Four years ago, I was invited to archive James Hyman’s music library. There were a lot of CDs - 40,174 to be exact. It took a while - about three weeks - but was relatively painless. I thought James was mad, in a brilliant way, and found him intense and the job satisfying. A year later, James got in touch again and asked me to archive his magazine collection. He’d mentioned the archive a couple of times in passing, and I thought if it was anything like the CD collection, it would be a worthwhile project to be involved in. The experience was to become more culturally enriching and satisfying than I had ever imagined. James used to work as an MTV scriptwriter and started collecting music magazines in the eighties for research. In June 2011, we set up camp in a massive warehouse in Shoreditch with James’s 456 storage boxes, and started to catalogue the immense collection. By spring 2012, there were 50,953 unique magazines on the inventory. During a much needed lunch break, we joked, 'Surely this must be the world’s largest magazine collection,' and decided to apply for the Guinness World Record. It turned out that it was officially huge, and so we won the award. James, a compulsive pop culture crusader, revelled at securing such a pop-tastic prize. He even wore a 'I’m No. 1 so why try harder' slogan t-shirt, referencing a track from Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come a Long Way Baby album, to accept the title. All jokes aside, The Hyman Archive (HA) has grown by roughly 20% and contains over 70,000 magazines from over 3,000 unique titles. It is an incredibly serious and culturally significant library, devoted to preserving popular culture.
The archive’s many publications cover a substantial time span to encompass birth, flowering, decay and death over a range of cultural and commercial cycles – such as the concept of the style magazine. The archive covers complete mini social histories, trends and fashions and the transformation of certain popular titles – for example Dazed & Confused, which started out as a fold-out poster produced by London College of Print students, Jefferson Hack and Rankin, before transforming into the glossy theme-led piece of ‘fashion porn’ we now call Dazed. We don’t know whether digital will completely supersede print as a communication medium, but whatever the outcome, the archive reflects the durability of the magazine as a history of what has worked or failed for the many different case studies it houses. The collection illustrates the transition of the magazine into a valued artefact that is both threatened and enhanced by the online magazine boom. The archiving process proved how organising the material and building an inventory can unlock value that would otherwise have remained inaccessible.
Our time, post-Shoreditch warehouse, has been spent mining the archive’s content to expose stories, histories and cultures as well as - as in this essay’s case - thinking about the development of the style magazine. A realisation is that people are still interested in the physical artefact. Take Skank, an urban Viz-style magazine; not your obvious style magazine, but it was inundated with comments, Instagrams and enthusiasm when it got into people’s hands. It’s this passionate ‘looking back’ at the actual ‘style’ of eighties and nineties magazines that has possibly influenced the aesthetic of current fashion fanzines such as The Mushpit. Such assumed connections are common - it is believed that Vice influenced Sleazenation, and Arena was influenced by The Face and The Blitz. The tangibility of magazines is incredibly attractive for creative people, especially people who love fashion. The physical is still important; British Library visitors are up 10%, with 1.6m visitors in 2014. Nineties subculture magazines have become today’s style influencers. Fresh eyes have appropriated their nostalgic properties. Take R&B magazine Touch; stylist Peta Hunt’s October 1991 shoot would make the cut on many current stylists’ mood-boards. The look includes a Moschino belt, Katherine Hamnett ‘archive’ leggings and a Pineapple knitted bra.
Rewind to 1950 - post-war Britain had experienced an increase in both leisure time and consumerism. Baby boomers had grown up wanting to break the grey conventions and the ration-based mentality passed on to them by their parents. With America paving the way for this popular culture movement, groups of UK-based teenagers started to break fashion codes and found imagination, security and hope in new ideas of style. Over the past 60 years or so, fashion tribes rose and fell, reformed and regrouped. The unifying concept was that the street was now the stage. The excitement of ‘the street’ is a contrast to the blandness of domestic and corporate spaces: a getaway from mass living. Ted Polhemus wrote, ''The Street' is both the stage upon which this drama unfolds and the bottom line metaphor for all that is presumed to be real and happening in our world today. Today, as high culture has given way to popular culture in the twentieth century’s most significant social revolution, it is the litmus test of 'street credibility', rather than that of class, which is crucial. If it won’t cut it on the corner, forget it.'
