You’d imagine the Frankie office to be filled with crocheted teapot holders, herbs and homemade pompoms. But instead, it’s a sleek office with a lot of greenery and a large piece of art with the word ‘fuck’ written all over it (in a very artistic way of course). “We share the Port Melbourne office with the Smith Journal team, so we had to turn up the masculinity a little,” explains Frankie’s editor Jo Walker.
When we speak to her over the phone, she’s in the middle of doing her least favourite job, accounts – a job made slightly more bearable by the fact that she can do it from the comfort of her Brunswick home.
Walker has been writing for Frankie since its inception in 2004 and she came on board as editor five years ago. Since then, the publication’s reach and circulation has more than doubled and has become one of the most influential magazines in its sector. When Walker started at Frankie, it had a circulation of around 24,000. In June this year, they reached 58,631 (Audit Bureau of Circulation) and that number is still growing.
“I think the biggest difference for me is that now when I have to cold call someone, say, to organise an interview and I say it’s for Frankie they know who we are,” says Walker. “I used to say you probably haven’t heard of us, but now most people have, which is nice.”
Frankie is often portrayed as the golden child of Australia’s contemporary print landscape and it’s for good reason. This tangible publication has helped debunk the notion that print is dead. Earlier this month, Frankie confirmed its status when it was crowned magazine of the year at the Australian Magazine Awards. Frankie also took out the women's fashion category, an incredible accomplishment considering that its competition included fashion heavyweights Harper's BAZAAR and Vogue Australia.
But it’s not just the numbers that make Frankie impressive. The publication itself has found a special spot in its readers’ lives. But just what makes it so special is a little hard to define. “Even after five years I can’t articulate what makes Frankie special,” says Walker. “The content is very honest. We write about what we like, what we want to read about. If something doesn’t match up to my awesomeness level then it doesn’t go in the magazine.”
Walker admits she nearly had a mental breakdown going over every piece in the 50th issue to make sure it reached her so-called personal awesomeness level. And that level of dedication shows in the final product. Every tiny detail, from the embossed back of the front page to the farewell letter on the back page, has been considered. As a bi-monthly magazine, the content has to have an enduring quality, but Walker takes that further.
“My goal with each edition is for it to be timeless. I want people to be able to pick up an edition of Frankie years later and still be able to read it,” she says.
The articles are endearing, witty and honest. There are no themes per edition and they don’t follow trends, write about celebrities or target a specific demographic. “Mums share it with their daughters. Daughters with their mums. It sounds wanky but it’s not an age or a gender that we necessarily target, but an attitude. The youngest reader I’ve received mail from is 12 and the oldest was 82,” says Walker.
I asked Walker if there are any particular articles from the last 50 editions that stand out in her mind. The disparity between the three articles she recalls exemplifies what it is that makes Frankie unique.
Her first choice is a piece she wrote on being 20. “I interviewed a series of women from different eras about what life was like in their twenties. It was a very moving piece. The women I interviewed opened up and told me things I felt really privileged to hear,” she says.
The second was a piece by Noel Hastings. He broke up with his girlfriend just before he had to interview Marianne Faithful. To cut a long story short, the 60s rock icon ended up spending the whole interview counselling him. “I would never tell a writer to include himself in the piece but in this case it worked.”
The last article was Frankie’s infamous toilet paper product test. “I still get people asking me when we’re going to do another,” laughs Walker.
On the Frankie submissions page, it reads: “If you can imagine your idea running in another Australian publication, then you will have to re-think your pitch.” More than a magazine about craft and crochet, Frankie offers a unique collection of insightful articles that don’t just engage, but linger. And while the sales of Australian print publications may continue to dwindle and editorial budgets may continue to tighten, Frankie still bucks the trend and proves that print will always have a place.
With 169,000 Facebook friends and a global reach, this once-little Melbourne-based publication has grown into a formidable force.
And while Walker admits that not everyone in the office is into craft and crochet, “everyone appreciates it”.