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Jefferson Hack on Fashion Media in The Era of Digital Beauty

Jefferson Hack in conversation with Imran Amed
  • Vikram Alexei Kansara

LONDON, United Kingdom — Last Thursday evening, BoF editor-in-chief Imran Amed sat down with Jefferson Hack, founder and editorial director of Dazed Group — independent publishers of Dazed & Confused, Dazed Digital, AnOther Magazine and AnOther Man — to discuss the future of fashion media amidst an industry landscape that's being radically reshaped by the forces of digital revolution, rapid globalisation and a post-recessionary economy. Called Fashion Pioneers, the event was the first in a new series of intimate, live-streaming conversations between Mr. Amed and the fashion industry's most interesting operators. (RSS Readers: The interview video can be viewed here)

Opening the evening, Mr. Hack spoke passionately about teaming up with Rankin Waddell in 1992 to launch Dazed & Confused, then a black and white, self-distributed fanzine, positioned as a "cultural alternative" to both mainstream publications and cult style magazines of the moment, i-D and The Face. "We were complete outsiders," he said. Dazed & Confused began as a way of "legitimising what was fringe or niche culture" but ultimately gave rise to "the trans-disciplinary integration of fashion, music, art and film, a template that's become de rigueur in alternative culture magazines around the world," said Mr. Hack.

Pressed on how the recent global economic crisis had impacted Dazed Group, Mr Hack was optimistic: "In times of recession, war and global uncertainty, people feel a connection to content that has meaning, that is authentic. What we've lost in revenue from some of our advertisers, we've definitely made up in market share and connection to our audience."

As the evening continued, the conversation honed in on a vital and multifaceted subject that’s currently on the collective fashion brain: the future of fashion magazines in a digital age.

Today, people are consuming more fashion content than ever before. But as readers migrate online, monetisation remains a challenge. On this point, Mr. Hack cited a variety of business models, from freemium and subscriber-only content to sponsorships and ad-supported content, emphasising that there was no single solution to the problem: “There are many different micro ways to do it. There’s not one revenue model.”

On the content side of the equation, Mr. Hack noted that the process of creating a cover story had changed significantly with the rise of digital media, becoming a much more collaborative interaction with the cover star. Citing the recent Tilda Swinton cover story for Dazed & Confused, Mr. Hack said that he had asked himself: "what content can she create with us, not just how can we photograph and interview her."

Ultimately, they decided to create a short film with Glen Luchford that complemented the print story and premiered both online at Dazed Digital and at the Curzon cinema in London. Via social media, fans from around the world were also able to participate and ask questions.

“It’s about creating an event and creating multi-platform content that can go beyond print,” said Mr. Hack, rejecting an oppositional relationship between print and digital and dismissing the much-heralded death of physical magazines in favour of a model that stresses deeper integration between media forms.

"For me, the web is about the moment. The magazine is much more about the collective memory. The magazine becomes a souvenir of what's happening in the moment. Magazines won't disappear, they'll almost become more important in some ways," said Mr. Hack, highlighting the growing importance of "specialisation" and what visionary science fiction author and futurist William Gibson terms mooks: "a hybrid of a book and a magazine where stories can be told in depth with beautiful photography."

Both online and off, “the future of magazines is niche and independent,” said Mr. Hack, revealing for the first time a new Dazed Group initiative that launches this autumn: a series of incubator-like “satellite blogs” that will open up the Dazed & Confused platform to niche content creators and contributors in satellite cities around the world “like Reykjavik, Moscow and Sao Paulo where there is real energy… Mumbai for instance.” It’s a forward-thinking move that applies the philosophy of open software development and open platforms to content creation and magazines, proving that Mr. Hack understands digital media at a level that many of his peers do not.

If the future is about openness, it's also about fluidity. This means digitally integrating into people's lives wherever (and whenever) they are: "Let people engage with content when and how they want," advised Mr. Hack, as he revealed, also for the first time, a demo of the new Dazed & Confused iPad application, which launches this summer with the magazine's August issue.

We've been in an "initiation phase," said Mr. Hack on the digital experimentation we've seen across the fashion industry thus far. "We are now entering into what is going to be a much deeper engagement phase," he continued, citing Prada's long-form digital film First Spring as an example of richer digital engagement.

“The old media model is a frozen moment in time; a monthly magazine, a seasonal trend — it’s over,” he said. “Digital culture is a constant stream. Either you adapt to it, or you are a dinosaur and you will die.”

Distilling many of his thoughts into a short, poetic mantra, Mr. Hack announced: “This is a new era of digital beauty.” At BoF, we think the new digital beauty — born from relentless digital innovation and characterised by fluid, multi-sensory elegance — is an extremely powerful theme that we will be covering and commenting on in the weeks and months to come.

Fashion Pioneers was presented in collaboration with Morgans Hotel Group and filmed by Pundersons Gardens. Many thanks to our friends from the fashion blogosphere who live-streamed the event to a global audience. Plans for our next Fashion Pioneers talk are already underway. Stay tuned to BoF for further details.

A selection of images from the event, held at London's Sanderson Hotel

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