If you perform a simple Google search for “H Magazine,” you’re presented with a few far-flung results. You’ll find hMag, Hoboken, New Jersey’s “premier lifestyle magazine,” and The H Magazine, a travel guide for Cuba. There’s also Houston’s H Texas Magazine and H Para Hombres, out of Mexico City. And now, there’s a new publication to add to the H list: H Magazine, a men’s fashion title out of Muscat, Oman. While the other similarly-named publications have a locals-only, low-rent feel, this H Magazine has much larger aims: namely, to bring a high-end quarterly men’s fashion title originating in the Middle East to an international market. But what does a fashion magazine from the Middle East—a region that is hungry for luxury, but also more socially conservative than its Western counterparts—look like?
At first glance, not that different from other glossy fashion magazines, a fact that is something of a statement on its own. “When you look at the magazine, you will realize that it is boundary-pushing for the Middle East,” founder and editor in chief Hassan Al-Saleh explains to Complex. “I’m proud to be an Arab. What I find frustrating, as an Arab reader, is that magazines are often overly conservative, too cautious, so they don’t offend. It alienates readers like me.”
In Hassan’s case, “readers like him” refers to a young generation of Middle Eastern men with a global outlook. In addition to Oman, Hassan spent time living everywhere from Paris to Beijing over the course of his life. A few years ago, he took a job editing the Middle East edition of the French fashion magazine L’Officiel Hommes. “This might sound cliché,” Hassan says, “but I’ve always been fascinated with magazines, and fashion magazines in particular, from a young age.” While Hassan’s enthusiasm for the cause helped L’Officiel Hommes enjoy success in the Middle East, it was never a homegrown magazine—it’s a satellite title from a European publication. That fact frustrated Hassan. “I got a firsthand perspective on the lack of quality men’s fashion magazines in the Middle East,” he says.
So, Hassan set out to change that. "There is a void, and I wanted to make sure I was first to the market to establish the standards for men’s fashion publishing in the Middle East,” he says. “Men in the Middle East are becoming more comfortable with making fashion choices. It’s no longer taboo, that freedom of expression.”
H Magazine seizes onto the type of content you might find in other high-end publications from around the world. The first cover star is Australian model Jarrod Scott, who has appeared on a number of magazine covers all over the world; the debut issue, out now, features interviews with Donatella Versace, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, all written in English.
But then, halfway through, the text switches to Arabic. The stories are the same on both sides, but there is separate imagery to illustrate each article. Partly, that is so the content isn’t redundant, but it’s also an opportunity to cater to a more conservative audience with photos that are slightly toned down—even if both sides are bound together as part of the same magazine. As ready as the Middle East is to purchase luxury goods, they may not be quite ready to see them presented in the way they are in magazines from France or Italy.
H Magazine looks to continue to walk that line as the magazine grows. “I have to respect the cultures and the traditions of the Middle East markets,” Hassan says. “We have to be aware of what we can and can’t publish. But, I want to push the boundaries—everyone else is playing it safe.”
The desires of the demographic at home are only part of the equation. Hassan hopes to use the magazine as a launching pad to show off Arab talent to the rest of the world, in both the designers and clothing he highlights in the pages of H and those behind the scenes who put it all together. “We’d like to showcase international standards from the Middle East. Right now, standards are quite low compared to Western standards," he admits.
And right now, that’s not worthy of the taste levels of the people who populate cities like Oman. "There’s more global awareness; people are traveling more. The Middle East in general is opening up more,” he says. "This is a time of progressive thinkers, free spirits. It's a progressive generation."
And if Hassan’s vision pays off, H Magazine will become a new addition to the libraries of those progressive-minded readers worldwide. While it originates in Oman, Hassan says, at its core, “it’s a magazine for anybody.”