Monday, January 09, 2006


Here's an absolutely fantastic write-up of the place I work from The Sunday Times in London. V Magazine is truly like nothing else, and it also managed to ruin my life for the past 5 days by proving to be nearly impossible to print in Montreal.....

Fantasy & freedom
Following its own idiosyncratic creative path, V magazine goes where other fashion glossies fear to tread, says Colin McDowell

What magazine is twice as tall and wide as all the others, uses the photographers Mario Testino, Nick Knight, Nan Goldin, David Sims, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, once featured Kate Moss on its cover wearing a beard, and describes itself as “unisex, but swinging both ways”?

The answer is V, a publication that makes other high-fashion glossies look about as exciting as a WI newsletter, and whose first five years are chronicled in a new book. For anyone interested in fashion, graphic design and the coolest of international lifestyles, V has consistently broken new ground, making each issue an instant collector’s item. Not since Andy Warhol’s Interview in the 1970s has there been anything as visually stimulating and shocking — or anything that has celebrated its creative freedom quite so playfully.

Published from chaotic offices in New York, the magazine is the brainchild of Stephen Gan, a Filipino with Chinese roots who moved to New York when he was 18. Gan is a visionary in the same spirit as the great Alexey Brodovitch, the creative director of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s (a role now held by Gan), who trained photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

Whereas most magazines today are launched principally to generate advertising revenue, and every new arrival apes and devalues those currently on the newsstands, Gan cheerfully and courageously does his own thing. V’s trademarks — apart from its size — are its bold layouts, typography and fashion photography. The visual power is apparent from its covers. Strong and challenging, they feature iconic faces such as Iman, Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss (one of Gan’s favourites), Missy Elliott, Alex Kapranos and Gwen Stefani. Nobody ever refuses the V cover. The contributors, too, are drawn from the creative A list, and include Salman Rushdie, Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Bruce Weber.

So, what of its fashion? Well, V likes a bit of bling, is in love with the LA music scene and gets excited over boybands and young male designers such as Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. It also has its big-name favourites, including Dior, Chanel and Gucci, whose advertising pays the bills.

Yet its remit is wider than who is currently putting what on the world’s runways, or who is having a red-carpet moment. A feature dedicated to heroes spotlights people who have had a long-lasting impact on the creative world, including artists such as Victor Vasarely, film directors such as Michael Powell, who made the 1940s classics Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, couturiers Yves Saint Laurent and Charles James, and luminaries of the design world such as Ettore Sottsass and Philippe Starck.

V has had the courage to put Trent Ford in an evening dress, create portraits of designers from hundreds of tiny runway shots of their shows, and give the Venice Biennale several pages long before Frieze and Art Basel became part of the fashion world. Its first cover was a Testino shot of Jude Law, who had made himself up as a bizarre-looking native. V has continued the boldness ever since.

Thirty years ago, fashion magazines were still exciting, original and different from each other because each one was a reflection of the personality and interests of its editor and art editor. Since then, the need to outsell rivals has robbed the fashion magazines of all their character. If you don’t believe me, collect a few of them, hide their titles, then see if you can tell any difference in the covers.

V is uniquely different. It is the idiosyncratic child of a passionate editorial team working with an editor who has incredibly sensitive antennae for the significance of the moment. The result is a cultural primer of art, music, film and fashion that amazes with every page of every issue. What other fashion magazine can you say that about?

V-Best: Best of V Magazine is published by Steidl (£80). Available from The Photographer’s Gallery; 020 7831 1772

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