Southern Accents magazine made it's debut in the Fall of 1977. Jimmy Carter was president, Star Wars hit the movie theaters, Elvis died in August, Apple introduced the Apple II computer, red dye number two was banned (as carcinogenic), and Southern Nights by Glen Campbell was at the top of the music charts. The country was paying attention to the South in a new and positive way - perhaps we were considered to be more urbane and cultured, less provincial - since we had in fact produced a president.
Into this hip, fast paced "new reality" of the late 70's, stepped Southern Accents magazine, published by a small Atlanta trade publishing house. Founded in 1904 by WRC Smith, the firm originally focused on magazines such as Cotton and Textile Industries.
Southern Accents was the brainchild of one man - James Hooton. In 1976 Hooton worked at WRC Smith Publishing as an editor of Southern Engineering. He was an avid collector and decorator, and as such admired Architectural Digest magazine. However, he felt there was a void in the magazine's content - a lack of focus on the South. Jim was known for his good taste, decorating style, and for being a fabulous host. At a party at Jim's home, Walter Mitchell, president of WRC Smith Publishing Company, admired Jim's decorating style, and so Jim presented his idea of a "Southern Architectural Digest."
Jim Hooton said:
"I felt that the South was being neglected by the national design magazines. There's so much that's good and beautiful in this section of the country, I believed that Southerners would be receptive to this type of publication. And having worked at WRC Smith for many years, I knew the company had the skills and financial resources to produce a quality magazine."
WRC Smith Publishing Company needed something new at that time, according to Walter Mitchell. Their previous bread and butter publications were not as lucrative because of the changing environment of the hardware stores (where they sold most of their magazines) due to the new Big Box stores. So Walter, who professes that he knew nothing about interiors (to quote him: "I don't know the difference between a Chippendale and an Airedale"), decided to take a gamble and give the interiors magazine a whirl. At the time, Architectural Digest had 400,000 subscribers, Mitchell hoped to reach 100,000 of those with Southern Accents.
Milburne, in Virginia, from the Spring 1982 Southern Accents- photography by Paul Beswick
Although it was modeled after Architectural Digest, Southern Accents was not exactly like the original. One of the main differences between the two magazines was that Architectural Digest focused on homes of celebrities, Southern Accents did not. Southern Accents also focused more on historic residences and their preservation. Mitchell said: "You'll probably never see a movie star's or prince's house in Southern Accents. But readers will be treated to a continuing tour of fine Southern residences and gardens." A promotional piece used a few years after the magazine's creation, emphasized the difference:
"The Old-Confederacy--the New South--is our editorial domain, and there are not a whole lot of princes down South. Taste, not costs, sets our standard."
Next up in our Southern Accents series: seed money, developing the format, advertising and hiring new editors.
All information and quotes obtained from an interview with Walter Mitchell, Sallie Smith and Helen C. Griffith, and also from Starting a New Magazine, Two Case Studies, by Martha Faye Melton.