By Christian Louboutin
In System No. 11. Click to buy.
A letter to my freelance self from the comfort of my own home.
By Raven Smith
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
At the beginning of last year, I took the plunge and went freelance. Like Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff, I left behind the security of paid vacation, regular working hours, sick days, and office cake. I started playing a different ballgame.
I spent nearly eight years as commissioning director at Nowness, a role that entailed a range of skills besides actually commissioning films. No need for a mini CV here, let’s just say that I entered freelance life offering brands and channels a smorgasbord of roles and rates. I promised myself I’d say yes to all the work that came my way and then do a stocktake and decide what was working and what wasn’t. So, a year in, how does it feel? I’ve replied ‘fine’ to so many emails asking how freelancing is that I’ve had to right-click synonyms for fine. For the record, the freelance life is currently tolerable-adequate-moderate.
Here are eight things I’ve learned over the past year.
1. Freelance life comes with a host of ups and downs. You go from altitudes so high there’s not enough oxygen to the depths of the ocean where there’s no light. The sun does shine, of course, but there’s never quite the time to catch a tan. I’ve taken on jobs out of fear of there being no work and then ended up smashed to smithereens juggling way more than I expected. Every time I talk about this, I know it’s a massive humble brag. You can get addicted to being busy. I went through a bout of hyperactivity last summer and complained the whole time.
2. There’s no such thing as a money job. Everything you say yes to takes up your time, energy and focus. Money jobs tend to end up being absolute eye-bleeds, because your ultimate takeaway is profit not product. Better to stick to stuff that’s worthy of your attention.
3. The freedom of freelancing that you think will be liberating is actually like a sheer drop from a cliff face. The fall is exciting, but your mortgage is following you down at exactly the same rate.
4. Your time is flexible. This is the biggest lolsob of all. You can spend all morning dicking about on Twitter and then have to stay up all night working. I thought I’d be watching Loose Women all day, but eventually the work needs doing. Delaying it is foolish and Loose Women is absolutely awful. Also, you will never finish way ahead of a deadline and feel satisfied. People who work like that are weird. Part of the thrill of creation is the impending deadline.
5. Food can be a distraction. The dull hum of the fridge can be like a siren luring me onto the rocks of cheese. I can spend a full hour making a sandwich; I think perhaps there’s a work avenue in that. I even thought I could become Delia Smith, erotically spreading homemade hummus, until I discovered you have to boil the chickpeas for 90 minutes.
6. You can get too comfy at home. Your outfits swerve from meeting-ready to just-woke-up-tramp-slob. I now have the most amazing freelance pants: they’re comfy and the seat has worn away to nearly nothing. I live in a pair of house clogs. When I do have to leave the house my normal clothes from normal brands are starting to feel incredibly special and glamorous. Oh, look at me in a shirt and I’ve moisturized! Fancy!
7. Your pets become your family. My relationship with my cat has morphed from parent-child to sibling rivals. We’re standoffish all day and then vie for my husband’s attention when he gets home. When the cat’s with me, I ignore him, but I search for him when he’s out of eyesight. The pussy co-dependency has come as quite a shock to us both. Despite the cat’s company, there remain moments of crippling loneliness, of talking to yourself, of laughing at your own jokes.
8. Some days, you’re writing and mid-sentence, you think you’re the next Sylvia Plath or Shakespeare or the voice of your generation. Most of the time, however, the freelance life seems to mean typing into a void and incrementally morphing into your mother.
In System No. 11. Click to buy.
Spotify for magazines
The world’s largest magazine collection goes digital.
By James Hyman
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
‘If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ wrote Rodgers and Hammerstein, and to realize any dream, ‘you gotta have faith’, as George Michael sang. Excuse my song-based habit, but lyrics often best sum up how I feel and why I do what I do. Because I have a dream and I have absolute faith in its coming true. For me, magazines are ‘always on my mind’.
