East end meets jet set trash
Fashion magazinesi-D, Colors, Leftside, Exit, Purple
As you walk into the i-D exhibition at the Wapping Project in London you notice four large portraits hanging from the ceiling: Kate Moss, Ray Petri, John Lydon and Leigh Bowery. The first three represent the fabric of the style magazine: the model, the stylist and the pop star. Leigh Bowery, the patron saint of panto-existentialism conveys the best of the magazine’s flamboyant character.
After 21 years, the scuffed-up DIY aesthetic of the early issues has naturally become polished. Early i-D was about social documentation, and the show certainly conveys that, with its near life-size images of anybodies and proto-celebrities pouting, staring, and holding up walls. But what’s most striking about the images is nostalgia for the medium of the magazine itself – for the fact that once you needed to buy i-D, because you saw something of yourself there. You no longer felt like a freak, you were part of a community. The cultural slack has been taken up by the Internet: it’s here that the lost tribes of magazine readers find some reflection of their own weirdness.
One magazine that has relaunched itself around the concept of community is Colors. The format of Colors addressing themes has been replaced by reportage from communities around the world. Issue 41 focused on life in Lukole refugee camp and issue 42 documents the largest gypsy community in Europe in Shutka, Macedonia. This change of concept has been delivered with a change in design, by new creative director Fernando Gutiérrez.
The old Colors was noisy, brash, ironic, intelligent and occasionally tasteless, but with feeling. It was a kind of World Service for the MTV generation. The new design is quieter and the white space surrounding the stories give the images and text space in which to breathe. It demonstrates a confidence in the content. But in turning down the volume in the service of reportage, Colors has binned the humorously creative ambivalence that cloaked its moral outrage. Its enigmatic postmodernism has been replaced with Modernist transparency.
Leftside, Draft 2 describes itself as a \'communal sketch book\'. The editorial idea is that there is no editorial idea; there are no restrictions on content. The content ranges from the thought-provoking to the bad, and the bad bits are almost a direct expression of the licence of \'creative freedom\' because the creators themselves seem to have abandoned any critical discrimination. Leftside, Draft 2 only really works if you see it as a kind of art object. Because it doesn’t commission work, it’s a magazine of the found object. The main requirement for publication is that the creators are \'passionate\' about their ideas. But the magazine is in a double-bind. The refusal of editorial judgement means that the bad bleeds into the good. But editorial judgement would change not only the raison d’etre but the meaning of Leftside.
But the true descendants of i-D are the community of International Jet Set Trash, the refusniks of magazines such as Exit and Purple. i-D’s original philosophy of street fashion meant that everyone could be a star. Twenty years on, the innocence and idealism of this idea had been parodied in mainstream media as off-the-peg pop groups, learner drivers and leisure-cruise singers emerged as our ubiquitous community of media trash.
Exit and Purple have taken this culture and deepened it. The world of Exit is garish hyper-trash. Issue one has a 1970s retro feel with fashion spreads called \'The Man Who Fell To Turf\' and \'Pom Pom\' whose name, styling and soft-focus images of a model have a Playboy feel. The models are bored, desultory figures. Exit is glossy \'blank generation\', signalled by the title and the single colour covers. There is little or no text because either there is nothing to say or it has all been said, or everyone else is saying it. Purple is more of an art magazine with text and photos by people such as Dan Graham and Wolfgang Tillmans. In the interviews, the questions are simply and starkly underlined. And the fact that they devoted an issue to New Jersey speaks for itself: \'We took pictures on the themes of abandonment, loss, bad taste, sameness, and hope\'. But Purple also takes its cues from fashion, perhaps because fashion has always been about surfaces, about magnificent, ultimately empty gestures. Purple and Exit have their pulse on the West’s flatlining culture. Their alien take on the world is comforting.
First published in Eye no. 40 vol. 10, 2001