In the age of desktop publishing, anyone with a point of view and enough RAM is a potential mogul, but in the world of subculture magazines, only the hip survive.
It follows then that a slew of West Coast fashion and lifestyle journals, weighted with slick fonts and award-winning graphics, and catering to literate, 20-something urbanites (aka “slackers”) have managed to carve a niche as the alternative to more traditional magazines.
Although several publishers of these magazines say they are glad to service a loyal readership while hovering on the edge of obscurity, a few key players have transcended fanzine status to produce noteworthy books with a competitive edge.
A prime example is San Francisco’s Surface magazine, an image-driven Interview-style quarterly that aims to present fashion with a social conscience.
“We assume our target market is media literate, therefore we assume that it’s OK to present editorial that analyzes pop culture in a beautiful way,” says Riley John-donnell, co-creative director with Richard Klein.
Surface, which was founded by Klein and Craig Bailey as a black and white tabloid of San Francisco culture in 1993, has grown — via word-of-mouth and promotional tie-ins — to national prominence, with a distribution of 65,000.
The magazine can be found at newsstands, national book and music chains such as Borders and Tower Records, and college bookstores.
Relying on a dedicated if underpaid staff, and a pool of freelancers, Surface averages $75,000 in advertising sales per issue, according to Klein. It is backed by schedules from fashion accounts including Hugo Boss, Emporio Armani, Jil Sander, Matsuda and Diesel. Li-quor accounts include Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray and Cam-pari. Klein said he expects ad revenues to double in 1997.
The October issue features a cover story on Rossy DePalma, the actress best known for her famed proboscis and memorable appearances in Pedro Almodyvar films. Profiles of notable beauties such as Antonio Sabato, Ben Harper and Tahnee Welch are included, and the up-front section offers the youth culture’s hottest trends.
As for fashion, Surface uses established photographers such as Greg Gorman as well as newcomers, and offers an eclectic mix of resources that often juxtaposes a Jil Sander or Comme de Garcons with the likes of Gabrielle Zanzani, Bernadette Corp. or Ristarose. The overall feel is stark and witty. The tone seems part Diane Arbus coupled with a heavy dose of glamour.
Also based in San Francisco, Might magazine delivers an irreverent assault on the trappings of pop culture and media. Co-founded with maxed-out credit cards by journalism school graduates David Eggers and Marny Requa in conjunction with David Moodie, a former student of architecture and design, Might has tripled its circulation from 10,000 to 30,000 since its launch three years ago.
A recent issue lampooned the media hype surrounding celebrity deaths, with an elaborate hoax about the “demise” of “Eight Is Enough” star Adam Rich. Coverage of the alleged death ran on “Hard Copy” and in the New York Post and National Inquirer before the mainstream media caught on.
The upcoming November/December issue, themed “The Apologists” issue, “defends public figures who get criticized all the time,” according to senior editor Paul Tullis. They include everyone from Pat Buchanan to Alanis Morissette.
Might also coined the word “Arpies” (Affluent Recreating Professionals), a group Tullis calls evolved yuppies.
“These are people who are into kayaking, Range Rovers, Moab, Utah, and conspicuous consumption of the great outdoors,” he deadpans.
In addition to satire, Might serves up serious coverage of social issues including racial inequality, straight talk about gay sex and the upcoming presidential elections. They also tackle some odd health issues as well, such as sleep apnea and how to stop snoring, solving chronic halitosis and getting in shape with a tea towel.
“It doesn’t really please us when we get described as a humor magazine,” said Tullis. “We do satire, but we cover stuff with a critical eye. Sometimes to make a statement about something you first have to satirize it.”
Farther south, publisher Scott Becker launched the Los Angeles-based UHF in 1995 after initially offering it as a supplement to his alternative music magazine, Option. The timing was right for an insider’s guide to youth-oriented fashion with a Southern California perspective, and UHF garnered support from the then-booming men’s streetwear market.
In addition to its youth culture and lifestyle theme, UHF is now weighted slightly more toward women’s sportswear, and the magazine has grown to a circulation of 45,000 nationally.
Becker said UHF strives for strong content and a unique approach to fashion coverage aimed at an 18-to-30-year-old male and female reader. He noted that many of the traditional, mainstream books are “New York- centric,” and said UHF reflects youth culture by taking its cue from the street.
