PARIS — Underscoring the notion that creativity thrives in tough times, the credit crunch has spawned a new wave of independent style magazines in Europe.
Against a ravaged media landscape that has seen many titles close or downsize comes a wave of buzzy new titles, including Twin, Glass, Perfect, Test, Grey and Candy, the latter billing itself as the world’s first “transversal” style magazine celebrating transvestites, transsexuals, cross-dressers and androgyny. Limited to 1,000 copies, the first issue features never-before-seen shots by Bruce Weber of Candy Darling taken in the Seventies.
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Penny Martin, a professor at the London College of Fashion and editor in chief of the new biannual print magazine The Gentlewoman (sister publication of Fantastic Man), which launched last month, noted a spate of new titles often follows a recession. “I’m not at all surprised that interesting publishing projects are cropping up in tough times,” said Martin, mentioning i-D, The Face and Blitz at the start of the Eighties and magazines such as Dazed & Confused and Ray Gun at the start of the Nineties.
Of the new league of magazines, several are the fruits of editors already holding down major day jobs — and many resemble coffee-table books rather than something you toss in your handbag. Cover prices range from around $11 to $30.
The team behind the new hardback biannual Twin, for instance, which bills itself as more of a book than a magazine, includes British Vogue’s Aimée Farrell and Francesca Gavin, who is also art editor of Dazed & Confused and Elle U.K., and was founded by Rebecca Smith, former creative director of Lula Magazine.
For many of these multitasking editors, the creative high compensates for the lack of shut-eye. Said Jaime Perlman, art director of British Vogue who in September launched Test magazine, an image-led online creative portal: “There’s a hunger for new work.…I never really get a chance to work with these people. It helps me, as an art director, to get to know who’s out there. It’s opened my eyes.”
So what — if anything — characterizes the latest wave of magazines?
Editors spoke of a will to break away from the trend-led, conspicuous consumption-fueled content of existing style titles to more credible, arty, sustainable, intelligent and quality-based content. Many lament a homogenization of the fashion press, with so-called underground magazines blurring with mainstream titles. Twin magazine coined “Substance over surface” as its motto.
“There is no hard sell in our pages. We peel back the gloss to reveal beautiful fashion photography amongst poetry, art and cultural reads often with a feminist slant,” said creative director Smith.
Twin’s next issue is due out this month, and is set to feature “a portfolio of cosmic art and essays on intuition,” she said, as well as photography by Todd Selby, Ben Weller, Linda Brownlee and Mel Bles. Distributed in boutiques including Opening Ceremony, Liberty, B-Store and Matches, each issue boasts several bespoke covers. The magazine’s Web site, twinfactory.co.uk, deals with quirky, fun content with a particular focus on young creative talent spotted by Twin’s team of contributors.
“I see our publication as more of a book than a magazine that people will be able to consult in 10 years’ time for inspiration,” commented Valentina Ilardi Martin, editor in chief and creative director of the Italian biannual hardback magazine Grey, which she founded with her husband, the New York-based writer Brantly Martin. Grey’s second issue appeared in February and was based on the theme of fire, featuring work by Chadwick Tyler, Stefano Galuzzi, Sophie Delaporte and French director Bruno Aveillan, who is gaining prominence in the fashion arena.
“It’s not about the latest fashion trends of the moment, but more of an inspirational book for people in the fashion field who are passionate about photography and imagery in general,” said Martin. “It’s for the people who make the trends, not those who follow them.”
“Consumer magazines don’t really engage the reader anymore. There’s a massive gap for intelligent, creative content combined with artistic integrity,” argued Marie-Louise Von Haselberg, editor in chief online of the privately financed fledgling title Glass, which has a focus on sustainable luxury. Glass’ daily site, theglassmagazine.com, went live in December.
Von Haselberg said a number of fashion brands have shown interest in collaborating with the magazine, which is forging relationships with socially orientated bodies, including the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
Issue one of Glass’ print quarterly was feted during London Fashion Week in February, and features included a look at green projects under way by a number of luxury brands, including an initiative by Cartier for the ethical sourcing of its gems; an interview by Penelope Tree with the magazine’s cover star, Maggie Cheung, and a photo spread by Steven Caras of 10 of the world’s greatest ballerinas from the last three generations.
“We’re more about inspiration than aspiration,” said Von Haselberg, adding that fashion films, mainly lasting around one minute, will be a main focus on the site.
The rising importance of the Internet as a platform that does away with budget-sapping printing costs has opened new horizons for start-up titles, with several magazines launching online, or maintaining daily online sites alongside slow-release paper editions, though the formula varies. “We were sick of working within the kind of strict parameters magazine jobs can have,” said Matthew Edelstein, editor in chief of the U.S.-based online men’s style magazine Thecontributingeditor.com, which has seen unique visits grow by around 20 percent monthly to 80,000 since its launch in September 2008.
Yet several editors of online editorial conceded they are still working out how to bring home the bacon for this new medium.
“I’m still trying to work out how to make money from it, but I don’t want to have advertising on the site,” said Test’s Perlman. Featured artists self-finance any work they contribute to her site, which Perlman self-financed and, for now, runs from her living room.
In terms of content, meanwhile, magazines’ digital sites tend to host time-sensitive news, blogs and — the Internet’s buzz medium — video, a bubbling genre for fashion brands. The shift by brands from static to moving image campaigns for the Internet is gaining momentum. Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Pringle and Dior already have created fashion films that tell a story around their brands, while Maison Martin Margiela has featured commissioned videos on its site.
“Having worked for years at SHOWstudio, trying to investigate and promote fashion film, it’s amazing to think that it’s finally been adopted by major brands. I’m intrigued to hear how many major campaigns are being shot with Red camera, where motion, rather than stills, has precedence,” commented The Gentlewoman’s Martin.
Thecontributingeditor.com’s Edelstein, meanwhile, views online media as the holy grail for marketers, offering more flexibility and a more targeted audience than traditional media. “Advertisers go where the eyeballs are, and, at the moment, they’re spread across different types of media. Eventually, people will use their computers to watch television and read magazines and newspapers and advertisers will want to be there, too,” he said.
The advent of online magazines, which, until now, according to Glass’ Von Haselberg, have been regarded as “the poor cousin” of their paper predecessors, has led to a questioning of the role of the paper magazine, which is steadily edging into art-book turf, with a move toward less frequent, quality publications favoring timeless content.
Others believe print still has a legitimate raison d’être.
For magazines boasting both online and print versions, an umbilical content cord often links the two. Glass, for instance, films and photographs all its shoots simultaneously, placing videos online and a selection of stills in its print edition, which is conceived as a “timeless” coffee-table book format. Separate editorial teams are devoted to each entity, with editors overseeing the interplay between the two mediums.
“In the eight years I worked in online fashion, the question I was asked most often was, ‘Will the Internet supersede print?’ If I thought that, I would never be launching The Gentlewoman, which is a biannual, printed magazine,” commented Martin, who worked for eight years from 2001 as editor in chief of Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.com, regarded as one of the pioneers for the mushrooming new media scene. “The real opportunity for print and online publishing alike is to refocus on creating quality content, ambitious and intelligent fashion editorial,” she said.
“There’s always a place for good-quality print, but the reader may become more discerning as to where they put their money. On our Web site, thoughtful, well-crafted articles sit aside news articles and blogs that change every day,” echoed Glass’ Von Haselberg. “However, there are certain things [digital magazines] cannot do, such as mimic the sensory experience of paper magazines, tactile qualities — the smell of the ink.”