MADRID, Spain — The world of print is a better place for the presence of Luis Venegas. The Madrid-based publisher is passionate about magazines, and, over the course of a dozen years, he’s managed to translate his ardour into a mini-empire, with titles such as Fanzine 137, a lavish biannual that pays tribute to his personal heroes and style icons, and The Printed Dog, people and their pets shot by some of the world’s best-known photographers.
That’s one thing all Venegas’s magazines have in common: a formidable roster of contributors, who, he claims, relish the opportunity to flex their creative muscle in the no-holds-barred context he offers them. His publications also share a creative vision whose enthusiasms are as personal as they are obsessive — and diverse. And, as we heard at BoF VOICES two weekends ago, there are few words more powerful and more debated in the fashion industry at the moment.
Which is why Venegas’s masterstroke may well be his 2009 launch, Candy. Venegas had been stewing over the idea of a fashion and style magazine, but he craved something more relevant than the glossy industry standard. “What group of people deserve to be celebrated?,” he asked himself. Voilá! Candy, “the first transversal style magazine.”
Radical in its inception, unflaggingly glamorous in its execution, Candy has featured such mediagenic sensations as Tilda Swinton at her most gorgeously Bowie-fied, and James Franco photographed by his friend Terry Richardson in luscious, lippy drag, but Venegas has also devoted page after page to the originals of the trans community, the men and women who blazed fearless trails for the children who came later. And the sheer wit of the whole enterprise has been immensely seductive. For Candy’s fifth anniversary issue, Venegas corralled 14 of the trans community’s most glamorous figureheads for a gatefold cover that was a perfect simulation of Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood issue.
I’m walking a tightrope between playing by the rules and changing the rules.
“When I started Candy, it was rare to see all these representations in a magazine,” he recalls. “Now there are many more that embrace the idea of diversity. But I wanted to do a fashion magazine. It was not a political statement I had in mind, I never thought of Candy as a political magazine…” — Venegas catches himself – “…even though it is.” And that is truer than ever at this particular moment with the general global swing towards the right and the uptight. Which is why, with Candy’s latest issue, he has taken on Hari Nef, trans actress and model, as his guest editor.
“Luis realised that in this pivotal, rather high stakes moment for my community, it was very important to place representation in the hands of the represented,” says Nef. “I think he realised bringing in a new voice — if only temporarily for a single collaboration — would be productive.” And what a voice! Radiantly intelligent, fiercely articulate and extremely well-connected, Nef has inevitably, if somewhat reluctantly, assumed the “spokesperson of her generation” role. “Activism does not come naturally to me,” she says. “I’m walking a tightrope between playing by the rules and changing the rules, being a cool blank-slate actress/model girl and being a distinctive voice who agitates for a community.”
She’s still on that tightrope with her guest editorship of Candy, modelling for Nan Goldin or playing cover girl for Sebastian Faena with former Kylie bait Andres Velencoso. But Nef’s also using her new role to offer a spectacular platform for her peers. “A concrete way to share the wealth of opportunities that I’ve been luckily afforded in this industry,” she calls it. “The way I see beauty, fashion, style is very much based on the people around me. Many of them feature prominently in the magazine. Dara, Torraine Futurum, Avie Acosta — they’re new to the modelling scene and the fashion world, but they’re also my girlfriends, my trans sisters, and I’m inspired by them because of what we share, but also because of how we differ, and how they move forward in this industry with a point of view and an aesthetic that is completely different from mine. These women are supermodels to me just as much as Audrey Marnay.”
Nef chose Marnay, the sole non-trans model in the issue, as “a love letter to Vejas,” the teen fashion prodigy from Montreal whose clothes she is wearing. “It’s the reverse of what I was doing in the other editorials, but it’s still matchmaking, putting people together that you wouldn’t expect. It’s marriages like that which excite me and create something that feels collaborative.”
Luis realised that in this pivotal, rather high stakes moment for my community, it was very important to place representation in the hands of the represented.
It was entirely collaborative, 50:50, with Venegas and Nef. They both wanted the same people — Nan Goldin! — in the issue. Neither of them wanted it to be a casting stunt. And they both wanted to create a great fashion object. But they couldn’t help themselves. The times call for more. “Gender play, strange beauty, ‘androgyny’ are permitted in fashion and in a general cultural context as indexes, as a look, as a suggestion, as a drag that comes on and off,” Nef says with a resigned intensity. “Not as an identity, not as being. We want you to look trans, we don’t want you to be trans.”
Something else she and Venegas share is the sensibility of the teen outsider obsessed with the fashion magazine as exemplar of the exclusive, glamorous mainstream. “So much of fashion has a way of torturing you, the images so good, the clothes so beautiful, the references so tight. I wanted to be part of it but didn’t understand how. There was no evidence this world could include me.”
At long last, Candy is the evidence. Venegas imagines it helping kids like Nef feel included. “You don’t feel like a fashion magazine is going to make social or political change,” he muses, “but somehow you start educating, even if it’s not your first impulse, with this awareness of diverse realities.” And Nef’s Candy is weighted with words as well as pictures, texts that share the experiences of the people in the pages of the magazine.
However it was intended (and, as Venegas points out, there are many lines to read between), it takes on the fervour of a beautiful manifesto. Nef envisages “a war brewing that will be waged against LGBT bodies, against people of colour, and immigrants.” She calls her Candy a love letter to trans beauty. “The beauty I see in my girlfriends, the singularity of it, but also an assertion it exists, an assertion that we deserve safety, we deserve to be loved, to be seen as beautiful, as human… that we deserve to be, period.”