“We’re looking out from Southern California and you get a different perspective,” said Becker, a music aficionado who moved to Los Angeles from Boston in 1982 with his suitcase and prized guitar. “You don’t have the demands for seasonality, so you can do fashion around music themes or sport themes and actually show where the styles are coming from.”
UHF stays away from couture resources, opting instead to highlight contemporary, junior and young men’s resources including Serious, Venus in Furs, Pornstar, Kennington, Stoopid, Tasty and Thump, as well as the occasional vintage find. Becker said that in an effort to remain ahead of the trends and represent “affordably priced” apparel, he maintains a young staff and a stable of paid freelancers around the country and in Europe.
Fashion pages are shot in major U.S. cities, as well as in London, and models are often real people. The November/December issue features a layout shot in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silverlake, home to musicians, artists and style-makers.
Like Becker, publisher and entrepreneur Marvin Scott Jarrett also moved to Los Angeles in the Eighties, but in his case it was to sell advertising for Cream magazine. Jarrett and a former partner bought and later sold music magazine Cream after a successful relaunch. Armed with private investment money, he started the magazine Raygun in 1992.
Raygun’s computer-manipulated graphics, undefined columns and unorthodox fonts challenged readers’ expectations of magazine standards. But when the shock value diminished, the big question became: Is anyone else having a hard time reading this thing?
Jarrett responded by saying that Raygun’s layout reflects the music and lifestyle it covers, noting that “it’s all about post-modern angst.” He continued: “In the early days when David Carson was designing it, [legibility] was a problem, but the whole value of what the person got was more important than reading any one article,” he said. “People are bombarded with so much media, that’s just a reflection of doing something unique.”
That approach is in the blend of music and fashion. Since 25-year-old British art director Robert Hales came on board a year ago, the magazine has a gritty super-8 quality to its design. As for content, Raygun aims to be a purveyor of up-to-the-minute style. The October issue features a cover story on music maker Tricky — as do several other subculture mags – - as well as a hard-core punk fashion layout complete with pierced lips and a fake fur coat by Paco Rabanne.
Going forward, Jarrett said he plans to devote more pages to fashion, noting that his own taste runs from Prada and Dolce & Gabbana to Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani.
“If you look at British or Japanese magazines you see how they incorporate music and fashion together,” he said. “Typically, in American magazines the fashion seems forced. I want to incorporate more fashion and make it seamless, since everyone knows music and fashion influence each other.”
A year after Raygun hit the stands, Jarrett launched Bikini, a sexy, testosterone-driven young men’s magazine, based on the premise that magazines such as GQ and Esquire have aged with their audience. Along with sports, film, cars and music, Bikini is known for up-close and personal interviews with scantily clad starlets of the Fairuza Balk and Mia Kirshner ilk.
Jarrett has recently added a third title under the Raygun umbrella, an image-driven snowboarding magazine called Stick.
Alongside stories on subjects such as art by snowboarders and samurai snowboarding, Stick will feature active snowboard fashion and gear.
Raygun, which is distributed at bookstores, music stores and newsstands across the U.S., prints 120,000 copies. Jarrett said he expects the company will do about $5 million in revenues in 1996.
The three titles are often sold as a package, attracting advertisers such as the Gap, Levi’s, tobacco companies, Visa and numerous music industry labels. According to Jarrett, with the launch of Stick, Nike and Calvin Klein have entered the snowboard market as advertisers.
Los Angeles-based Detour magazine not only has the inside track, it practically owns the freeway when it comes to blending fashion with celebrity interviews. This was initially a shoestring effort launched in the Dallas apartment of founders Luis Barajas and Jim Turner in 1987.
Currently, the monthly is billed as “Entertainment With Style” and has become a must-read for fashion types.
A candid interview style with a younger generation of stars coupled with an artistic, nontraditional approach to fashion styling put Detour on the map when it moved to new digs in Los Angeles in 1992. Celebrity interviews have included accompanying photos of Keanu Reeves posing with his pants down for Greg Gorman, Demi Moore on top of King Kong, Liam Neeson naked and Sandra Bullock on the potty.
Recent issues have included photo essays by Kelly Klein, Mary Ellen Mark, Matthew Rolston, Davis Factor and Jean Louis Gregoire. Detour regularly features designer collections of such notables as Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan and Richard Tyler, and devotes pages to Chanel, Gucci and Prada. Consequently, there is no shortage of advertisers with deep pockets from the film, fashion and liquor industries.