Thanks to 30 years in the media business (presenting and producing for MTV and the BBC; working in music, film and print) I have amassed what has been referred to as ‘a walk-in Google’ of magazines. In fact, I now hold the Guinness world record for owning the ‘largest collection of magazines in the world’. It currently contains over 100,000 issues, is growing at 30 percent a year (mainly thanks to extremely generous donations from collectors to whom I am eternally grateful), and is unique: over 55 percent of its titles are not held by the British Library. I am currently working to turn this collection, now called the Hyman Archive, into a new resource for all, and so taking the first steps towards my ultimate dream.
Since my early teens, my idée fixe has been to collect and share popular culture. My professional life began in 1988 when I joined the just-launched MTV Europe as a scriptwriter. I had to provide content for the VJs that would amaze, amuse and always entertain the channel’s huge and diverse audience. Where best to source such information? Magazines, of course! Pre-Internet, the millions of publications on news stands around the world truly were our Google. Yet even then I knew that much of that contemporary print would be forgotten – tomorrow’s fish and chip paper – and I knew I had to save it.
Since then, it’s been an incredible journey and along the way I’ve met amazing characters who share my unrelenting passion for preserving print. People like Edda ‘Scissor Sister’ Tasiemka who has dedicated much of her life to snipping and cataloguing newspaper and magazine articles. Or Danny Posner who gave me the bug for collecting when I clocked the May 1984 ‘Electro’ cover of The Face in his now sadly closed Vintage Magazine Shop in London’s Soho. It was there in a basement filled with back issues that my magazine mania was born.
My archive’s collection of pop-culture press now spans from 1850 to present day. Organized into sections, such as fashion, film and TV, music, sport, technology, politics, art, counterculture, design, photography and lifestyle, it contains issues of 1920s Vogue; 1930s National Geographic; 1940s Melody Maker; 1950s Playboy; 1960s Private Eye; 1970s Nova; 1980s Smash Hits; and 1990s Entertainment Weekly. Not to mention plenty of obscure titles such as Girls Like Corpses, Factsheet 5, Modern Drunkard and 2600 – all arguably of cultural significance, all passionate publishing.
Our next step is to transform all that paper into digital content on a definitive platform with sophisticated search and analytical tools. Call it a ‘Spotify for magazines’ that will function as a subscription business, respecting copyright and ensuring that rights holders are paid royalties, while giving the world an amazing new research resource. Imagine easily being able to search in a specific magazine for the first written mention or image of Kate Moss or to create timelines for a cover star and see how popular she was compared to others. You could discover how Bob Dylan connects to James Bond and President Obama, what joins Stanley Kubrick to Nike trainers, or uncover the roots of hip-hop culture in an unheard-of publication. How about tracking the evolution of brands through their advertising, what’s likely to trend and how. The archive will be a treasure trove of unique, searchable content all in one place.
It is an archive that is going to keep expanding, too, because whatever you might be hearing, digital is not dominating everything and print is definitely not dead. Indeed, magazines are experiencing a sustained renaissance as readers once again appreciate the pleasure of paper and the physical object. When film director Christopher Nolan guest-edited Wired, he wrote that: ‘A magazine offers a far more comfortable relationship with time – we can flick through it, stop, flip back, keep it forever. It can do a good job of representing spatial dimensions through photography and design.’
Physical manifestations of writing have been around since humans lived in caves and all media – including TV, film and the Internet – rely on print. So today, as the physical Hyman Archive becomes a digital reality, I am proud and thrilled to be using the best of today’s technology to help bring the joy of printed media to a new and far wider audience.
In System No. 11. Click to buy.
Have you heard?
How the digital world has transformed fashion’s love of gossip.
By Guy Trebay
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
The gossip of the day travels along the front rows, around tables at Da Giacomo in Milan, Kinugawa in Paris, and The Grill in New York, or else through the digital ether, wafting like a tainted zephyr. Have you heard that X, a world-famous designer is riddled with cancer and is now on his last legs? Did you know that Y, barely back from rehab, has suffered a relapse? Of course, you know, don’t you, that M is rumoured to be out as creative head of that big multinational, soon to be replaced by H? They say H has already relocated to Paris and is building a stealth team. What do you think about that diva designer tapped to head a global label? Did you hear he insisted on bringing his own team and held out for a contract paying $18 million a year? And how about that infamously dissolute model? Was she really so wasted at a garden party that she face-planted into a shrub?
