Monday, November 20, 2017


Published by Thames & Hudson
Some six years in the making, this oversize 350+ page paperback volume captures the story of 'The Magazine that Changed Culture'.

It's a lavish production, replete with covers and spreads, complemented by a fastidious narrative -  based on numerous interviews - that attempts to pay proper tribute to  the various staff line-ups and the multitude of contributors, to document the history and contents of the magazine and set both in a wider social context. Choices have to be taken, judgements made, a narrative assembled.

Paul Gorman has form and experience of these kind of complex tasks. Two of his previous books - 'The Look : Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion' [Adelita. 2006] and 'Reasons To be Cheerful: The life and work of Barney Bubbles' [Adelita.2008] - are valued additions to the GENERALIST ARCHIVE.

The key figure in the whole story is of course the inventive Nick Logan, founder, editor and publisher of 'The Face' from the first issue (May 1st 1980) to his last (July 1999) - just under two decades of determined, detailed work, obsessively seeking the new. A Mod of modest habits (a complete contrast to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone (see Previous Post), Nick didn't seek the highlife. His focus was the work - supervising every aspect of the production process, constantly pushing the paper forward, alert to the changing tones and styles of the time. Nick hated the world 'lifestyle' but loved the notion of 'style' which, of course, he would.

Nick worked his way up through local papers to the NME where he succeeded on taking the paper to sales of a quarter of a million copies a week, with its fresh, irreverent, totally informed journalism. sharp design and the best in music photography. The pressure of the job finally got to him, he suffered mental exhaustion and left.

Soon after, he got back in the saddle with a raft of new independent ideas.'Smash Hits' was a pop smash that shifted shedloads but Nick's ambition lay in creating something more grown-up, a vehicle for the best photography and for his passion in fashion. I love the story of him reading Beat International  on the Rolling Stones. He hated the live photos but loved the ones that allowed him to scrutinise their cuban heel boots and other dead cool fashion touches.

Enter stage left Neville Brody, whose breakthrough designs for two spreads in issue 23 (March 1982) formalised 'a contemporary design language at the magazine'. Several young designers at the time (Malcolm Garret for instance) were into their modernist predecessors like El Lissitsky.

Gorman reports that Brody's 'fresh and innovative ideas of page layout and type design, attracted a following'. He writes: 'Among his trademarks, according to academic Catherine McDermmott, were the use of symbols and logos 'almost as road signs to guide the reader through the page, creating a vocabulary for  magazine design of the period using handwriting marks and type that ran sideways'.

Brody was only the second designer in London that I met who was working with computers. The first was George Snow, a pioneering artist of the British underground. Traditional analog forms of layout and print production were still running alongside early Amstrads. Note is made in the book somewhere about the first fax machine coming into the Face office.

I spent most of yesterday working through the first 100 issues of The Face in my Archive, the period when I was an occasional contributor [see next post]. The 80s flow through these pages - a river of moments, incidents, feelings. This was Thatcher time (1979-1990). She left an indelible mark and triggered several smart waves of stylish (and political) reaction, beginning with the wonderful Two-Tone movement.

The book has introduced me to The Face of the 1990s, with which I was less familiar. Sheryl Garret at the editorial helm ensured the magazine was right on the hunger and wildness of the rave culture, Brit Pop, grunge and  Kate Moss. These spreads have zing, colour and energy.

It was during this period in 1992 that The Face was imbroiled in the infamous legal battle with Jason Donovan over a story they ran which the courts believed implied he was gay. He was awarded £200,000 damages and court costs. The fact that the magazine (and the staff) did not go under came from the way they adressed the issue, with grace and style. Friends emerged from all over the world and support and money poured in, Big name figures made their voices heard, fundraising events and records swelled the ranks. Donovan, in a welcome gesture reduced his claim to £95,000 which was paid over eighteen months. He later considered it the biggest mistake of his life.

The Face book is not Facebook. How far we have come. It is very much of the period and will always provide a valuable source for that very reason, to students in a wide variety of creative disciplines. It will be pored over, drawn on, digested and expanded by the new bright sparks into indie mags of the future.

With reluctance (and some relief?) Nick sold his stable of magazines - The Face, Arena, Arena Homme and others  - to media group Emap. Their last issue of The Face came out in April 2004. It's great to see his achievement properly recognised and celebrated.

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