Literature lovers gathered for The Happy Reading Club, a special edition of Magpie Reading Club focusing on The Happy Reader’s summer Book of the Season – Virginia Woolf’s classic tome, Mrs Dalloway. A cosy night not unlike the party thrown by Clarissa Dalloway herself, we’re waiting with bated breath to see if any of the subject matters discussed at the session found their way into the upcoming issue of the magazine revolving around the very book.
At The U Symposium 2 weeks ago, editor and creative director Jop van Bennekom treated us to a preview of Fantastic Man N° 21 – in all its redesigned, 10th anniversary issue glory. Of course, in this age of magazines, where a new front cover has become – in the words of Gym Class magazine’s Steven Gregor – “a social media event”, the cover was something Jop was not about to give away to an audience of print enthusiasts armed with phones and a wifi connection.
Yesterday, the image of the latest cover, featuring a new masthead and Jonathan Anderson, was finally revealed. And, as is par for the course for Jop and co-founder/publisher Gert Jonkers, the revamp is fresh, directional, unfailingly forward-looking – we might as well start taking bets on how many other men’s titles are about to start employing the use of colour in the months to come already.
While we anxiously await its arrival on our shelves, www.fantasticman.com has the scoop on what to expect from the contents within – including this fascinating-sounding addition: “A new section, bearing the title of Man Chat, gets to grips with the pressing topics de nos jours, which include rabbinical matchmaking and domesticated hens. It’s all such a breath of fresh air.” #truth
We still can’t quite believe the editors, founders and creative directors of some of the biggest names in the independent magazine world today are descending on our shores – for the first time in Asia, and the world – in less than a month (!!) for The U Symposium 2015: Magazines Contemporary.
Over two days, you’ll get to meet (and hang onto every word coming from the minds and mouths of) the visionaries who are lighting the path of contemporary magazine culture. Tickets are limited to 240 seats per day, so click on the jump below, already.
March 14, Saturday
March 15, Sunday
Student & Group discounts available
INFORMATION & TICKETING
If there’s one thing the people behind Makeshift definitely do not lack, it’s creativity. From the subject matter of the magazine – creativity in shadow economies – to its recently revamped layout and design, and even the way it is run, everything about Makeshift illustrates its tagline perfectly: “Ingenuity can be found everywhere if you know where to look”. EIC Myles Estey sheds some light on what one of the most niche titles in our stable of independent magazines is all about, and why one of their goals is to give the unseen entrepreneurs and hustlers of the world a bit of props.
What prompted the recent redesign of the magazine?
Ever since we launched in 2011, we had planned to do a redesign after the first couple years. This year was a good point in our trajectory to step back and take stock. We wanted something our readers could be more engaged with, so we came up with the “field guide” concept. This meant a smaller mag and a more dynamic design — with illustrations, pull quotes and infographics throughout, as well as our “navigator” element along the top — that would take our readers to the hidden corners of the creative world we focus on.
What has the response been like so far?
Excellent. A lot of people love the portability of the new size, and our website (which uses a very similar aesthetic) has received several design awards. We’ve attracted a bunch of new subscribers, along with a few new distributors and partners — at least some of which we attribute to our redesign.
Your tagline states “Ingenuity can be found everywhere if you know where to look.” Where do you like to look?
Our focus is on black and grey markets, the digital underworld and the DIY community. The connecting thread between all of these is that they are unregulated, and — as we continue to find — are full of amazing stories of ingenuity. Sure, lots of brilliant ideas come from the boardrooms and labs of major corporations. But just as many come from the makerspaces of Togo, Chinese street markets, and maybe the garage workshop down the street from you. I personally spend a lot of time moving around Mexico’s black markets and am also part of an ongoing project on informal law and order. Covering these topics comes with risks, but we see it as our job to scour these locations for the most interesting stories.
Issue 9 focused on Navigation; Issue 10 is the Powering Up issue. How do you decide on the themes and the stories that follow?
