A silver Harley-Davidson is parked outside a glitzy club. A perfect male torso clad in only a pair of Calvin Kleins. Nicolas Cage sporting Montblanc's latest timepiece. Flick through Esquire's latest issue and what stands out are the rich, alluring and esoteric print ads from some of the world's most luxurious brands.
But perched on a Perspex chair in his whitewashed Soho office, Jeremy Langmead, the magazine's new editor, has just fallen on a back-page advertorial for spray-on hair, and it has fired his imagination.
"We really must get some of this stuff in," he says, poring over a badly treated before-and-after shot of a balding man. As if seeing it for the first time, a flurry of questions follow. Does this really work? What makes the hair stick? How is the colour consistent? And what kind of a man would really use this stuff anyway? As the cogs whirr, you can see the start of a feature idea sketching itself. Then he turns over to find a double-page spread of cheap, four-by-one classifieds screaming chatlines, hair implants and pawnbrokers. It's a step too far. "We must get rid of all that."
Langmead, the former editor of IPC's Wallpaper*, believes both advertising and editorial are central to his agenda of bringing Esquire back to the upper end of the men's magazine market. "The days of church and state are over," he says, referring to the historical split of interests. "Advertisers are part of a magazine's lifeblood. Their contribution is not just financial. It's also creative and aesthetic. Plus, everything will appear in your magazine anyway, so why shouldn't you take an interest as an editor?"
And this is one of the key traits that differentiates Langmead from many other editors.
Sources report that since The National Magazine Company first grabbed Langmead from IPC last November, advertisers have flocked to the title again. "Jeremy is a superb schmoozer. He knows how to convey his vision and win people over to his way of thinking. For an editor, Langmead has superb commercial interest," a former colleague says.
It's little wonder then that his new employers have already sent Langmead on some extensive trips across the US and Europe to sell his vision to advertisers. Esquire's redesigned September issue launched last month. Physically, the title has undergone some very radical changes, including a trimming to a neat American A4 size, a noise-reduced coverline-free issue for subscribers, and premium and multicoloured paper stock for its critics and business sections.
The ultimate plan? "To be at the absolute upper end of the men's monthly market," he says. "Over the past few years, Esquire seemed to follow others men's magazines in its sector and went more downmarket and laddish. I wanted to bring the publication back to its roots and shape it for the future."
Arguably the oldest men's magazine, Esquire was founded in the US in 1933 and has counted F Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Mailer among its editorial alumni: a heritage far removed from the "lads' mags" revolution fronted by the likes of FHM, Maxim and Loaded nearly 60 years later.
And championing an intellectual renaissance in the men's market is precisely where Langmead seems happiest. He says the absence of hard editorial at Wallpaper* made him "itchy to get back into journalism" after previous roles including five years as editor of The Sunday Times Style magazine from 1995 to 2000. Richard Cook, the editorial director of Wallpaper*, says: "More than design or visual sell, Langmead's first love is words. He has the trust of a lot of first-rate British writers, and he excels at taking things of the moment and turning them into stories that his readers wouldn't have realised they'd be so interested in."
It's no surprise that Langmead has already sealed regular commissions from the Booker-shortlisted writer Colm Toibin, the novelist Adam Thirwell and the poet Nick Laird among others. Citing the increased appetite for The Economist and The Week as evidence of an intellectual shift in the magazine market, Campaign asks if Monocle, Tyler Brule's title, may pose a threat to Esquire. He weighs up the question. "The biggest crime of being upmarket is to be boring. I can be a sophisticated reader without having to endure interviews with finance ministers in Chile."
Before the relaunch, Esquire's circulation was bolstered by a rise of 2.1 per cent year on year to 53,537 (Langmead puts this down to the work of his deputy editor, Dan Davies). But, in a competitive monthly market, Esquire may need more than just one solid six-month period to succeed.
Langmead says plans are in place for a by the beginning of next year, but there doesn't seem to be more life to Esquire outside of the editorial than that. So the focus will be on creating the right balance of lifestyle, fashion and, of course, women ("sophisticated as opposed to scanty"), all tailored to a "disenfranchised group of men". "I know these people are out there because I'm one of them, " Langmead says.
To prove that things are on the right track, Langmead presents the "book of praise", a catalogue of all the congratulatory notes he's received since the relaunch. So far, 69 positive e-mails. And any negative ones? "One," he says, from a disgruntled reader who found the redesign "poncey" and swore never to buy it again. And the reaction? "I replied very politely, and said that I hope he finds a magazine he does like soon."
Lives: Primrose Hill, London
Family: Separated, with two children
Most treasured possession: A painting by Augustus John I inherited
Favourite website: YouTube (type in "fat kid on a rollercoaster")
Interests: Films, art, food and drink
Motto: Who cares about tomorrow