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!
I wasn’t going to comment on Sarah Mower’s scathing critique of Henry Holland’s show but in light of the hullabaloo* surrounding the Lindsay Lohan/Ungaro debacle, I couldn’t resist.
Question: what is a designer? Is it someone who has an understanding of the entire design process, who cuts their own patterns and pins their own toiles? Or is it someone who has an eye, is good at styling and can tune into the zeitgeist despite not having a design background? What I’ve learnt from the last few weeks is that fashion is subjective and there is no cut and dried answer. I sat through the Kinder Aggugini show, non-plussed at what I was seeing – ‘derivative… Galliano…not quite there’ went my scrawls while post-show I listened to Hilary Alexander and Michael Howells praise him as the next big thing. Henry Holland’s show (below) was pretty much laid into by Style.com’s Sarah Mower which was weird as she also has a role at the BFC to promote emerging British talent and Holland is one of her fledging designers. Mower’s beef with Holland was that his shows have become media circuses that revolve around his celebrity playmates and his design skills are little more than jumbling up a few eighties references without much finesse. Her concluding line was, “perhaps it would be cleverer to quit the runway altogether and throw parties instead.” Ouch.
Can a ‘designer’ who didn’t study design or train as a designer rightfully call themselves a designer? Well, that brings me to Luella. She came from a similar journalism background to Holland (although hers was Vogue to his Sneak) and if truth be told, it is the styling and clever pop culture references that keep her brand at the forefront of British fashion. There’s really nothing new in terms of design innovation at Luella and yet she is considered a real designer against Holland’s marketer-posing-as-designer.
And so to Lohan. Where to start with this? The girl is an actress who has made music and then decided she wanted to have a go at fashion. And who could blame her? The celebritisation of fashion means that everyone has had a play at ‘fashion designer’ and from what I know, her leggings line has sold well. But to install her as creative director of Ungaro, a luxury house of forty-odd years standing. Really? I didn’t buy it from the beginning and I’m glad it failed. According to WWD, it was “quite simply, an embarrassment“. Yikes, don’t hold back WWD!
*new fave word
Is this the best look book ever? Topman’s AW09 look book is more like an editorial from i-D. Outstanding work by Photographer Beau Grealy and stylist Clare Richardson (and whoever art directed it of course)…
Apologies for the protracted absence, I’ve been flat out working 15 hour days on a shampoo commercial coinciding with a run of ‘Christmas-in-July’ press days. I’m pooped!
Anyway, Simon Foxton’s much anticipated exhibition, When You’re a Boy was finally unveiled yesterday at The Photographers’ Gallery. The menswear stylist has worked with Penny Martin to create an insightful exhibition which shows the different sides of his arresting work. What attracts me to Foxton’s work? I think it’s the always-human element present in his styling. Much of it is portraity and the work that isn’t will have a humorous or playful element or be somehow more than about just the clothes and more about the character. I guess I like his street casting a whole lot too.
My favourite Foxton i-D shoot, ‘Strictly,’ featuring a boyish Edward Enniful poses ‘questions about ethnicity, Englishness and masculinity’ and looks as fresh today as it did when it was first published in 1991.
The wall of framed portraits by a range of different photographers provides a genius personal touch – I love the one of the boy in double denim with his back pockets overflowing with colourful bandanas (no close-up unfortunately, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise).
In the centre of the room is a long glass cabinet housing Foxton’s precious scrapbooks which I decided to save til last. Ever the scrapbook fiend, this for me is a crucial part of an exhibition like this and I’m glad Penny Martin as curator decided the scrapbooks were worthy of inclusion. As with photographer Tim Walker’s scrapbooks and sketchbooks, it shows something of the artist’s inspiration and creative thought process. Apart from this, it’s fascinating to be reminded of long-lost male faces from the 80s fashion scene and rather sweet to see Foxton’s ballet ticket stubs and 80s club flyers so neatly archived.
For those interested, there is a programme of accompanying events. Check on The Photographers’ Gallery website for info.
Last Thursday I attended the Fashion Business Club talk where Vogue.co.uk editor, Dolly Jones interviewed Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman. Shulman is under intense pressure to deliver a magazine that’s still relevant in the current climate – challenging when your target reader is the person being hit hardest by the recession and advertising revenue is in the doldrums. Yet the lady seated in front of us did not look stressed at all. In fact she came across as extremely likable, good at her job and knowing of her audience, despite having never edited a women’s magazine before arriving at the helm of Vogue 17 years ago.
I’ve condensed her most insightful answers into soundbites, but you can read more here.
On getting the Vogue editor job 17 years ago: “It was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do.”
On fashion as a scapegoat for the world’s ills: “Fashion has become a whipping post for everything from body image to celebrity culture to the economy. The media picks on fashion because it can use fashion pictures to illustrate their stories. A fashion picture looks good so makes you more likely to read the story.”
On how the recession affects Vogue’s shoots: “The emphasis has moved to styling as opposed to photography. I have a great team and their styling tips have become more useful for our readers.” [This is so true, I loved the styling feature in the current issue...]
Tips for up-and-coming designers and what a small business needs to survive:
*Product is key – make your message clear
*Be consistent in your offering
*Press is important but needs to be focussed, it’s not necessary to get celebrity endorsement from the outset
*Find a business partner to work with (“if you are going to be a designer, it is a business. You can’t just be an artist.”)
*Accept it takes time
On supermodels: “They became too powerful. When the models were getting more attention than the designers, the designers started sourcing Hollywood”
On interns: “I can’t tell if an intern is good at styling or writing from just seeing them around the office but the successful ones are smart, efficient and make an imprint on you without getting in your face and being irritating.”
On the future of fashion magazines: “There’s a lesson to be learnt from what’s happening with newspapers – they’ve killed off the papers in favour of putting content online, yet online isn’t making the money.”
On the magazines she reads: “I read the New Yorker for unbeatable journalism and I love interiors magazines. I get all the magazines so I don’t need to buy them but I look at them to see who’s copied us! I noticed Grazia used our ‘More Dash Than Cash’ idea but called it ‘More Dash, Less Cash’.”
On LOVE: “We were very competitive with Pop so when Conde Nast took on LOVE I wasn’t sure how it would play out. But it’s very different. Its focus is fashion and celebrity, it’s industry-insidery. Ad-wide they’re a lot cheaper than us, but our circulation is 220,000 and they’re aiming for 40,000 so it’s very different.”
On the importance of fashion shows: “Fashion shows are a good marketing tool yet different clothes work in different ways. Sometimes doing catwalk collections sends things on the wrong tangent. It drives me crazy, putting clothes in the magazine that people can’t actually buy.”
I’m loving the ingenuity of this girl. A Louis Vuitton dustbag as a scarf? Why the hell not? PS, sorry the pic has come out so small. Double click for a better look or check it out on the What Katie Wore blog…