Doing it for themselves

As the traditional magazine industry shrinks into oblivion, online publications continue to grow. I’m not on one side or the other, I want both to survive and coexist as I believe they can. That said, for young up-and-comers, online is an infinitely easier nut to crack. Rather than competing with umpteen other stylists/writers/photographers for those few creative crumbs thrown via the pages of Plastique/Ponytail/125, the online-savvy are doing things for themselves and setting up on their own.

I have been watching Underlining Colours since they made themselves known to me through this blog. They are a collective of graduates from University of the Arts London, each with their own discipline. The site is really simple, combining a mix of illustration and photography, and has its own identity, something that isn’t easy to achieve. Every quarter, the contributors -Niclas Heikkinen, Hong Chu, Salina Chu and Asami Uetsuji – choose a muse and a theme and create an issue around them. The latest issue is called Bruised Heart. I met Niclas at London Fashion Week and we thought it would be nice to do a wee interview.

DRG: Tell me how you all met? Did you all study fashion?
Niclas: We were all more or less directly involved in fashion although we did different stuff at uni from photography and fashion to graphic design. After streetcasting the first muse, Asami and I contacted Salina as she had approached Asami earlier and proposed to do something together with her. We loved Salina’s illustration and thought the project needed people from different disciplines. But the three became four as soon Salina introduced Hong to the group, who was extremely talented both in illustration and animation and it turned out later on that he was vital for putting up the whole website. So the core group was a little bit like the Fantastic Four all having different skills.

D: Whose idea was it to create Underlining Colours? What is the purpose of it?
N: Initially we had only thought about doing one project around Jonathan, who was the guy we first scouted. Then we thought it might be worthwhile and fun to continue since we were doing a website around the project, so we discussed doing an online magazine/gallery. The idea was to take this journey with the muse and produce some work illustrating it. The casting was really important from the beginning. We had already done our first published works back then and wanted to do something different to what we would normally do for magazines and what people would ask us to do and therefore we wanted to work with people (muses) who we wouldn’t normally get to work with. We were inspired by artists such as Diane Arbus and Araki and wanted to create a relationship similar to what they did with some of the people they worked with and show more of the model’s personality in the work. In the beginning, the models we chose were way too short, way too tall to be with an agency or had scars on their face etc. We wanted to challenge the idea of beauty but we also had to keep in mind that our models would be comfortable enough in their own skin to be involved in this kind of project. It’s not easy for anyone to show what makes them different to other people and show differences that can be sometimes thought of as imperfections. We believed that there was a story behind those imperfections and that inspired us. It’s actually been interesting to see that some of the people we have worked with have gone through a lot in their lives and these stories might be too much or perhaps too personal to put online – you get very protective about them.

How do you agree on the themes for the magazine?
At one point we decided to drop the idea of streetcasting, it was getting too personal and deep. We also didn’t think it was fair for our muses; it felt as if we let them down as soon as we had finished the project and needed to move on and get to know the new person we were working with. The whole process working with a muse was also very time-consuming and personal so soon we started working with professional models who would already know the nature of the business. The themes were also introduced to bring more cohesion and direction to each issue. These themes would evolve from observations in both art and fashion and also in the world we live in but they also had to be universal in the sense that everyone who was involved would be able to relate to them as well as our readers.

D: There are a number of online magazines out there now, how do you get fashion PRs to believe in your work?
N: Some of the PRs have seen our other freelance work and they also know that we do very careful preparation and ensure we do our best in every single issue we do. In order to do the best quality of work we only have four issues a year since we are all doing our own jobs at the same time. Some of the PRs have been supportive from the very beginning which we are very grateful for. However, it hasn’t been just the PRs we needed to win over, we also needed to ensure the model agencies, as well as other artists we’d like to work with, would see the point of working with us.

D: Do you have bigger plans for Underlining Colours? Will you expand the magazine to include other contributors?
N: We are always open and looking for new contributors. We were more limited before because of the way we worked, however we are changing. Our latest find is the artist Quentin Jones, who is working on her second assignment for us and there will be some other talented people in the next issue as well. For a while now we’ve been toying with the idea of doing a limited edition magazine or book, maybe even with a different name, but we need to get the financial backing sorted.

What do you all do outside UC to earn money?
Some of us freelance and the others work full time both in fashion and in creative industry – that’s part of the reason why we only find time to update the website quarterly.