Not surprisingly, it’s a bit of an informal system. We’re always brainstorming and collecting possible themes – among our staff, from our contributors, and from our day-to-day research, both online and off. Top priority goes to themes that push us in new directions. From there, the majority of our stories now come from pitches from our 300 contributors across 80 countries. Our job is to tie the thread through the issue. In Navigation, for example, we had to ask ourselves, “How do blind subway hawkers in Mumbai connect to the guy in Oregon stitching his own spacesuit and to the man digging tunnels from Egypt to Gaza?”
You have a staff of 15 across six countries. Where is most of the team based, and, since most are freelancers/volunteers, what are some of their day jobs/fields?
We are a scattered bunch. I live in Mexico City, where my “day job” is that of a freelance journalist and documentary producer. Our New York members run a hackerspace, write stories for a business publication, shoot videos, and work for an investment management firm. Our design team is in Madrid, and other editors and advisors are based in Athens, Beirut, Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. It’s a pleasantly diverse squad.
Makeshift is currently in its third year. What lessons have you learnt about running a magazine in this time?
Well, we’ve certainly taught ourselves to run a magazine differently from the traditional model. Though the Internet may have spoiled the glory days of the big-budget print magazine, changes force innovation. We’ve learned how to be disciplined and efficient in collaborating remotely, saving a ton of overhead and allowing our team to stay global. This new era has created a breed of magazines hyper-focused on their topics and passionate about what they cover. Though niche publications come with downsides in terms of mass marketability, they lend an opportunity to bring readers into your passion and craft. It’s also allowed us to bring in some amazing partners, like Openbox and GE, who are extremely supportive of our mission.
What do you hope Makeshift brings to the newsstand?
A “wow” feel. On one hand, perhaps the mild shock that a well-designed magazine about creativity in shadow economies exists in the first place! More importantly though, surprise at the level of ingenuity that we dig up, from all corners of the world. And third, that we bring many positive stories about impressive people in places where we don’t tend to hear a lot of good news.
What other magazines are you a fan of?
Of the mainstream mags, Harper’s remains a favourite for long-form inspiration, though its narrative long fiction has been lacking a bit lately. I try to pick up Surfer’s Journal whenever I can, same with Colors. I love the design aesthetic of both – the eclectic worldview of Colors, and the highly specialised, surf subculture obsession of TSJ. Offscreen has been a huge inspiration to us, as have those in the Indie Publisher Club. In Mexico, Emeequis uncovers interesting stories, and Gatopardo has some really solid design elements and a few good features each issue.
Lastly, what kind of effect do you hope your stories on the economic fringe will have on your readers?
More than anything, we hope to excite people. Surprising stories, told from surprising angles using a style that is simultaneously clever, respectful and informative. We hope these will inspire readers – in their own creative pursuits or in their daily lives – and we hope we can shed light on some of the amazing making, inventing and hacking that goes on, and give some of the unseen entrepreneurs and hustlers of the world a bit of props.
While dedicating an entire issue of a magazine to one city might be par for the course now, when Conor Purcell launched We Are Here, it was very much just him and the folks at Boat magazine embarking on this brave path. But what made We Are Here even more revolutionary was the high quality content, lo-fi presentation premise – all pictures in the magazine are snapped on a mobile phone, making it the anti-thesis of a traditional travel magazine in so many ways. So when we found out that he’d launched a new magazine entirely dedicated to Dublin, we couldn’t say we were surprised – but we were definitely intrigued.
First things first – is We Are Dublin a separate entity from We Are Here?
We Are Here started out as a travel magazine when I was in Dubai, and the idea was to do a different city each issue. However, earlier this year, I moved back to Dublin and, seeing there was not much in the way of magazines, decided to start We Are Dublin – the design and concept is the same, it will just always focus on Dublin with a new issue out every three months. I hope to do one foreign city a year (as We Are Here) with the next one released in the middle of next year, but am not sure of the destination as yet.
Dublin is a very literary city but there is a dearth of quality magazines. It’s also a city with a lot of stories, but those stories are not always being told. Vast areas of the city are ignored and I think it’s interesting to try and focus on that.
You’ve worked all over the world, but tell us more about your background. Where did you grow up? Have you always been fascinated by travel and the outside world?
