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My Love Affair with Prints Charming

Illustration by Rosie Fitter

Are physical fashion magazines a thing of the past? My mother seems to think so. Then again, this may be her way of telling me to get rid of my large and rather obtrusive archive of magazines stacked up in my bedroom. Or, it could be her experience working in the music business, one of the first industries to have its business model ripped apart by the wonders of digital. Either way, with Conde Nast’s announcement of Teen Vogue’s print closure and Glamour Magazine’s move from monthly to biannual, my mother’s qualms about the future of print may well end up being right.

Teen Vogue’s shift to a purely digital dimension is particularly significant. The brand is for and primarily about teenagers, therefore its new future as a stand-alone website would indicate that its audience no longer has interest in buying magazines, instead preferring to read articles off of their cold, hard laptop screens. But while powerful publishing houses like Conde Nast are stripping their content away from the page, niche independent publishers headed up by the youth are bringing it right back.

Current fashion magazines such as Mushpit and Buffalo Zine boldly announce a reclaim of print and the old-fashioned values that go along with it. A humorous, playful and ironic attitude emanates from their pages, largely reminiscent of twentieth century issues of Terry Jones’ idiosyncratic i-D Magazine and Nick Logan’s now defunct (but soon to be revived) The Face. Joint founders of Mushpit Bertie Brandes and Charlotte Roberts tell me over email in typically satirical style about their decision to exist as a realm away from the internet: ‘We prefer print because it allows us to hijack the attention of our reader for a prolonged period of time, a bit like propaganda. Print also creates a space away from the constant movement of digital screens.’

i-D itself proclaimed Buffalo as the ‘slow moving future of fashion publishing.’ The future as ‘slow’ is key since the role of magazines today is radically different to the role of magazines back in the early nineties, when publications such as i-D were at their height. While magazines originally acted as a key vehicle for features, advertising and the distribution of news, that role has largely been overthrown by digital.

Illustration by Nia Thomas

Editorial standards really slack on the internet. As alluring as it is, I don’t really want to read another ‘10 Things You Didn’t Know About (insert given designer)’ for fear of my intellect dissolving. Instead, I feel very privileged to have grown up during the last dregs of the printing press’s dominance in the fashion industry. During my teenage years at a traditional girls’ boarding school, I pored over early editions of Katie Grand’s LOVE Magazine where a sense of thrill was otherwise an arduous quest. To pass the time, I plastered the walls of my dormitory in ripped up copies of LOVE, i-D and POP, often employing other boarders as temporary workers to help me. I took a hell of a lot of pride in my wall displays, so instructions were strict: the pictures had to be perfectly parallel. Most memorable of all displays featured Mert and Marcus’s bewitching editorial ‘What Lies Beneath.’ Nude ivory bodies are depicted drowning in a bottomless lake whilst a girl with a blood-red pixie cut hangs in fetishistic fashion suspended from a tree, tied up in rope. Slightly strange taste for a thirteen year old, don’t you think? The memory makes for rather an odd vision of me and my fellow slaves venerating these film noir-esque images like deranged little worshippers.

So what is it about fashion magazines that interests me so much? I find the answer quite difficult to articulate in writing. I’d more easily express my curiosity for print in terms of a feeling: excitement. Because part of the allure of magazines is their tactile quality. Isn’t it nice to feel the fragility of this newspaper in your hands? Fashion is also not simply about clothes, despite what industry outsiders may think. Fashion is about somebody’s dream or vision, whether that be a designer’s, a stylist’s or a photographer’s, seamlessly melding on the page. The most thrilling shoots are those where clothing is not the main focus, but when garments and commercial interests simply merge into the tapestry of the background, enveloped in the photographer’s fiction. Magazines act as time portals, offering a valuable glimpse into the oft-forgotten past of print, but also to the possibilities of its future.

Are these beloved artefacts to become extinct? “I think print magazines that speak to niche markets will always have an audience,” says Rebecca Arnold, senior lecturer in History of Dress at the Courtauld. My mother tells me that in the music business, the most exciting talent has always come from the smaller labels. I tell my mother that in the fashion industry, the outstanding visionaries of today are always rather niche. What a coincidence that the niche is so often found, in print.

This article was first published in SEE:ONE, The Courtauldian’s printed publication. You can find the full first issue of SEE here:

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