While the history of Vogue, and other mega fashion magazines of the world, receive plenty of scholarly attention, niche fashion magazines maintain their marginality within fashion academia – that is, despite the immense heritage of ground-breaking fashion photography and journalism that niche magazines have produced over the years, which in fact often drives the engine and pushes forward the very status of fashion publishing. Finally, a new book by Danish fashion scholar and curator Ane Lynge-Jorlén investigates the vast world of niche fashion publishing, critically examining this elusive yet impactful form of fashion communication and its histories in Europe and North America. Lynge-Jorlén, PhD from London College of Fashion and lecturer at Lund University, conducted intense research on a series of case studies from around the world, including DANSK, which with its 15th anniversary this year, qualifies as a bit of an oddity in an otherwise short-lived publishing culture. We sit down with Lynge-Jorlén to learn more about Niche Fashion Magazines, which is already available here.
Tell us about your new book, Niche Fashion Magazines. What was the starting point for your research – and how would you define the genre of “niche” fashion publishing?
My motivation for writing the book comes from having recognised a gap in existing scholarly work. Often research looks at women’s and men’s magazines and their representations of gender, advertising culture and identity construction through consumption. While this certainly is a valid perspective on the mainstream genre, niche fashion magazines are part of another and more independent culture and should be explored through a different prism.
My coinage ‘niche fashion magazines’ refer to highly specialized fashion magazines that have a hybridized quality where fashion is mixed with art, poetry and architecture as well as interviews with experts and connoisseurs from all walks of life. They speak to a highly fashion and culture literate readership that does not need help to understand their rather excluding tone of voice where both irony and an intellectual mark are prominent. In my book, I call them “the haute couture of the fashion press”. Fashion permeates their content as a concept, not as a product pushing gesture. Compared to the mainstream women’s press, they are produced on a small scale but their production value is high.
You work both as a scholar and journalist. What is your own relationship to fashion publishing?
Fashion publishing comes in many different formats. Most of what is out there is formulaic and driven by consumption, but independent publishing, including the niche fashion genre, is cleverer, more eloquent and heightens the cultural value of fashion. I have worked for different kinds of fashion media, but I’m independent and my critical point of view is always intact. I’m first a scholar, then a writer.
Who are the readers of niche fashion mags – and how are readerships formed?
Readers of niche fashion magazines often work in the culture industry, and they understand and share the values that niche fashion magazines mediate. They are not critical of fashion on a structural level, but they are highly critical of how it’s mediated. People belong to different readerships across genres. One can be an avid Self Service reader and at the same time appreciate Heat.
Where and when do you historically locate the emergence of niche fashion publishing? Is there an ultimate original example?
Niche fashion magazines emerged in the 1990s, and the first titles were Purple Magazine (now Purple Fashion), Visionaire and Tank. These were born out of the style magazine culture but they have a clearer focus on fashion as an artistic and cultural expression. Unlike style magazines, niche fashion magazines are not anti-establishment. Instead they belong to the established avant-garde.
London was definitely the breeding ground for independent publishing with The Face, i-D and Blitz and their post-punk club scene. As computer software has made the production of a magazine a smoother process, new titles appear all the time. But since many can’t survive, there’s a constant ebb and flow of magazines. With niche fashion publishing in print we see quality content that takes time to engage with, and their digital platforms serve news and more radical content, like Dazed Digital.
It’s not so difficult to launch a magazine, staying in business is. Making a niche fashion magazine is not a road paved with gold, but high status and prestige can certainly be gained. Producers usually make their money on other, more commercial jobs. Researching contemporary culture always requires a reflexive approach, since it’s constantly evolving and modulating. Niche fashion magazines, like any object, should be understood in relation to their cultural context. I believe much is gained by from an integrated approach to cultural production, consumption and objects. In my opinion, we cannot understand the “meaning” of a magazine without examining how it was produced and how it makes sense to its readers.