It is empty and yet somehow important, this idle chatter that is a low-register soundtrack scoring the migrations of the fashion caravan, helping editors and photographers and critics and reporters and models and agents and all the assorted personnel while away the hours. And there is a surprising number of these. For all that the fashion cycles appear – and in many ways are – antic and exciting, they are also filled with longueurs, tedious periods of waiting that are filled with a hard to control anxiety induced by so much enforced passivity.
Are those in the fashion business more prone to indulge in gossip than office workers or supermarket cashiers, I wonder? Probably not. Yet spend enough time in front rows, backstage or at lavish (if seldom very jolly) dinners underwritten by corporate budgets and you cannot escape the impression that gossip is both catnip to the occupationally fabulous and also a critical professional tool.
The reasons are simple. No matter how dense our digital connections, news still travels first and fastest by word of mouth. Scurrilous or malicious or often downright misguided, the gossip that threads through the months-long fashion-show cycles serves as an odd form of community building. Drawn together twice yearly from scattered professional pursuits, the fashion pack reconstitutes itself ad hoc. Teams and individuals land in the fashion capitals of New York, London, Milan and Paris and power nexuses are quickly recalibrated. New players are incorporated into the group. New alphas are identified. Beloved characters made suddenly redundant are quietly cast onto the ice.
For a business as reliant as fashion on a roving population of freelance workers, this means of spreading information is strangely important. For all the minor players in what remains – despite its increasingly corporate centralization and vast global reach – a largely tribal business, tracking and diagramming personnel shifts and subtle changes of power are a necessary practice. Gossip is, of course, in all settings a form of currency; no matter how remote you are from the sources and principals of a given tale, having some to retail is a sign of belonging. And since the pursuit of the fashionable is an inherently conformist undertaking, gossip also tends to function as a mechanism of social and even moral regulation. Well before the establishment of the #MeToo movement, an awful lot of what you heard on the fashion circuit involved tales of sexual misdeeds or borderline criminal transgressions – light-fingered stylists, models pressured into compromising situations, social-media influencers greedy about ‘samples’, designers caught in South American love nests with underage boys.
It strikes me that this form of improvised governance is not necessarily a bad thing in a business that only lately instituted even rudimentary rules for the workplace. Long before public revelations emerged about photographers with unsavoury and predatory sexual habits, warnings were transmitted by jungle telegraph, tipping people off about who to watch out for and which dude was the one who would try to get into your pants.
There is something else. The entertainment value of gossip is, of course, largely predicated on the levelling sense it provides us of superiority over others, particularly those famous others so remote from our ordinary lives. Social media complicated all this somewhat when everyone in fashion (and also outside it) began to burnish their public personas with curated Instagram images of lives characterized by their dully perfected surfaces. Deep down we all know that, beyond the frame of those digital postcards, there must lie the usual mess of daily existence. Luckily, we can rely for reassuring confirmation of these suspicions on the good old rumour mill.
In System No. 11. Click to buy.
Jean Paul Gaultier
By Loïc Prigent
I hope there’s a teddy bear in your show. Has the teddy-bear casting already happened?
Yes, the teddy bears have been chosen. There were a lot of applicants; it was very hard to decide, but the only real star is Nana Mouskouri.
What are the main qualities needed for this fundamental role?
The ability to wear conical breasts and glasses.
What’s the best city to party in?
Arcueil. Just kidding. Les Folies Bergère in Paris.
How do you remain anonymous at a party?
I don’t go.
Fabric has a direction, but does life?
Just like fabric, life can be straight or cut on the bias.
Who has the right to say no to you?
Who do you always say yes to?
Your life has already been portrayed in a photo story. Has anyone offered to make it into a film?
Are you ready to do it?
Who would play you, aged 20, working at Pierre Cardin?
Eddy de Pretto, and I was 18, not 20.
What are you most addicted to?
What’s your drag name?
