There's no doubt that our future looks more digital by the day. Yet, for the moment at least, it‘s one that is still ever-so-slightly incomprehensible. The metaverse, where multiple IRL and URL realities co-exist, is still being created and despite new generations embracing digital possibilities like never before, from buying Gucci handbags for their avatars to becoming home-grown talents on TikTok, even the most tech-savvy struggle to grapple with the idea of it. As we find our way towards the next chapter of the internet, altering our lives forever, where does this leave the magical world of print?
There's no definitive answer. However, last month the formidable Acne Paper announced their comeback, a move that followed a varied list of other recent print publications that, too, have launched this year, all straddling the fields of fashion academia. First, there was Archivist Addendum, an ode to the physicality, sensuality and intimacy of fashion's past, present and future in print. Then came Inque, which, whilst not dedicated to the romance of all things print, chose to adopt a print-based format to push against the grain. With issue one having launched last month, Inque have since stated that they 'will run no advertising, have no web version, and only ever publish ten issues.' Choosing to publish a magazine in print is a big enough statment in itself, yet refusing to advertise it digitally is another move that flips the status quo on its head. Sure, publishing titans including Condé Nast have invested vast sums of money into digitising issues because print isn't selling like it was, but in spite of the well-peddled narrative that print is out of fashion, the return of Acne Paper suggests otherwise.
Founded in 2005 by Thomas Persson and Acne Studios designer Jonny Johansson, Acne Paper was a bi-annual culture magazine and the publishing arm of the Stockholm-based creative collective and fashion label Acne Studios. Thematically produced, each issue was dedicated to a timeless theme as relevant today as was in historical times, allowing the editorial content to roam, lust over and create beautiful works of art. All of the publication's 15 issues produced between 2005 and 2014 are now considered collector's items. Rather than focusing on an up and coming wave of actors, actresses and musicians - the often dull intent of other existing fashion publications at the time, Acne Paper looked to the past to inform the present. It was also the first (and if not the first, the only successful) example of a magazine that existed to showcase a brand's vision while maintaining its own separate entity. In essence, Acne Paper created a prototype of the stereotypical (or even idealised) Acne Studios customer while refuting the idea of taking on the identity as some sort of brand catalogue. Acne clothes were nowhere to be seen in the publication, which instead created a lifestyle around the brand to sell, rather than focusing on individualistic pieces. It devised a liveable fantasy that essentially told its clients (and others) that if you shop at Acne Studios, you are the kind of person to read this, do this, and be interested in this. Moreover, Acne Paper portrayed the Acne customer as an intellect rather than another ordinary fashion consumer.
In past issues, interviews with Yves Saint Laurent's partner Pierre Bergé on the legacy of Ballets Suédois led by Rolf de Maré adorned the pages (issue six, S/S 08), as did a Paolo Roversi editorial of Tilda Swinton styled by Mattias Karlsson to embody the Marchesa Casati (issue seven A/W 09). The series Legends of the Fall (issue six, S/S 08), which documented the theme of gravity subsequently covering the notion of falling in art, not only introduced readers, myself amongst them, to beautifully composed imagery (photographs inspired by the striking lens of both Alexey Brodovitch and Martin Muncáski), but to a wave of artists that were before my time. The truth is, Acne Paper served real fashion to real people with real interests, rather than feeding the beast of an all-consuming industry that's only managed to get greedier and greedier with time. Acne Paper wasn't about consumption because although it was a form of advertising to sell the Acne brand, its stories focused on true elegance and timelessness- emphasis here on the timelessness.
I, for one, relished Acne Paper, especially as a fellow Central Saint Martins Fashion Communication student - the same course Persson studied. My time at university mainly consisted of scouring the library's shelves for all 14 of its issues, diving straight into the deep end by going back to those same 14 issues, week in, week out. Offering me a world I impatiently wanted to devour, I spent so long eating up the magazine's rich editorial content that when the time came to make my own magazine in my final year of university, all I cared about was emulating the Swedish publication. I didn't just want to read Acne Paper all the time; I wanted the magazine to be my idea and design. I was, to begrudgingly admit, raging with jealousy that Persson got there first, sensationally envious of its remarkable beauty, so much so that its existence continues to influence my work with time. Amongst other things, its design gave room to the power of writing. Blocks of text that made you want to sit down, concentrate and submit yourself to print; the typography was dense and emulated the feeling of a book. It was for people that wanted to read. In my opinion, that's what every magazine should be about.
According to the magazine, the relaunched 500-page publication - with its first issue honing in on The Age of Aquarius - will mark the beginning of 'a new look and fresh perspective that is more global and politically charged'. Marking a new astrological age, for stargazers and prophets alike the phenomenon represents revolution, defiance, and a reevaluation of the status quo. As we become increasingly beleaguered by the rapid deterioration of our climate and social inequality, Acne Paper couldn't be more on the ball with such a precise theme.
Contributors include the gifted Ibrahim Kamara, Casper Sejersen, Gini Alhadeff, Sharna Osborne and Robin Muir while artist profiles - having always been an important addition to Acne Paper include that of American artist Nam June Paik, Brazilian activist and author Djamila Ribeiro and Bangladeshi environmentalist architect Marina Tabassum. Reflecting on the marvellous comeback, Acne chief executive Mattias Magnusson told the Business of Fashion, 'Since inception (Acne's) always been about multidisciplinary creativity and about cross-pollinating different creative disciplines and seeing where you end up. This is the ultimate product for us to do that. Sometimes I think you kind of need to take a break from the things you love to realise how much you love them.'
The problem with fantasising about print in a digital age is that it's deemed too old school. The difficulty with this label is that most people's reasons for liking print-based matter are rooted in the idea of touch and the senses. I would like to point out the obvious conclusion that there is nothing old school about wanting to touch and to feel. And if you think there is, then maybe we've pushed the digital realm too far. Our purpose should always be to unite the two, never to subject ourselves to one. Wanting to hold a physical object is not 'retro' nor 'old school'; it's simply innately human.
Once upon a time, print was one of the industry's most innovative tools, used to light up the pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar by the likes of Brodovitch and others who worked tirelessly to bring new ideas to their respective publications. The internet and online culture are no better than print, nor more pristine or worthy; it too can glitch, jig and wipe, similar to how we can lose or misplace print-based material. The fun is all in the search. We may have lost Acne Paper for just shy of a decade, but it's found its way back home onto the shelves of those who are patiently waiting to devour its pages once again.