There was a pivotal moment this morning as Dazed & Confused founder Jefferson Hack and Emma Reeves were showing me round the Somerset House exhibition of the book celebrating 20 years of the magazine. Reeves was reeling off the names of celebrity portaits by Rankin (the magazine’s other founder – they met at the London College of Printing): ‘Michael Stipe … Beth Ditto…’. Then Hack breaks in ‘… and Kate’.
He meant Kate Moss, of course, his former partner and mother of their daughter. Moss is the face on the exhibition’s publicity and the cover of the Rizzoli book. The tour changed then. It was no longer just about a great magazine with images and ideas from many of the greatest illustrators, styists and photographers of the past two decades (though the names drop thick and fast, Bjork, Taylor-Wood, Coldplay, Hirst, the Chapmans, throughout the exhibition). Instead, it was about family. And philosophy and technology.
Both Reeves and Hack talked of the magazine’s staff and contributors as family. And there are two rooms celebrating a lost member of that family: Alexander McQueen. The fashion designer and couturier hanged himself in February 2010 a week after his mother died.
I asked Hack what was the best-selling issue. He responded not with numbers, but the fact that the Fashion-Able cover (September 1998) is the most requested back issue. This led us into room 5 of the exhibition where Nick Knight’s fashion portraits of men and women without legs, or arms, are projected on three large screens – the shoot was the idea of McQueen with styling by Katy England. It is a great cover – a model, who on first glance could be Kate Moss, with prosthetic legs. Arresting.
‘That was the point were the magazine grew up,’ said Hack, taking us into the room. ‘With that issue we were on page two or three of the world’s newspapers. We realised that you didn’t have to be the best-selling magazine to have an influence on culture. That has been our philosophy ever since.’
Getting editors to talk about philosophy can be difficult; for many it is too ethereal, even sounding pretentious. But the best magazines have one. The Economist has a page on its philosophy: ‘We are international, we stress the links between politics and business, we are irreverent and we are independent,’ says John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief. Mike Soutar had a ‘mantra’ in 1997 at FHM – ‘funny, sexy, useful’. US satirical monthly Spy was ‘smart, funny, fearless’.
Many magazines have a family feel. Take Sir Luke Fildes, who was illustrating The Mystery of Edwin Drood when Dickens died half way through the monthly serial being written:
‘… at the request of the family, who wished me to fulfil the desire of the great writer, they asked me after the funeral to come and stay with them, and it was then, while in the house of mourning, I conceived the idea of ‘The Empty Chair,’ and at once got my colours from London, and, with their permission, made the water-colour drawing a very faithful record of his library; and stayed with them until they left the house prior to the sale.’
Woman’s weeklies have long talked about a family of staff and contributors, so Woman’s Own in the 1950s would discuss the lives of its writers and artists – showing a photograph of cover artist Aubrey Rix with his new baby for example, and discussing the roles and lives of young members of staff. And the promotion of the royal family in this era was a boon to magazine sales.
As for technology, Hack described a software installation by Nick Knight as ‘an app ten years ago’. Run your finger across the image to reveal layers of other images underneath. The software was developed for manipulating images – as in Knight’s cover for the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition for the V&A catalogue. And Reeves identified a watershed – eight years ago – for the switch to digital imaging at Dazed. Going back beyond then was ‘a nightmare’, she said. After that, the illustrators and photographers had digital archives of their work. Before then, ‘I’d end up at their mum’s house with a box in the garage.’
The free exhibition 20 Years of Dazed & Confused Magazine opens at Somerset House in London tomorrow. You can buy the Rizzoli book - a hefty 300-plus pages for £35 with more pictures than you can shake a stick at – at the exhibition or from the Dazed website.
Eat and drink nearby: American Bar at the Savoy; Gordon’s Wine Bar by Embankment Tube; and The India Club on the Strand.