The New Curators

Interviews by Annabelle Fernandez & Luo Jingmei
Images courtesy of Thomas Lohr, The Gourmand, WERK & Printed Pages

Come 14 and 15 March 2015, Underscore will present the inaugural launch of The U Symposium. The first of its kind in Asia, The U Symposium will celebrate and also feather discussion on the theme of Magazines Contemporary. The selection of speakers comprise a group of progressive magazine founders, editors and creative directors of leading independent publications across the categories of lifestyle, design, art, fashion, food and travel. These visionaries have redefined the magazine culture of today with their originality, discerning tastes and daring to experiment. In light of The U Symposium, we ask four of these inspiring personalities to provide insight into their journeys.

Penny Martin

The editor-in-chief of The Gentlewoman, on the art of curating a modern magazine for women.

How would you describe The Gentlewoman’s modus operandi?

It’s a women’s magazine—albeit a highly fashion-centered one—and we’re interested in what long-form journalism should be in the present day, and also what the ambitions of a quality print magazine should be. We love photography and we love words but above all, we love people. I hope that comes across. I think if you met the team, you could see us all quite clearly in the final product. It’s a very personality-led project.

This distinction between being a women’s magazine versus a fashion magazine is an interesting one. Do you find yourself having to straddle the two, finding the right balance that will give equal weight to both elements?

I think we probably let our commitment to the woman being featured lead those decisions—what would she actually want to wear? Can you imagine her ever wanting to be pictured lying down? Would she wear lace to dinner, or a full face of make-up? Is she talkative? Opinionated? Would she want to seem sexy to another woman?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you immediately have some clues as to who should photograph her and do the hair; who should interview her, and where and for how long the chat should take place. From there, it becomes obvious what the graphic treatment should be (angular and graphic, or handwritten and feminine?) and whether there should be enormous pull-quotes or it should look like a book. It’s like a domino rally—start with the woman, think really hard about her and it all falls into place.

You grew up in Scotland, in a university town. Did you ever imagine you would be working in the world of fashion?

No, I didn’t. Growing up so far away from any sense of industry or media, my career ambitions were very abstract. I was wholly focused on obtaining an education in the humanities and had faith that if I threw myself into art history and literature, that one thing would lead to another. It sounds quite naïve, doesn’t it? But I must say, I’m so lucky I spent so long at university and then working in museums. Not a day goes by that I don’t use some strange or abstruse part of what I learned in the archives or libraries.

Theseus Chan

The founder of WERK and W_ _KW_ _K, on finding freedom through perseveranceHi Theseus, when you were starting out, graphic design wasn’t as commonly accepted a career as today. What were the challenges you faced in pushing ahead to do what you wanted? What was the process in finding your voice?

I was just going where my heart was at that time. I was famished, had a great appetite and just wanted to do what I wanted.

The scene then was different—advertising agencies with foreign names ruled. Advertising creatives, art directors, copywriters, and commercial directors were largely rarefied people creating ‘above the line’ (a common term then) ad campaigns for big corporate accounts. Designers in the agencies were the ones doing ‘below the line’ work as a support to those campaigns, i.e., flyers, brochures, catalogues—the riff raff. And now, it’s amazing to see how design has a major coup in branding, communication and our lives today. But just like before, popular things don’t interest me, only the opportunity to do what I love. So I strived on. This still applies today.

You once said, “the construction of clothes, heavy industrial work and science are sources of inspiration”. Can you give a few specific examples of these influences and elaborate on how they have inspired your work?

That’s true as I find anything outside design to be more interesting. When you apply this thinking to your work, it almost and always has an unexpected twist.

For example, when I saw clothes that were frayed with their stitching coming undone with use and age, I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be beautiful if paper can react the same way?’ I applied this inspiration to the Guerrillazine I was working on back in 2004/5. I wanted a primal feeling to the publication; hence the pages were frayed just like the clothes I saw.

