29 April 2019

The Magazines You Should Be Reading

For so long an entrenched and untouchable part of everyday life, in recent years the immaculate face of the “glossy fashion magazine” has begun to sag a little. With millennial tastes and consumption habits shifting, the phone book-sized stacks of advertising, alien beauty standards and pervasive soullessness that once characterized such publications has slowly been pushed aside to make way for a new generation of forward-thinking titles with a more vibrant, youthful lean. My 2017 post detailing my favourite independent fashion magazines was due an update — these are some of my favourite fashion magazines in the world right now…

There are many terrible things about fashion magazines: they sell you things you don’t need; and they make you feel like any dream you might have as a woman pales in insignificance to the raison d’être: being thin. Self Service does both of these things, but it also encapsulates all that is most juicy and compulsive about the genre. So thick it’s really an enormous book, scary industry figures share lust-inducing 90s mood boards, and clothes are displayed in a way that makes you actually pant a bit. Expect many gratuitous shots of semi-naked teenagers smoking, but if you’re looking for glossy fashion nirvana: this is it.

A collection of 50 questionnaires from Fantastic Man investigating male dressing habits, this slim volume is a testament to the precious, and often slightly insane, memories and associations bound up with what we wear. Clothes are never simply clothes; they are fantasies, and portals to past and future selves. One of my favourite quotes comes from the fashion writer Richard Gray, about his deep love of the cagoule: “When I see men in cagoules I feel as if they are pissing on my lamppost.”

Iconic enough to be parodied in the latest issue of Buffalo (more on that below), The Gentlewoman profiles interesting women, and clothes, in a way that is often imitated, but never bettered. One of my favourite interviews over the years was with Zadie Smith, who usually declines interviews. She talks about her children, and having an old-fashioned phone, and — cut through with her voice — it’s somehow personal and moving and funny in the way Smith’s own writing is. Other elusive women to grace The Gentlewoman’s pages over the years include Beyoncé, and more recently, the artist Cindy Sherman. Fashion stories are unique: a quirk of the magazine’s is to take something tiny — for example, the act of tucking in your shirt — and theme an entire shoot around it.

A satirical title that is quite frankly one of the most fantastic magazines ever, Buffalo’s latest issue has nine alternative covers, each one ripping off a different fashion great. All devastating, my personal favourite is the pastiche of 032c (09Bz), which depicts a strange, trench-coated man apparently levitating a model. The theme this time is imitation, because, the editors explain, “As Pablo Picasso once said: good artists copy, great artists steal. Except he didn’t actually come up with that line. He copied it from T.S. Eliot.” It’s perfect for Buffalo, known for printing content where you’re never quite sure whether it’s real or fake.

The latest issue of 032c begins with a poem by Bertolt Brecht. Elsewhere, this might feel like intellectual posturing, but this magazine follows through. The first long piece is a 25-page feature on James Baldwin, beginning with a conversation between the author and his friend, and German language editor, Fritz Raddatz. At its most intimate, this is an argument — there’s a moment when Baldwin, talking about the Black Panthers, is cut short by Fritz and turns to him in obvious annoyance: “No, don’t interrupt me. This story is far too merciless for that –”. Clothes feature, but straightforward fashion stories are underwhelming. Where 032c excels, is when it approaches clothes as sociology, or art. Like the piece at the back of this issue about club-wear, which offers beautiful and unexpected reflections on dissolution, and the difficulty of feeling present.

The latest issue of The Skirt Chronicles begins with a story about someone caught in a love affair with two sisters. Short and strangely painful, it is totally unlike anything you might expect to find in a fashion magazine. There are photos of clothes here, and they are delicious, but the content is literary, and refreshingly quiet. There are also footnotes, but it is a testament to The Skirt Chronicles’ loveliness that this doesn’t come across as pretentious. Pieces are thoughtful but not austere: one memoir of a teenage family holiday to Skiathos in the latest issue, for example, is largely about the joy of jerking off in the sea.

An annual ‘journal of sartorial matters’, Vestoj looks at fashion from a more text-heavy perspective. One of the contributors to the masculinities issue, for example, was Mark Twain. The latest issue is themed ‘On Authenticity’, asking: is there such a thing as a ‘real me’ or a ‘genuine self’? And is it possible to do so in fashion, an environment so wedded to the mood of the moment? One conclusion stands out: maybe we should abandon the idea of authenticity altogether and accept, as the editors put it, that “there is nothing hidden behind the mask, the mask is all there is.”