Zine fan

Liz Farrelly scours the shelves to find the latest trend in magazine design and picks a bunch that break gender boundaries.

New Year’s resolutions being what they are, it’s time to reinvent yourself. In the eyes of any organisation which invests in print-based advertising, you are what you read. So why not tap into a major make-over in the magazine world. Having finally woken-up and smelt the coffee, magazine publishers have realised that those old demographic definitions, ABC1 and that ilk, simply don’t hold water. And now, judging by the success of a handful of adventurous independent publishers, strict delineation between the sexes is also a thing of the past.

Following on the heels of that major print-media success story, the reinvention of the “men’s magazines”, a more fundamental shake-up is in the offing. The likes of Loaded, FHM and the re-jigged GQ were intended to cater to the maturing – male – readership of those phenomenally successful Eighties style magazines, The Face, i-D and Sky. But what about the girls?

Obviously the world didn’t need another glossy magazine whining on about cellulite and cushion covers, and thankfully some people out there in media-land realised there was scope for something new. Over the past 18 months or so a whole bunch of new “bisexual” titles have hit the shelves, and by late-1997 they were seriously gathering momentum. Whether aimed primarily at “career-minded” women, or read in equal numbers by both sexes, these titles present a mature, anti-stereotypical attitude to a wider range of subjects, than any women’s – or, for that matter, men’s – magazine, ever tackled.

Spirit

The second best-selling overseas magazine in Japan (and runner-up to Wall-paper) is Spirit. Dealing with all things ‘new age’, Spirit was launched by David O’Sullivan of Trojan Horse Publishing back in May 1996. It has a print-run of

35 000 and a female to male readership ratio of 55:45. For O’Sullivan, gender is central to Spirit. ‘We’re trying to bust old definitions, the magazine looks feminine but we always include articles on high energy sports, martial arts and music. We’re trying to find the woman within men, and appeal to kick-ass women as well.’

Even though it’s positioned on the shelf with the style mags, O’Sullivan stresses that, whereas they ooze ‘attitude’, Spirit aspires to ‘the heights of human potential’. Articles on techno and trance music are aimed at the younger readership, while contributions from living-legend gurus – including Robert Anton Wilson, Terence McKenna and Lynne Franks – are intended to appeal to an older audience of ‘beats and hippies’. With a global network of contributors, covering therapies, myths and art, the words read as expert and positive.

Design-wise, O’Sullivan describes Spirit as ‘post-millennial, futuristic and evolutionary’. Deliberately eschewing a coherent style, spreads are a chaotic mixture of over-all pattern or computer-generated devices. But there are some stunning images featuring technicoloured nature, most notably the underwater fashion shoot by Pierre Winther in issue seven (pictured above). Meanwhile, amid all that mind-altering content, the ploy of giving over spreads to guest graphic designers (Designers Republic, Insekt and Hypersonique among others), has produced design features which are analytic, and self-consciously witty.

Wallpaper

Wallpaper is the publishing phenomenon. Launched by self-styled mid-Atlantic taste-maker Tyler Brl in September 1996, this bi-monthly was bought by Time Inc before even celebrating its first birthday. With a print-run of 136 000, of which 50 000 are sold in the US, Wallpaper is sophisticated, glossy and a ‘category buster – meaning newsagents didn’t know which shelf to put it on’, explains associate publisher Paul de Zwart. ‘We originally pitched it as an interiors magazine, but were looking for the sort of unisex audience which read the Eighties style publications. So we put a guy and a girl on the cover and opened the book with a harder male edge, concentrating on architecture and design. From issue one, which featured a bachelor pad, we got that male readership and they’ve stayed with us.’ The ratio is now 55:45, male to female, and includes a sizeable gay readership. The mix is a magnet for discerning advertisers, with the likes of Calvin Klein, Fendi, Reiss, US clothing store Old Navy, Bodum and Coca-Cola betraying the fact that the audience is international, multigendered and stretches across age brackets.

Crucially, over the course of publication, Wallpaper has broadened out to be more than simply a boy’s Elle Deco. ‘It is lifestyle, interiors, entertaining and travel. Or the three basic needs, a roof above your head, food and seeing the world,’ is how de Zwart describes the content. Visually, the high-points include slick photography – which mixes still-life with fashion (albeit in a very staged manner) – a stable of quirky illustrators and a vaguely retro colour palette – reminiscent of the early-Sixties golden age of US publishing.

