THE SASSY ERA: It’s a rise-and-fall narrative of a departed magazine that tapped into the zeitgeist, a tale of a particular cultural moment, and of daring that has since become commonplace. Its progenitors have gone on to more prominent planets of the media universe, and yet they long for those halcyon days.
No, it’s not “Spy: The Funny Years,” but rather next season’s media self-obsession: Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer‘s “How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time,” to be released in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Jesella, a former Teen Vogue editor, and freelancer Marisa Meltzer canvassed former staffers, readers and famous fans about Sassy’s groundbreaking influence. “Sassy and Spy, along with the Village Voice, Spin and 7 Days, were part of a mini revolution that was happening in magazines’ treatment of celebrities in the late-Eighties and early Nineties,” the authors write.
But the book is no love-kiss to everything Sassy. Jesella and Meltzer delve into the office squabbles, writing that Kim France, who arrived from 7 Days and is now editor in chief of Lucky, “cried every day her first year at the magazine because she thought Christina [Kelly] hated her.” Kelly, who went on to edit YM and Ellegirl, is credited in the book with setting much of the magazine’s agenda, as founding editor Jane Pratt‘s media attention and increasing absence from the office had come to irritate the staff. Pratt is referred to as “the Liz Phair of the publishing world … Openly embracing fame and money has made her anathema to many former fans.”
That includes Jane, the magazine Pratt launched in 1997 and left in 2005, which comes under fire from interviewees who complain that “the spirit of Sassy was one of creating stuff, and the spirit of Jane is consuming stuff.” On the other hand, Lucky, also home to former Sassy-er Andrea Linnett (now Lucky’s creative director), is praised by the authors for taking “a positive approach to the female figure … and a joyful, girlfriend-y approach to shopping,” despite France’s stated worries that she would be accused of selling out. “It’s more of a real heir [to Sassy] than Jane,” former X-girl designer Daisy Von Furth is quoted as saying in the book. Jane and Lucky, like WWD, are owned by Condé Nast Publications.
Overall, though, the book looks on the positive impact of Sassy. The magazine has been heralded for its frank approach to teenage girlhood, and for its cultural prescience in, for example, discovering Chloë Sevigny and running an early Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love cover, even as it struggled with its ownership and resistance from cultural conservatives. The book reports that, when Sassy was battling a Christian right-led boycott that scared many advertisers away, the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin “was working with Maybelline at the time, and told the company he would stop unless they reinstated their ads.” Pratt told the authors that Aucoin “knew that their pulling out was related to the articles the magazine had run on homosexuality.”
— Irin Carmon
ABSOLUTE-LY ANGRY: Hour Media’s purchase of Absolute magazine was bound to ruffle some feathers — after all, though the Detroit-based publisher best known on the East Coast for New York Home promised a “seamless transition,” the founding staff remains leery of the new owners and has had nothing to do with the new version, released earlier this month. That is, except for the photographic inventory Hour Media purchased along with the assets of the magazine — and that make up most of the relaunched title’s art.
And some of the photographers who worked on the original Absolute aren’t pleased about it, claiming they didn’t know their photos would be used in Absolute II and weren’t ever fully paid for the pictures to begin with.
Former Absolute associate photo editor and current Details photo editor Hali Feldman wrote in a letter to the new editor Tuesday about the matter, pointing out that a photograph by Richard Kern had been incorrectly attributed, and complaining about the communication issue. “As I frequently work with many of the photographers who shot for Absolute, my current relationships are at stake every time the work I produced for the ‘old’ Absolute is misused and miscredited,” Feldman wrote. “In the future … please contact me with any questions or concerns to ensure all of our photographers’ fairness and accuracy.”
The new issue as a whole does not mention Absolute’s new ownership or its departed founders. Catherine Talese, who left GQ to be Absolute’s photo editor and is now freelancing at New York, said, “It’s sort of surprising to see it all just appear with no nod to the team. I don’t think people in our community would do that.”
Paris-based photographer Mitch Feinberg, one of whose photographs ran uncredited in the magazine, wrote in an e-mail that vendors had been paid around 30 percent of what they were owed, “leaving me with $12,000 in unpaid expenses. It’s outrageous, really.”
He said he contacted Hour Media, which told him that the original owners “told them that the unpublished images in their archives were available for publication without additional payment … My gut feeling is that, although they should have checked with the photographers, they did not intend to run unreleased work.”
Despite the fact that the new magazine charges an unparalleled $90 for a six-issue subscription (12 issues of The Robb Report are $65, $36 will get you a year of Quest and many luxury magazines are simply given away), much of the new, noninventory photography in the magazine is picked up from other sources. For example, a well article on the New Zealand Barrier reef written by executive editor Peter Webster is illustrated with slightly blurry full-page photographs credited to hotel Web sites. “What will happen when they run out of our content?” wondered Talese.
Webster did not return requests for comment by press time.
EXECUTIVE REBOUND: Bob Wallace has found a new gig following his departure from Wenner Media last year after working on and off for the company for 30 years. Wallace is now working as vice president at ESPN Original Entertainment, the division of the network that creates its sports-themed movies, scripted and unscripted shows and specials. He replaced Mike Antinoro, who left in January to work for theme park company Six Flags. Wallace’s new gig, which began two weeks ago, puts him in charge of everything from documentaries to reality competitions and unscripted shows. Wallace held several positions with Wenner during his tenure, including editor in chief of its books division, executive editor at Rolling Stone and editor of Men’s Journal in 2003.
— Stephanie D. Smith