I grew up in Dublin very happily in a middle class suburb. My parents always brought us on holidays and I remember my dad giving me an atlas when I was younger and being fascinated by the place names. They always encouraged myself, and my brother and sister to travel. My first trip alone when I was 18, I went to Greece but found that a bit boring, and ended up in Israel almost by accident. I always read a lot of travel books and non-fiction books about various parts of the world, and going to a lot of places puts so much into context, and definitely increases ambition and horizons.
Which countries are on your hitlist, both holiday- and career-wise?
I’ve just come back from Istanbul, which is rapidly becoming my favourite city. In terms of the magazine, I’d love to focus on some of the more interesting European cities, such as Marseilles and Naples. Also, a place I have always wanted to go is Asmara – it’s got an amazing architectural history and some of the best coffee in the world, thanks to its former Italian colonisers. I am going to New York next month [Ed: this was at the time of the interview. Conor is actually there right now – see @conorpurcell on IG] for the first time since 1995, so I can’t wait to see the city again. I guess the more you travel, the more you realise how little you have seen.
You’ve launched a few titles and also do some consulting for new publications. Would you say this is the best time to launch an independent magazine?
Absolutely. The cost of getting a magazine to market is lower than ever before, it’s easier to reach potential readers online, and there is a growing (and really helpful) online community of editors and magazine lovers. And even if the magazine only lasts an issue or two, you learn a huge amount about the publishing process from planning to distribution and marketing – it’s like a crash course in publishing.
What are some of your current favourite publications?
I recently picked up a copy of Hello Mr, which is great – the design is restrained in a really creative way and you can see a real passion running right through the issue. Colors is a big inspiration in terms of “I wish I could do that but have neither the budget nor the ability.” I also like B Magazine from Korea, which focuses on a different brand each issue. It’s a great concept that is really well executed.
Dubai, Dublin … can you name other things that start with D you’d like to start a magazine on?
Well, I have been to Djibouti, which was fascinating; a strange mix of otherworldly landscapes, Ethiopian and Somalian culture, French Foreign Legion soldiers and some amazing food from around the Horn of Africa. It also has amazing untouched beaches and a slight sense of anarchy. A winning combination.
Quick fire round – which of the following Irish stalwarts would you choose between the other and why?
Guinness vs Kilkenny
Guinness. It’s a meal in itself. Kilkenny is just a poor imitation.
Black pudding vs boxty
Black pudding. It’s Ireland’s answer to foie gras.
Boyzone vs Westlife
Boyzone, which says more about my age than any strong opinions on either band.
Liam Neeson vs Bono
Liam Neeson, of course – he’s the geriatric Jason Bourne. Bono is not that well liked in Dublin, but that probably says more about Dubliners than it does about him.
Gaelic football vs Hurling
I have only played Gaelic football briefly, and both are enjoyable to watch, but I would go for hurling, as there is more chance of violence.
Psst … whether you believe in the idea of serendipity or not, there’s no denying a large dose of it is what led to Puss Puss being the first title in our inaugural MagSpy package. It was back in June, and the last night of our trip to London for the Monocle Summer Fayre. On our way to dinner, we received an email from London-based art director Maria Joudina introducing her soon-to-be-published biannual publication on cats. Immediately, we knew we had to arrange for a meeting the next morning before our afternoon flight. And boy, are we glad we did. Because even if you wouldn’t be a cat person despite you being the last human, and them being the last animals, on earth, as long as you’re a fan of magazines, you’ll find lots to love about Puss Puss. Unconvinced? Our interview with Maria will purr-suade you otherwise.*
Naturally, the first question has to be – why a magazine on cats?
I love cats and I love print, so it was an obvious continuation to put the two together and mix in fashion, art and culture; I hope there are more people who feel this way.
Have you always been a cat person?
My family always had cats, so I was raised a cat person. I still remember the look on my grandma’s face when I brought in my first kitten!
We heard your own cat cameos in issue 1 of Puss Puss.