In the seventies, bands like The Jam looked at sixties Motown record covers and Top of the Pops performances for style inspiration. Although there were fashion magazines, they didn't cater for seventies youth, reacting against the mainstream. The redundancy of realistic influencers gave way for punk and a host of DIY fanzines that underpinned the energetic movement. There was a newfound freedom of style. Although the punk music and style may have been fleeting, the punk ethos was revolutionary, setting the path for an independent and mainstream documentation and celebration of style. The 1978 mod revival encouraged a flurry of fanzines, put together by editors who were just as Sta-Prest trousers, parka and tonic suit obsessed as their readers. The current The Jam exhibition at Somerset House [26 June to 31 August 2015] shows how audiences and fans of the band were encouraged to imitate their style by independent fanzines that followed them, such as Eddie Piller’s Extraordinary Sensations.
In 1977, British Vogue art director Terry Jones commissioned photographer Steve Johnson to snap London punks head-to-toe in a simple set-up - against a plain white wall on a typical London street. Vogue thought the photographs were too controversial to publish and so Jones decided to include the images in Not Another Punk Book. The style of photographs were referred to as ‘straight ups’, therefore coining the term. In 1980, Jones launched his fanzine, hand-stapled from his bedroom, which celebrated this form of fashion photography. The first issue of i-D begins with a ‘straight up’ of Richie wearing 'Yellow sweatshirt from Alders in Croydon, £3.99, blue trousers with white spots from Reflections in the Kings Road, £19 and black sandals from Troy’s stall in Chelsea Antique Market', and the quote, 'My friend cut my hair this morning… I shave the front into a point.' The credit also includes, 'Fave music – Electronic music, Patti Smith and David Bowie.'
The first known fashion articles were published in The Mecure Galant, which later became known as Le Nouveau Mercure. In 1678, the title featured an article on fashion illustrated with fashion plates. England didn’t catch up with the French until 1770 when The Ladies Magazine was established. The sole purpose of these magazines was commercial, and they were aimed at the elite. Nearly all fashion magazines’ journey, from those at the French Courts to the glossy magazines we read today - Vogue, LOVE and AnOther - not only nurture and showcase the best creative talent but also strive to keep the fashion industry turning. Magazines such as Cheap Date ‘for thinking thrifters’, launched in 1997, didn’t have such commercial driven objectives. Kira Joliffes’s editor's letter in issue 3 sums up the magazine’s sentiment: 'Everybody knows buying from charity shops is also a nice thing to do, so soon enough, we’ll all be saints! As well as the heavy stuff, this issue is also light and fluffy, the coolest to date, and has an EXTRA 4 PAGES courtesy of the ad on the back cover.'
The view from the street is the way I differentiate a style magazine from a fashion magazine. Today, magazines can be both. It is the street gaze that sets style magazines apart - this can be seen in magazines such as Nick Logan’s The Face (launched in 1980), nineties magazines including G-Spot, FAD and Experiment, and more recently, Super Super, a magazine that promoted and followed the short-lived Nu-Rave scene. These magazines all incorporated a rawer, punkier art school attitude in their presentation of style, rather than fashion. A 1995 publication of Experiment sums this up in its ‘Fucked Up Chick’ fashion editorial complete with extra credit, 'Thanks Becky for the loan of her flat.' We watch model Genevieve leave Becky’s flat wearing 'Coat from Portobello Market, Top by Antoni and Alison and Trousers by Professor Head.'
It could be argued that the digital revolution has instigated style hegemony. We can instantly create our own ‘straight ups’ and immediately publish them. Therefore ‘looking back’ at the roots of this pastime has become very attractive; there is a romance to the creation of images that are now effortless for us to produce. Vintage magazines have become the ‘influencers’ on how we compose our style. The production of a style image doesn’t recycle trends like fashion but pays homage to the history of the street style shot and all the energy that goes into a person’s understanding of their own fashion.
'Since we are programmed followers of fashion and clothes say who we are, create I.D.Fusion.Confusion I.D. counts more than fashion, make a statement originate don't imitate, find your own I.D.' - i-D, Issue 1 1980