How do you see the future of magazines? Do you think there is room for traditional and online to coexist? Which are your must-read paper mags?
I think paper and online mags compliment each other. There are some great online mags/blogs where you get the information first and they have the freedom to cover stuff you wouldn’t necessarily read from a paper mag – this freedom is really important I think. I like the fact that blogging is challenging the hierarchy of the information flow as well as the traditional fashion gatekeepers and how and how fast we get the information. I think this makes the mags step up their game too and go back to basics and see what they are really there for which is vital for any business. I’m sure there are lots of people like me who love to buy a mag and keep it in their archives. Personally I love buying quarterly or biannual mags such as Pop, Arena Homme +, Man About Town which are much more than a magazine to me. I look at the magazine as a whole, not just the editorial, they are more like coffee table books for me I guess. For instance, I loved what M/M did for Arena Homme +. I also tend to buy monthly magazines such as I-d, Dazed and Vogues, depending on the issue and the editorials and I also skim through a whole lot of other ones. Michael from Blow PR asked me once where I find the time to read all these mags and find out about designers – it’s a mystery for me too!

Brand nation

So it seems there is some truth in the point made in the FT, that the recession has meant designers lowering their extortionate prices and focussing on smaller (read: cheaper) goods to get their brand message across. The past few days alone have seen announcements of sunglasses launches from The Row, John Galliano, DVF and Alexander Wang. ‘Wow’ I ask myself, ‘are people really going to buy a pair of shades just because they have DVF emblazoned on the arm?’ And then I check myself because I’m the same brand whore girl whose eyes widened when I read the rumour that Burberry might be launching make-up. Wow, are people really going to buy a lipstick just because it has a Burberry logo embossed in the bullet? Er, maybe, if they identify with the brand. (Take that as a yes.)

[John Galliano Eyewear pic: Dazed Digital]

Library corner

Wow, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book if this photo of Bianca Jagger is anything to go by. Antony Price, Mr Freedom, Fiorucci (I’m dying for a Fiorucci revival) are all featured in the forthcoming tome, 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop, published by Thames & Hudson on November 2nd. OMG, just look at the effing cover!


Canape-watch at Anthropologie

If you’ve never been to America before, prepare yourself for a whopping great shock when you first visit Anthropologie which opens in London this week. It’s a fashion store but unlike anything you’ve ever seen. If you thought Selfridges, Dover Street Market and The Shop At Bluebird were temples of loveliness, this place will knock your sequinned Miu Miu socks off. Firstly, the space itself is a beauty to behold. A former Wedgewood store, the building has been gutted and rebuilt with a spectacular staircase and Anthropologie’s signature love-worn fittings slotting nicely into place. A tremendous amount of thought goes into the interior of all Anthropologie’s stores, ensuring each store has its own identity. And when I say a tremendous amount of thought I mean like having a wall made of (according to Grazia) 11,000 plants which are watered via rainwater collected from the roof.

Anthropologie is a fashion store that doesn’t really do ‘fashion’ fashion and that’s exactly what I like about it. It’s a boulder-shoulder free zone! Instead you’ll find preppie blazers with elbow patches, an array of super-skinny jeans (minus the need for fake tears and fading), artfully embroidered cardigans and lots and lots of beautiful costume jewellery merchandised the way only Anthro knows how – piled in multiples. The visual merchandising is the real hero of the show here, there is not a single area where your eyes can rest without feeling inspired. For me, it’s all about the lifestyle elements, the vintage furniture (although don’t expect it to be cheap), rustic quilts, kitchenalia, stationery, won’t-find-anywhere-else books, a display of alarm clocks and a wall handpainted in different shades of green.

And so to the canapes. I was given a sneak preview this afternoon at a press tea party and as expected, this wasn’t just a few platters from Pret. We had cheesecake, we had raspberry tarts, we had sandwiches, we had cupcakes, we had scones … shall I go on? In fact, it’s a shame Anthro doesn’t have its own little cafe but hey, I suppose it’s good to keep us wanting more…

Anthropologie opens on Friday at 158 Regent Street, W1. Only two more sleeps to go….

Chak-Chak-Chaka Khan…

What is this, an eighties diva revival? First Whitney on X-Factor, then the news that Chaka Khan has been photographed by Aitken Jolly for the Christmas Evans campaign. Evans, I salute your style. My mole-in-the-know tells me that she was fab and loved all the purple and black pieces, the leopard-print mac and the shoulder-grazing earrings. The best bit was when she started warbling Beyonce tunes at the end of the shoot, “everybody had goose bumps, it was amazing! ” Jealous, much?