Sputnik is a gorgeous Russian blue and looks like she was destined for the limelight. However, she doesn’t like it at all and it took quite a long time to get the right shot for the magazine. She was actually supposed to be on the cover with Anja [Konstantinova], but she was not enjoying the shoot at all; and it felt more right not to put a cat on the cover and just have Anja with her “Meow” tattoo to leave a bit of mystery. Sputnik was in another shoot, the one by Mariana Bassani that features close-ups of different cat’s coats. This one was a lot easier to shoot.
Besides Sputnik and Anja, the star of issue 1 has to be Ai Weiwei. How did the interview come about?
I am a huge fan of his work and have read many interviews with him. And in each one of them, even without being asked, he mentions his cats. I think for him, they are a metaphor for freedom in a way, because you can’t really tell a cat what to do and they always do as they please. We emailed him and his studio just responded by asking when we wanted to come over. At that point, I knew there was no going back!
How would you pitch the magazine to someone who isn’t into cats?
The concept of the magazine is to, first and foremost, create interesting content that happens to have a connection to cats, so most articles will be an interesting read even for people who aren’t necessarily crazy about cats. The interview with Ai Weiwei, for example, is mainly about art, politics and activism; and the cats only act as a connecting thread that tie all the articles together. I also like to think that we spent a lot of time creating a beautiful object with high quality paper, design and print, which people will want to keep and collect.
What do you say to people who question the sustainability of a magazine on cats?
Many people have been asking me this question but once you start digging, there is so much content! There only needs to be a small connection – as long as you can trace it back to cats somehow, it works!
Which is your favourite cat character in pop culture?
I’m not sure if it counts as pop culture but my favourite cat character is the cat in [Mikhail] Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which is my favourite book. And, Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Who do you think would win in the following cat fights and why?
Choupette vs Grumpy Cat
That’s a tricky one, I would say Choupette as she has more experience being a celebricat and, worst case scenario, she can call in her bodyguards to help.
Hello Kitty and Garfield
Hello Kitty – she would just charm Garfield into submission, so there would be no need for a fight.
(Internet cat stars) Maru vs Lil Bub
It’s getting more and more difficult! Maru, as Lil Bub is smaller and less agile with her short little legs.
Cheshire Cat vs Crookshanks
Crookshanks would win, since he can call in his buddies to do some magic.
Tom (Tom & Jerry) vs Sylvester (Looney Tunes)
Tom, cos he has more tricks up his sleeve. Also, Sylvester is a very unlucky cat.
*Convinced to pick up a copy of Puss Puss? Click on the “MagSpy” tab above and sign up for a 3-month to 12-month subscription at just $30 a month, and you’ll receive it at your doorstep, along with a Top Secret package bursting with limited edition goodies curated according to the theme of the title. If you’d prefer a one-off pack, follow us at @magpiemags on Instagram or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/magpiemagazines for news on our pop-ups, where you can pick up a pack at $35.
In the span of 9 issues, the Vulture team has managed to work with the likes of Ai Weiwei (issue 7), Rei Kawakubo and the Dover Street Market team (issue 8) and Hedi Slimane (issue 9, which just landed on our shelves today). No small feat for a team who started a magazine with close to zero experience in publishing. On its second anniversary, we speak to managing editor Clifford Loh about how it all began, how the magazine has evolved, the publishing industry in Singapore and the global independent magazine scene.
Let’s start from the beginning – how did Vulture come about?
The founding members who started the magazine, Nabil (Aliffi) and myself – I was a photographer shooting for some of the commercial titles here in Singapore – were both stuck somewhere where we couldn’t find inspiration, and frustrated by the commercial world and its politics. Recently, there’s been a more refreshing aesthetic, with more people appreciating independent magazines across the world; these magazines have found a new relevance and we really wanted to kickstart that culture in Singapore.
Right from the beginning, we believed in intelligently curated content and integrity in a publication where the visuals and words complement each other, and that’s how we built our aesthetic. Aside from building a cool brand, we hope to also leave a print publication that ultimately makes a difference.
What was it about commercial work that made you want to venture out on your own?