Frank

A more deliberate attempt to reinvent women’s magazines comes in the form of Frank, which is published by the distinctly masculine and youth-oriented Wagadon posse (responsible for Arena and The Face). The lads, however, were clever enough to appoint an editor, Tina Gaudoin, who has worked on an impressive checklist of mainstream glossies, in London and New York, and is happy daring to be different. ‘Some of my peers were shocked by Frank love it or hate it, it’s not meant to be “nice”,’ she says.

Launched last autumn, with a print run of 140 000, Frank looks confident about cracking the most lucrative genre in magazine publishing. Gaudoin describes the title as ‘intelligent, provocative and upbeat, while most women’s magazines have “dumbed-down” and are chasing younger audiences. Frank is intended to fill a void and is aimed at late-20 early-30-somethings’ Intending to inform and entertain, Frank presents an eclectic range of subjects – from politics (the protest movement), finance (PEPs) and health (controlling stress), to celebrities (Stella McCartney), fashion (underwear) and the ubiquitous best buys.

The tone is in-your-face, with contributors and editorial comment sounding matter of fact, rather than indulging in the usual swooning which goes on in glossy magazines.

Similarly, the fashion spreads feature photography and styling which verges from the surreal to the pragmatic. The type in headlines and standfirsts is ‘badly’ leaded and kerned which is presumably intended to look urgent, and the colour palette for backgrounds and boxes may look great on a computer screen, but is garish in print. Judging by content alone, though, Frank is a very welcome addition to the newsstands.

The Passion

Nestling between Spirit and Frank is The Passion, another title which aims to be ‘intelligent’. Editor Rose Rouse explains: ‘We’re trying to balance male and female energy and have called ourselves a women’s magazine because we’re promoting gender politics. The Passion is earthy, arty, eclectic and thoughtful.’ Three friends produce the magazine ‘organically – we all have strong ideas but we also concentrate on specific areas’.

Carrie Booth is both the publisher and music editor, and each issue includes a CD of tracks relating to the features, as Booth suggests that women tend to be less likely to hear new music than men.

Art director Sandra Kane, who trained as a fine artist, intends to commission images which ‘are strong enough to stand alone from articles rather than merely act as illustrations’, explains Rouse, who adds, ‘most magazines either look fab or read fab, The Passion does both’. Rouse herself is in charge of words, and has rounded up an impressive gang of contributors thanks to contacts made during 15 years freelancing for the broadsheets.

From the cover shot of a ‘real person’, to the eclectic assortment of typefaces (advised by Swifty Typografix), and the use of textural backgrounds, torn paper edges, handwritten headlines and vibrant colour, The Passion looks like an artist’s sketchbook when compared to the minimalist style of most design-conscious magazines these days. It’s hot, but it’s not always legible. After producing (and selling) a dummy issue last May, the official launch issue hit the streets in October with a respectable print-run of 10 500. ‘We had a fantastic response,’ declares Rouse, ‘but the hardest job is actually getting the magazine on to newsagents’ shelves.’ With the next issue, due on 29 January, the team have aimed for ‘total clarity amid a visual feast and a spirit of anarchy’. Watch that space.

Very

The most recent launch of the pack, Very, appeared last August. The brainchild of Swedish Uscha Pohl, who runs a gallery in New York, and her London-based partner Angela Hill, Very is ‘blank white paper, like the blank white walls of a gallery’, according to Pohl. ‘We wanted to reach more people than we could through personal contact and the gallery. The idea is to encourage the creative crossover between London and New York and between art, design, fashion, music and ideas.’ The aim is to produce Very quarterly, and, as the second issue sold out, the print-run was upped from 5000 to 10 000.

Visualising the magazine as ‘a sort of group show with everyone on an even keel’, the layouts are straightforward while the stock and printing are luxurious – closer to a fine art publication than newsstand fodder. Pohl lays out the pages herself, ‘with the help of consultants around the world. It’s a home production which draws energy from different countries.’

As a snapshot of contemporary culture, Very revels in being partial, offering schoolgirl fashion in the first issue (pictured above) and an account by a young French architect who rebuilt a war-damaged cultural centre in Sarajevo, in the second. If proof is needed that new categories of magazines are being launched, and are thriving, here it is. Very is an arty fanzine with worldwide distribution (through Tower Records), which has discovered an audience hungry for well-scouted creative content. Plus, it offers the lure of collectability as a quality object in its own right.

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