Who is the surprise finale model you still dream of having?
Queen Elizabeth II.
What’s your favourite show of your whole career?
The first one.
What’s your favourite dessert?
My boyfriend’s banana cake.
Which is your favourite sin?
I love them all.
Why is Paris still the capital of fashion?
Paris is fashion because fashion is Paris.
‘Hers is a countercultural pursuit.’
Long before the fashion industry co-opted art, there was Agnès B.
By Loïc Prigent
Photographs by Dominique Issermann
Why Agnès B.? Why now? Simple: she’s a pioneer.Because if fashion and art, the cultural and the commercial, today seem like such a natural fit, then that is partly thanks to Agnès B.’s vision of how a fashion label should be a central part of a larger cultural matrix; that it is a brand’s duty to use its position to have a wider cultural impact. It is a belief she made real by doing what she does best: following her instincts. So, not for her a multi-million-dollar art foundation or the odd high-profile sponsorship of a blockbuster exhibition. Instead, for over 40 years, she has given continuing (often under-the-radar) support for (often avant-garde) artists whether up-and-coming early masters or once-nearly-forgotten living ones.Between the art galleries, film-production company, environmental research ship, foundation to coordinate her cultural initiatives, and an ever-increasing art collection, the world of (lower-case) agnès b – the brand – is as far reaching as it is lovingly curated. And she has created it without ever being in hock to the banks or having spent a single centime on advertising. For Agnès B., it’s about doing, not showing (off).
So with the symbiosis between fashion and culture now reaching global ubiquity, it seemed the right moment to reassess Agnès B.’s career and lasting influence. With this in mind, System asked French writer and filmmaker Loïc Prigent to spend an afternoon with the designer at her Parisian apartment near the Louvre. Their free-flowing conversation reveals a designer at odds with fashion’s current imperatives, uncomfortable in the industry, and one, who by being true to her ideas, has created her own community: a professional and social family of artists, filmmakers and kindred spirits.
We then invited three of those people – Jonas Mekas, Ryan McGinley and Harmony Korine – to share their own thoughts on Agnès B., the woman who has in turns been their collaborator, muse, producer, financial backer, facilitator, co-conspirator, and trusted friend.
Discover their world in System No. 11. Click to buy.
‘We were always very attracted to each other.’
Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler on 30 years of the work/life/love balance.
By Alexander Fury
Photographs by Juergen Teller
Slightly less than 24 hours before their latest catwalk show, fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler were holed up in an uncharacteristically contemporary building beside their Paris boutique. They were making fashion. Not clothes – the clothes were made, mostly anyway. There were rubber dresses and tweed suits and ball gowns and corsets and platform shoes, quotes from an aesthetic vernacular established by Westwood over almost a half-century of work, almost 30 years of which have been spent alongside Kronthaler.Their latest models were complete, bar a few tweaks, changes and alterations to make sure they fitted in the exact way required for the presentation – which may be normal, distorted or twisted on the body, falling off or rolling down. The final outfits were coming together organically, as lace and taffeta and leopard-print fake-fur garments were interchanged to arresting or amusing effect. Journalists are normally never permitted to watch this period of the creative process at Westwood. It’s a rare privilege – and I was very much an interloper. I stayed out of the way. Westwood stood on the sidelines, watching intently, the process mostly handled by 52-year-old Andreas Kronthaler and stylist Sabina Schreder, who studied alongside each other at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. That was also where Westwood met Kronthaler in 1989. She was a guest professor of fashion; Kronthaler, a 23-year-old from the Austrian Tyrol, was in his first year. Their age difference of 25 years was much commented on when Kronthaler and Westwood’s relationship came to wide public attention following their discreet marriage in May 1992. (Westwood’s own mother only found out about it in 1993 from newspaper articles.) There is less note paid of it today – now Westwood is 77 – than when they were in their 50s and 30s. Yet theirs remains an unusual partnership, in every sense of the term.
Read the full story of their romantic and professional life together in System No. 11. Click to buy.
‘Barneys was a unique little oasis.’