When editors call you to do a shoot, their top priority is to SELL the product (nothing wrong about that). But as a photographer, I felt that the creative vision usually lies in the hands of the editor. So I thought if I could be an editor, I could set a vision of my own. I’m fine arts-trained, so conceptually, I’m more inclined towards that end, rather than the commercial, business end. To be honest, jumping into this whole thing, we just learnt along the way. I mean, all of us are pretty young, we had close to no experience running a business, much less a publication. The business side is totally different; you can talk to people about your creative vision for hours, but when you’re sitting at a table with business people, you need to pull out the right facts – they want to hear things like your targets, figures, all that sort of stuff. It’s a different ballgame altogether.
But ultimately, it’s my vision and the only way to learn is to jump into it and figure it out. No one is going to show you the way, especially in this business. I feel like publishing is quite cut-throat here in Singapore – they either group around as part of a big conglomerate or the small ones are alone in their own field.
I also like that there’s a growing community of creatives recently – like Dilys from Galavant, Jerry from Underscore – the few of us trying to do something different, inspired by the same kind of alternative independent cultures. I think it’s the right moment to do something like that. If you don’t do it now, I’m not sure another chance like that will come by. I hope it will grow to become more inclusive.
How were your first few issues received?
It was a very new vision that we put out and people were not used to it initially, but what’s good about it was that people were talking about it. They were just figuring out who are the people behind the magazine. I guess we were a bit anonymous, keeping in mind the spirit of [Maison Martin] Margiela and how the house worked – by earning respect from people through the work that you put out. So at the time, it was more about talking to the people we needed to talk to, as opposed to hardcore publicity about ourselves, us as editors. Ultimately, we are still creative people who are just putting out a magazine and, at the time, we didn’t want it to come into conflict with other publishers or magazines that we were working for. Because Vulture is published quarterly, we get the time to pursue other interests such as advertising and creative projects on the side, which is the kind of work I’m more inclined towards. I’m not the kind who likes to stay in one place for a long time.
Would you say the vision has evolved with each issue?
I definitely think so. Along the way, it has really gone back to the essence of what we’re trying to look out for. Initially, it was a bit more avant-garde, about pushing boundaries and getting people talking. Right now, it’s a bit more sensible. If you’re a reader, I think you would have matured along the way with us. Content-wise, it’s been reframed. Also, we’ve learned the things our reader likes to read about and have made slight tweaks and evolved, but the vision is still left untouched.
Although fashion is a large aspect of Vulture, each issue ultimately reflects contemporary culture. Fashion, art, design, culture; it’s a perspective, a lens on how we look at these issues.
You mentioned you were inspired by Margiela – in terms of vision, at least – when you started the magazine. What about in terms of magazines?
Interestingly, the magazines we looked at when we started are not the same as the ones we look at now. There are some that are kind of the same, but …
But then again, a lot of magazines were not around then; like CR, for example.
Exactly. Visually, CR was one of the titles that really pioneered the second phase of Vulture. It’s very forward, I think what she manages to do very well is to integrate the commercial element into her images. I mean, she’s an image maker, so it’s no surprise her entire book is made up of visuals.
Acne Paper and Dazed and Confused were the two titles that were really important in terms of giving us our orientation of how the magazine was going to be. Acne Paper for the depth and quality of the content – I really respect the team; there’s nothing commercial about it at all, it’s for an intellectually curious reader who appreciates quality and standards. As for Dazed and Confused, obviously, for its’ edgy, forward thinking take on fashion and culture.
For the commercial end, we looked at Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman. What I like about these two magazines is that, even though they have commercial elements, they are still essentially independent. They run their own company and have control over the kind of content they want to churn out. But what I think is very successful is how they’ve managed to integrate both the commercial side and the creative vision, and that’s something we are trying to do. I don’t find it shameful to say it’s important to consider commercial interests; I mean, we don’t want to do a commercial magazine, but it’s still important to consider it. We still have to pay the bills at the end of the day.
It’s almost naïve to not consider it.
Exactly, to say that we are just out to do whatever we want. I find that real creativity comes in when there are boundaries to consider and these propel greater results.
What about design-wise, what kind of designers would you say the magazine is inspired by?
