There’s a radical divide among the magazines that a reader finds in the “fashion” section of a kiosk today.
The term “fashion magazine” was once synonymous with names such as Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. But today, the “fashion magazine” also comprises D.I.Y. cultural projects that morphed from personal endeavors into international enterprises. The difference between the new and the old school fashion magazines lies not only in this new subgroup’s origins but also in content that is more culture and less consumer.
The first issue of i-D Magazine, published in 1980, was only 40 pages long and sold for only 50 pence on the streets of London. It was one of the first examples of street style and the democratization of fashion. At the time, the public’s reception was tepid. Only 50 copies of the stapled booklet were sold, raking in a whopping £25 before production costs were factored in.
The following years were not much better, with founder Terry Jones and his fellow editors utilizing the rawest forms of production: in Jones’ home, on a typewriter, using old taxi receipts, pasting captions on white paper onto the original photographs. But this was all part of the “i-D” ethos: “i-D counts more than fashion. Originate, don’t imitate.”
Today, i-D publishes on a bimonthly basis and has a circulation of 100,000: a sign of the underground coming into its own. Naturally, this has involved some amount of hobnobbing with the fashion elite, since sales translate into advertisements translate into sales. And the customer, who is the advertiser just as much as he is the consumer, must be kept happy. Despite this creative compromise, magazines like i-D have been able to stay true to their subculture philosophy.
This becomes particularly apparent when you visit the magazines’ website.
Upon entering Vogue.com, one is greeted by a nearly full-screen image of a metallic stiletto beckoning the onlooker to take a peek at “Candy Pratt Price’s 45 Most Desirable Accessories.” Below this, the website’s toolbar guides you first to “Subscribe” and next to other pages of interest: “Fashion,” “Collections,” “Parties,” “Culture,” “Videos,” “Magazines” and “Promotions.”
The website whispers seductively, “Buy me. Buy my shoes. Buy my ideas.” The viewer is inundated with sales pitches and warnings of her own aesthetic inadequacy.
But the i-D website offers none of these appeals to consumer helplessness. The front page is divided evenly, equally, into twelve neat quadrants filled with odd and sunny images. In the middle, a bouquet of daffodils proclaims “i-Daydream,” linking the reader to a blog featuring short films and stills that focus on the natural world. The quadrant below displays a man with his dog draped about his neck as he takes a photograph of himself with an analog camera. This is part of the magazine’s Soul i-D section, a visual project in which artists and designers contribute personal ideas and images.
The new school of magazine differs not only from the old school in its indifference toward consumerism but also in its widening commitment to the arts and culture as opposed to other areas of lifestyle coverage. One does not find Cosmopolitan’s dieting tips, Marie Claire’s sex and relationship advice or Vogue’s anti-ageing potions. Rather, one finds gallery guides, architecture reviews and documentaries by Werner Herzog. The new magazine understands and targets the intelligence and independence of the reader and aims to achieve a dialogue with, rather than deliver a lecture to, its audience.
The fashion magazine of the future seeks to be art object just as much as it is media source; it is both critique and phenomenon. One exciting manifestation of this new form is the emergence of the “fashion magazine workshop,” exhibition spaces that present designs and artwork that would normally be featured in the magazine’s pages. If print is a dying art, then instead of going digital, why not go live?