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.