The closest I ever got to hearing a celebrity sing on a shoot was back when I used to fob my celebrity cover shoots off on a willing freelancer. She once reported that Ashanti sang her way through the entire shoot, making all her conversational exchanges in song. “Can I have a cup of tea”, “what’s my next outfit” and “Let’s have a look at the Polaroid” were all note perfect.

I do think Chaka looks amazing in the pics although if I’d been art directing I would have added some snazzy Sophy Robson talons. Anyway, until the campaign launches (16th Nov) I’ll leave you with this (check out the oh-so-this-season thigh boots)…

Changes afoot

Clunky clogs at Chanel, kitten heels at Louis Vuitton, whichever way you slice it, there are changes in the air when it comes to footwear for next season. I’ve never been fond of the now-ubiquitous ‘plat-heel’, mainly because I’m a fast walker and those things are a bloody hindrance. For day, I’m sticking to Converse, work boots and Church’s lace-ups (all-weather solutions, perfect for London) and I’m happy to wear my trad red Swedish clogs around the house with chunky grey marl socks but sorry Karl, there’s NO WAY those high-heeled clogs with the natty lace-up-the-leg decoration are coming any where near me.

What I do like are the new SS10 ‘High Cut’ sandals from Bruno Frissoni at Roger Vivier. Lovely shiny leather, cleanly minimalist silhouette remininscent of Helmut Lang, no ghastly platform, good solid heel slightly angled to give it some interest. I’m not an engineer so don’t know if that angle renders them unbalanceable but if not, sign me up.

[Pic: LA Times]

From the vaults: Honey magazine 1985

Having been in the game a long time, I’ve amassed an extensive archive of books, magazines, cuttings, tears and general crap visual stimuli. Now’s the time to share, one bite at a time…

I love the cinematic quality of these pictures back in the days when fashion wasn’t so sex-obsessed…

[Pics: Martin Brading]

Trouser trauma: solved!

My quest for the elusive chino proved not too taxing after all. The backstory: I have been searching for a chino for months, years even, but was especially keen having been gifted a classic Levi’s jacket for my birthday. Not wanting to go down the double denim route, I fancied that a Levi’s jacket and chino combo would be suitably fash-arty in a Jane Birkin-meets-Robert-Rauchenberg kind of way.

There was me anticipating an entire afternoon of schlepping from Zara to Banana Republic to maybe even Primark on the advice of some kind commenters but thankfully it was all pleasantly quick and pain-free. Banana Republic was my first port of call. Not a shop I frequent as it’s all a bit officy and grown up for me. But Make Do Style and Observation Mode suggested it and I like Gap so decided to give it a whirl. Hey, where were all the chinos? Not a single one did I see. The nearest thing was a wide-leg tailored beige trouser with a thick mumsy waistband. Eek, call the fashion police! Does Banana not read Grazia? Does it not realise that chinos are big fashion news at the moment (and not to be confused with the dad-chino of yore)? Missing a trick I’d say. Also, all the trousers were off-puttingly creased. Nasty. Time to invest in a steamer Banana! I must say that the accessories were lovely though, remind me to go back if I ever need a belt.

Next stop, YMC. This is more my style, I see it as the British answer to APC. Its poshed-up utilitarian classics are popular with London’s creative and media set – right up my alley then. I’d already seen a couple of promising candidates a couple of weeks ago but not had time to try them on. The store itself is lovely – all vintagy fittings in a former gallery space – in fact, YMC’s Jody Moss also sources select pieces of vintage womenswear to sell alongside the own-label collection. So I went to try on some trousers but oh dear – disaster. None in my size. But what was this? Some rather nice slouchy 3/4 mens chinos in the softest greige brushed cotton. On they went and reader, they were perfect! Who knew I would end up finding a pair of mens chinos to fit my 5’2, size 8 frame? The pockets are placed low and deep so I can put my hands in them with arms fully extended and the waist sits just above my hip-bones – i.e. they’re not so baggy that they’re sliding off. If there’s a moral here it’s to keep an open mind and always try things on. Of course the story doesn’t end there as I now have my eye on the navy colourway (above) and a dark blue indigo jean in a similar cut. Not to mention the women’s versions. Typical, nothing for ages, then a whole procession of options at once.