WERK No.20 was an homage to printed matter. My objective was to intensify the scent of ink and its textural quality on printed paper. Cleaning rags stained with ink from the press were duly collected as we were printing that issue. It was to be used later to stain and permeate the magazine with the same ink it was printed with—hence the unmistakable fragrance of the printing press as well as the unique colour of the book. The magazine was later given an aged and distressed treatment, just like the seasoned machines that printed them. A lot of magazines were stashed and stored in the factory to further soak up the atmosphere and dust to keep them authentic.

W_ _ K W_ _ K Vol. 1: ANREALAGE is my ‘rage against the machine’—the book-gluing machine, to be precise; it was the gluing precision of that machine I wanted to subvert. And the best way to do that is to have humans glue the book. I had seven books printed and hand-glued them individually, while keeping the sequencing of the books random. This randomness can only be achieved by human intervention. The book spine was also embedded with electronics parts—a homage to the use of technology in the works of Japanese fashion label ANREALAGE’s designer Kunihiko Morinaga.

Rob Alderson

The editor of Printed Pages, on weeding out the complicated, the humdrum and the gimmicky.

Rob Alderson Printed Pages

Let’s start at the beginning, print wise. Could you take us back to how the It’s Nice That magazine developed from the design blog and from there, what prompted the change to Printed Pages? How does Printed Pages differ from its predecessor?

Initially, the It’s Nice That magazine was a way of celebrating in print some of the content from the website (in much the same way the It’s Nice That Annual now does). As it evolved, we added interviews and other features until it became something quite different, and distinct, from After eight issues, we felt that it had lost its way a bit, and we weren’t quite sure why it existed and what we were trying to say with it. Obviously, print eats up a lot of time and money, so that’s why we decided to stop the magazine and take stock.

Printed Pages came together over the course of a year, where we gave ourselves the time to really think about what we wanted to achieve in print. We spent a lot of time looking at other magazines and realised that a lot of titles on the newsstands were kind of the same. With Printed Pages we wanted to focus on accessibility—in terms of the content we covered, the way it was designed and the price point. We also wanted it to feel recognisably It’s Nice That, while also having its own identity (hence the name change).

Printed Pages was published quarterly but in 2015 we have decided to change our publication schedule to biannual, to make sure that our small team can focus on producing two excellent magazines.

What are the ideas behind the artistic direction for Printed Pages, as well as the very uncluttered cover art?

The covers are a direct reaction to standing in front of racks of magazines in bookstores like Magma and Artworks, and realising how much looked the same. The bold colour choices were our way of doing something different, as were the illustrations we used for the first four issues. The still-life photography we used across 2014 tried to create the same sense of difference while evolving the look and feel.

The design is overseen by our team in Amsterdam comprising Joseph Burrin and Philip Cronerud. The guiding principle again goes back to that idea of accessibility throughout—we wanted to present the content in the best possible light, and put the creatives and their amazing work front and centre. Anything gimmicky that gets in the way of that has no place. There can be a whole load of bells and whistles that people fawn over but that can actually make reading a magazine bloody difficult. We’re challenging these stereotypes by keeping things simple I think.

David Lane

The editor of The Gourmand, on the perfect ingredients for a forward-thinking food and culture magazine.

The Gourmand is a husband-and-wife production. Was it over food that you and your wife Marina met?

It was, actually. We met 12 years ago when I was working in a deli with Marina’s friend. Marina would come in and I would make her lunch. My sandwich-making skills were obviously up to scratch, and I still cook for her almost every day.

That’s very sweet. Do you have any food-based rituals between the both of you?

Lots. Like most people, the rest of our life is just there as something to do between meals.

The latest issue of The Gourmand, issue 5, features an article titled “A Brief History of the Modernist Kitchen”. We’re quite keen to find out what your own kitchen is like.

It’s quite small and compact, not a big, grand space. I have a good set of pans, a good set of sharp knives and a few other select bits; that’s it, really. I don’t like too much clutter, and all of those gadgets that you only ever use once that just fill up the cupboards after.

Read more in The U Press N˚9 (Singapore edition).