Do We Need the Air Mail Email?
In the past, you had to write “Air Mail” on any letter going overseas if you wanted it to get there in the same year it was mailed. Now everything the USPS sends goes via air mail (and judging by the extreme lag time for letters I’ve sent from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn, literally everything goes in the air mail bag, circles the globe and comes back again!). In July 2019, Graydon Carter, former longtime editor of Vanity Fair, premiered a new venture called Air Mail (with a nostalgic DC-3 airplane as its logo) that is mailed to subscribers as a weekly eblast.
On first and second sight it appears to look and read like a cross between Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, but without the compelling grit and wit of either. I’ve given it a few months to settle, and I somewhat, though not entirely, agree with the evaluation by The Nation‘s Kyle Chyaka in his critique “Graydon Carter’s E-Mail Newsletter for the Rich and Boring” (which suggests a certain displeasure):
… Air Mail, which is like a glossy print magazine from the ’90s uploaded to the Internet, down to its profusion of rubrics in varying typefaces and its relentlessly chirpy copy. So deep is the newsletter’s nostalgia for an earlier golden age of print that you’d expect subscription cards to fall out of it. Air Mail’s first issue landed in inboxes July 20, its branding a stately all-caps sans serif, its logo a heraldic vintage airliner midflight, and its colors a Vanity Fair–esque red against a paper stock manila background. Carter has described the publication as “the weekend edition of a nonexistent international daily,” a sort of floating style section covering subjects like château renovation, vacation destinations, and accessory recommendations, with enough foreign reporting, true crime, and literary criticism to give it heft. Its slogan is “For the world traveler,” and its header advertises “best of the news from abroad,” delivered every Saturday at 6 am.
The reference to Vanity Fair is valid. Carter, who long held the reins of power at the magazine, has brought with him various former Vanity Fair contributors and ex–New York Times persons. Bob Mankoff, former New Yorker cartoon editor, has the same duties here.
Nonetheless, Carter is no slouch and his publishing instincts are sound indeed. Despite certain reservations (why so many Hermes ads?), there is some je ne sais quoi about Air Mail. The design is rather handsome, the cartoons are amusing and the stories have a magnetic pull, if only as a teaser (“Putin on the Ritz”—good one).
I’ve browsed through almost all 28 issues on my phone and have to admit that The Nation is a little too hard on it. Air Mail passes subway and bus time nicely—and it’s also a pleasant alternative to taxiTV.
PRINT is back! And soon, we’ll be relaunching with an all-new look, all-new content and a fresh outlook for the future. Stay tuned.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →