PARIS, France — With all the talk of layoffs at Condé Nast in the face of a technological revolution that is transforming fashion media as we know it, the days of the good old-fashioned hard copy magazine may seem numbered. But, while traditional media behemoths struggle to translate their content and brands to the online space, niche fashion publications are sprouting up to offer a completely different kind of magazine experience altogether.
At a soirée on Friday hosted by Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, copies of two such magazines — Sang Bleu and Some/Things — were laid out sparsely on the galvanised steel tables in the brushed concrete headquarters of Owenscorp in Paris' Place du Palais Bourbon. Art lovers in town for the FIAC art fair, musicians visiting from Los Angeles and international fashion folk leafed through the heavy matte pages with black and white images of rooftops in Cairo's Bab-el-Louk and sinewy bodies covered with intricate tattoos.
Sang Bleu, or 'blue blood', is the labour of love of Maxime Buechi, who was first introduced to me at the Festival d'Hyères earlier this year by Diane Pernet. In Issue III/IV, tattoos are showcased as a sophisticated form of personal expression at the heart of a growing contemporary tattoo culture.
"I got my first tattoo back in 2002. It was a back piece by Filip Leu," says Buechi. "At the same time I started to get more personally involved in the tattoo culture. I noticed a void in the panorama of tattoo-related publications. The idea of Sang Bleu therefore came naturally from a desire for a publication that would approach tattoo and other underground cultures from another angle, similar to that of contemporary art or fashion."
For its part, Some/Things also has a strongly personal bent, striving for a timeless appeal and deep engagement with the reader. "We shun a fast approach and we want to take time to discover and re-discover works that transcend the boundaries of their medium — and engage with reality," declares a manifesto on the project's website. "A magazine for us is more than a printed matter. It’s part of our world and part of our own lives. It’s our vision — subjective as it may be."
That vision can be explored in formats that extend beyond the magazine itself, resulting in a model which is something more like a personal art project than a magazine, strictly speaking. Some/Things refers to itself "a bi-annual book/magazine publication, publishing house producing limited edition artist books/objects, and art/design consulting agency" which aims "to create something that goes beyond a basic product — something more involved, engaging and personal — something with a story."
In this way, these magazines are something to savour for a long time rather than to browse quickly and then, throw away.
But is there a viable business model here? Up until now, neither Sang Bleu nor Some/Things have focused on advertising revenue. Instead a significant sticker price positions the magazines more as art books, and supplemental income comes from other related collaborations and agency work.
"Sang Bleu is not a magazine, it is a project — a Gesamtkunstwerk," says Buechi, referencing the German word for a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms, a so-called universal work of art. For Sang Bleu, the project includes a compilation of texts, and catalogues for Elisabeth Llach and an upcoming exhibition in Lausanne, entitled "inbetweenout".
"It is like that because it couldn't be any other way," he continues. "No one would invest in such a project in the beginning, so I borrowed money and sold it as a book. It has worked, I guess, since I have not been put in jail for not paying my rent. I achieved my goal of creating something that didn't exist before and that people would enjoy reading and draw inspiration from. My real aspirations always were artistic. But now, if it can go on as a financially viable publication, it'd be even nicer."
Indeed, Buechi is on the hunt for advertisers for the next issue of Sang Bleu due out in February 2010. And, unlike advertisements in say Vogue or Glamour, these ones will be cherished alongside deeply personal editorial and photography for many years to come.
Now that's what I call a long-term value proposition.
Imran Amed is Editor and Founder of The Business of Fashion