Quite a few. Margiela (before the takeover) and Comme des Garcons. The first time I attended a Comme show, I just went in my mind, “I NEED to work for a brand like that, even if one day I wasn’t doing this anymore.” The holistic approach and artistic vision of the brand that seamlessly translate to its merchandise and spaces such as Dover Street Market is really what I want to be part of.
COS is another brand that definitely influences us in terms of aesthetics, Acne Studios as well. I think what we appreciate about these brands is that they are understated but they also create standout pieces – for the right reasons. These brands are for the discerning reader/consumer who appreciates the underlying concept and design value of the pieces, rather than simply how it looks. And that really aligns with Vulture.
Each issue is based on a certain theme; past examples have included excess, fetish … not your standard themes, that’s for sure. How do you decide on the theme for each issue?
We try to work with themes that can be easily explored in a variety of ways. For example, the Artificial Intelligence issue (June 2014) was released just when movies like Her and Transcendence came out. Essentially, the issue is about how we try to humanise technology, and how technology has developed a human capacity. We try our best to anticipate upcoming trends and socio-cultural topics that are worth talking about.
If you look at each of our themes, we’re always trying to ground them into meaningful messages that tie back to consumption. Excess culture and the idea of mass production; fetish, our obsession with what’s new … values that are not so commercial. We’re trying to pioneer a spirit that helps our readers realise there’s more out there, like craftsmanship, value and an awareness beyond trends.
Few magazines have enjoyed the kind of phenomenal, cult-ish success Cereal has achieved in six short volumes. Starting out as a food and lifestyle tome, it has evolved along the way, swapping the food for travel, and adding a host of spinoffs in the process; including Guided by Cereal, a collection of bespoke, online travel guides.
The crazy part about all this is that it remains largely a two-person show over at Team Cereal, consisting of editor, Rosa Park, and creative director, Rich Stapleton. And, while they are swamped 95% of the time; travelling around the world on shoots both for Cereal and Guided by Cereal, speaking at magazine forums, shooting and designing the ads that appear within the magazine so they gel with the rest of the contents, and negotiating distribution and PO deals, the pair still take the time out to reply every email with humour and grace, squeezed some time before and after a shoot in London to meet Team Magpie while we were in the UK, and even hosted Magpie’s first-ever Instagram Takeover, putting up outtakes of their shoot in Singapore, which is featured in Volume 6.
The final proof of their devotion to their magazine? Even while in the depths of Morocco, working on volume 7, Rosa graciously replied my last-minute question about Singapore, and Rich sent over not 1 image to be used alongside the interview, but 4 for us to choose from. And this, ladies and gents, is why Cereal is set for far bigger, better and greater things.
What are some of the magazines you personally love that inspired you to launch Cereal?
I love magazines and voraciously read a wide variety of them! National Geographic was a huge inspiration for us when we started Cereal, as were newer titles like Smith Journal and The Gentlewoman. I love the iconic design of National Geographic as well as its in-depth, scientific analysis of places and natural wonders. Smith Journal is the only magazine that I read cover to cover, their features are incredibly interesting reads. And I love the art direction of The Gentlewoman, it’s genius.
What do you hope Cereal adds to the newsstand?
A fresh take on travel. For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as many travel magazines as there are for topics such as food, interiors, fashion and lifestyle. We want to bring diversity to the travel publications on offer!
What were some other working titles before you decided on Cereal?
We went through so many names, it’s hard to recall all of them! Off the top of my head, Grey was one of them, as well as Atlas and Grain.
You guys have achieved incredible success in the span of 6 issues. What have been some of the highlights of the journey so far?
I love working with our contributors. They are incredible and their work inspires me every day.
What made you decide to include Singapore in your lineup for volume 6?
Singapore has always been a point of interest for me on a personal level. My best friend lives there and my parents list it as one of their favourite destinations – they always talk about the kindness of the people, the amazing food, as well as the admirable order and cleanliness of the city. I have been drawn to Singapore more and more in recent years by the creative spirit and industry. There is an impressive variety of bookshops, boutiques, galleries and museums that you don’t necessarily expect from the city, but it’s there in abundance, and it’s fantastic! We also think that Singapore is one of the greatest supporters of Cereal, which is always lovely.