Magazines are an immediate reflection of our selves and a reflection of a cultural ideal. Plus, well, they’re fun to look at. I discovered Gentlemen’s Quarterly at a barber shop while waiting for a haircut when I was 12-years-old. With its pictures of impossibly handsome men in the coolest clothes, I had assumed it was published just for me. Way before Stonewall, the magazine was already, sublimely, and with lots coded references, making the culture gayer. It focuses on fashion, style, and culture for men, with articles on food, movies, fitness, sex, music, travel, sports, technology, and books.
GQ was founded in 1931 as Apparel Arts, as a men’s fashion magazine for the clothing trade, aimed primarily at wholesale buyers and retail sellers. Initially it had a very limited print run and was aimed at industry insiders to enable them to give advice to their customers. The elaborate quarterly contained actual samples of fabrics pasted within its pages; it cost $1.50 per copy, with an initial circulation was 7,500. The popularity of the magazine among retail customers, who often took the magazine from the retailers, brought about the creation of Esquire magazine in 1933.
In 1958 with the spring issue, Apparel Arts became Gentlemen’s Quarterly, and it was published, indeed, four times a year. Gentlemen’s Quarterly was re-branded as GQ in 1967 and went from quarterly to monthly in 1970. In 1983 Condé Nast bought the publication.
GQ has been closely associated with “Metrosexuality”, describing a man who is especially meticulous about his grooming and appearance, typically spending a significant amount of time and money on shopping as part of this. A metrosexual can be heterosexual, gay, or somewhere in between. The writer Mark Simpson used the word in an article in the British newspaper The Independent about his visit to a GQ exhibition in London:
The promotion of metrosexuality was left to the men’s style press, magazines such as The Face, GQ, Esquire, the new media which took off in the Eighties and is still growing … They filled their magazines with images of narcissistic young men sporting fashionable clothes and accessories. And they persuaded other young men to study them with a mixture of envy and desire.
The magazine has expanded its coverage beyond lifestyle issues, including political commentary and investigative pieces, and I have to say that it is a weird world where GQ and Teen Vogue bring us some of the best coverage and insightful features about our rampaging POTUS.
Last year, GQ writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah won the Pulitzer Prize for her article about Dylann Roof, who had shot nine Afro-Americans in a church in Charleston.
But when I started subscribing to it in the late 1960s, the magazine had a smaller readership and a smaller staff, and it was a shockingly gay era of GQ. Jack Haber, the editor-in-chief from 1969 to 1983, was a gay man, as were his two extraordinary art directors, Harry Coulianos, who served from 1971 to 1980, and Donald Sterzin, who started out as an assistant to Coulianos and eventually succeeded him, running the art department until late 1983.
Coulianos was 46-years-old when he died from AIDS in 1991. Sterzin was taken by the plague in 1992. He was 42. The press wrote that he died of pulmonary failure. Haber was taken in 1984 at 45 years-old. The plague also got Jon Shaheen, the art department’s third in command after Coulianos and Sterzin; fashion editor Douglas Hess, and Kim Foltz, a features editor. Peter Carlsen, the fiercely intellectual columnist on fashion, architecture, and home design, didn’t wait for the plague to claim him; he committed suicide in 1989.
GQ has never been an explicitly a gay magazine; its mandate was to educate men of all persuasions about fashion, style and culture. But the gay sensibility was unmistakable. When I started reading it, GQ made winks and nudges about how it was cool to be gay, but today GQ regularly reports on LGBTQ issues, with recent articles on gay men’s health, how to use Grindr, transgender model Laith Ashley, the friendships of gay and straight men, and still plenty of hot guys in artfully shot spreads.