In the basement of Victory journal's headquarters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, editor Christopher Isenberg sits at a wooden conference room table thinking back on the late '90s, a time when the neighborhood as he now knows it was still just a twinkle in the eyes of real estate developers. "The people I was spending time with knew about music, writing, the city," he says. "They were true hipsters—not in the negative sense, but in the sense of just knowing shit—and sports was never divorced from that."
Isenberg, along with partners Aaron Amaro and Kimou Meyer, launched the sports journal in 2010, while simultaneously establishing their creative agency, Doubleday & Cartwright. They would split their time between work with massive clients like Nike, and the business of forging the magazine's identity. "We said we were 'the quarterly journal of sport and culture' because it sounded way better," Isenberg says, grinning, "but we've never done more than two in a year."
He describes the type of story one might find in Victory as "the kind of stuff I was trying to do when I left school," referring to his two years at Oxford University, where he logged time practicing with the boxing team. The team would engage in dual meets against neighboring schools like Sandhurst and Cambridge, as well as "town and gown" matches, in which members of the student squad would face off against non-academic locals.
It was all a raucous, bloody affair, according to Isenberg, "because kids would only learn for three months, and didn't even know how to move out of the way yet—they basically just knew how to jab." Upon leaving the university in 1997, he sold a story to Sports Illustrated about his experiences there, but it never saw the light of day. "They sat on it for a year and never ran it," he explains. "They were like, 'sorry, we just can't do this kind of stuff anymore.'"
But he knew he had something. As he puts it now: "It was a classic Victory story." He went on to work at Details, where he had the chance to do the kind of reporting he loved, writing in-depth features on sumo wrestling and boxer Arturo Gatti—but the real light-bulb moment came when he was tapped to guest-edit a sports issue of Frank magazine. "That was the first time I was able to do a magazine, top to bottom."
"Our aim is to be curious," says Isenberg, "and go to places we personally have never been before."
He was inspired to expand on that work—but he didn't know exactly what shape it would take, and credits cofounder Aaron Amaro for being the brains behind Victory's formidable size and classic, formal air. "My partner Aaron is just a beast who never tires," Isenberg says emphatically. "What do you call it when someone's half-man, half-horse? A centaur! He's a centaur—or a minotaur, maybe." He's quick to point out that running a magazine is no simple task. "It's not for the faint of heart," he says, "but we're incubating something we believe to be very valuable."
In addition to its print arm, Victory occasionally runs pieces online, and has produced a number of short films, including three new projects done in partnership with ESPN. As for the vision behind their editorial content? "We have some statement we wrote on the back of a napkin when we were wasted," says Isenberg, laughing, "but mainly our aim is to be curious and go to places we personally have never been before—and that we think our audience is going to be curious about."
For features, videos, and other Victory fare, see victoryjournal.com.