, he’s a senior editor sharing responsibility for overseeing GQ‘s fashion stories and the front-of-book “Manual” section. He is learning from editor-in-chief Jim Nelson, creative director Jim Moore, legendary design director Fred Woodward, and the rest of the GQ crew.
The Atlanta, Georgia native is modest, crediting his ascent up the masthead to good fortune, hard work, and opportunities that arrived when staffers departed for other jobs. He’s correct to a certain extent, but you don’t get far at Conde Nast without talent. Welch has it.
Not that he saw himself editing full time when he was working at The Fader as his own writer, fact-checker, and editor.
“Most 21-year-olds, myself included, don’t know what editing is about. When you get into editing it’s really rewarding, but it’s always nice to be able to do a little bit of writing to keep the dream alive and keep finding a voice,” Welch said, Converse All-Stars resting comfortably on his desk. “I’m really into that balance, even if at 21 I would have been shocked about editing fashion stuff. That would have been weird.”
“You can step outside what you necessarily do all day and work on these big-ticket projects,” he said, citing recent examples such as the True Grit and Paradise City: 50 Years of L.A. Rock packages that he helped bring to life.
The latter story, shot by Benjamin Watts, combined fashion and music brilliantly.
“It was a collaboration with the fashion department but it wasn’t a total fashion story,” Welch said. “It was more working with the awesome fashion of all these LA-based rock musicians over the past 50 years to get something that felt iconic and celebratory. But it also had to work in the GQ aesthetic.”
That GQ aesthetic is vital to the publication. Welch and his fellow editors are the keepers of that tone. The magazine sounds the way it does because of their efforts. The words in “Manual” and the fashion coverage possess a certain levity. And for good reason. One is the front-of-book section and clothes, while vital, are simply the garments with which a reader covers his body.
“We internally take fashion stuff deadly seriously but hopefully as far as the writing and the presentation in the magazine, there is some lightness to it and irreverence,” Welch said. “There is a difference to how we present this and how we present a story on the Middle East two pages later.”
For Welch, that range of subjects is the best part of GQ. He edits fashion, writes about bands, develops stories, helps dream up photo portfolios, and helps create a wonderful magazine for the general-interest dude. Because, in the end, that’s who the editor is.
He’s also a person who, inevitably, is growing up both literally and in the eyes of his co-workers.
“I used to be the young guy but I’m not anymore,” he said. “There are a lot much younger, cooler guys here now. I definitely took some ribbing when I first got here. Anything that had to do with bars or going out or drinking or music or anything hipster-related, it was like ‘I don’t know. Ask Welch.’ But I don’t think I’m that guy anymore.”
The editor can still answer questions about music (and probably hipster bars), but he’s added fashion, photography, and a variety of other items to his resume over the past four years.
His bartending skills, however, are probably rusty.