Creative director Ronnie Cooke Newhouse revisits the 1990s Barneys ad campaigns that saw her assemble a cast of Steven Meisel, Linda Evangelista, Glenn O’Brien, several lobsters and a chimp.
Interview by Thomas Lenthal
With the passing of 1980s moneyed glitz and shiny glamour, Gene Pressman decided to take Barneys’ ad campaigns in a new direction, and in 1990 hired Ronnie Cooke Newhouse as creative director to work alongside writer and man-about-town Glenn O’Brien. By then, the company had dropped its apostrophe, expanded into Japan with the help of Isetan, and was deep into planning its ultimate coup: moving its main store uptown to a huge space on Madison Avenue, again designed by Peter Marino.
These big steps were matched by the memorable campaigns that Cooke Newhouse delivered between 1990 and 1995: a series of witty, visually challenging and sometimes downright silly campaigns, often shot by Steven Meisel and featuring the era’s best-known faces, particularly Linda Evangelista. The images of supermodels and monkeys, hot actors and lobsters, combined her visual direction and O’Brien’s text to meld downtown sass and uptown sophistication, in the process bringing Barneys’ communications defiantly up to date and buttressing the company’s daringly irreverent image during its rapid expansion. And in the process, Cooke Newhouse and O’Brien proved that fashion advertising didn’t necessarily have to be po-faced and that humour could – and still can – boost sales.
Earlier this year, Ronnie Cooke Newhouse met with System’s Thomas Lenthal to discuss her era-defining work for Barneys, the difference between uptown and downtown, and the precarious future of today’s department stores.
Click to buy.
‘If you can’t see the clothes, it’s not a fashion photograph.’
Superstylists a generation apart, Grace Coddington and Lotta Volkova meet to trade their secrets, stories and strategies for conjuring up the perfect picture.
By Alix Browne
Illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
Conspirator, agitator, muse, collaborator, and, yes, not least, the person responsible for putting the clothes on the model, the stylist has over the years come to assume one of the most powerful positions in the kingdom of fashion. You will find one behind most great designers, while photographers lean on them even as they resist their influence. There are former stylists at the heads of more than a few major fashion publications (hello, Edward Enninful and Emmanuelle Alt), and then there is Grace Coddington, who was working with photographers to produce exciting, groundbreaking fashion shoots long before stylists were even called stylists.
During her long career, Coddington has been an eyewitness to, and key player, in the golden age of print magazines, witnessing stylists move from anonymity to centre stage – her own fame launched by her initially reluctant role in R.J. Cutler’s 2009 documentary The September Issue – helping them go from uncredited workers to marquee names. Names that have reached more recent fashion ubiquity, such as Lotta Volkova, the Vladivostock-born, Central Saint Martins-educated, Paris-based in-house stylist for Demna Gvasalia at both Vetements and Balenciaga. After working for her own label – now on permanent hiatus – and getting her first styling break with photographer Ellen von Unwerth, Volkova met Demna and Gosha Rubchinskiy, with whom she has created a collaboration that goes beyond simply styling and reaches into design, photography, casting and modelling, in the process, further stretching the definition of what a stylist can be. And in a world where digital media have been transforming the way fashion is presented, perceived and consumed, Volkova has shown how powerful Instagram can be in taking a stylist’s vision from the personal to the public.
System brought together these two formidable fashion forces at Coddington’s office in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. Despite being generations apart, the pair turned out to have many things in common, starting with a love of storytelling and a disdain for being told what to do. They also, rather endearingly, appeared to be somewhat in awe of the other’s work.
Discover the full interview in System No. 11. Click to buy.
Over the past few months, there has been much discussion in both the established and social media about sexual harassment allegations, the treatment of models, and the questionable road towards making a fashion image. In light of this, we have been asking ourselves an uneasy and uncertain, yet important question: ‘What is the future for sexualized imagery and nudity in the world of fashion?’ We felt that the younger generation currently involved in fashion and its image-making might be most credibly placed to answer that. So we asked them.
‘I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.’
Phillip Picardi and his LGBTQ team are giving Condé Nast an authentic queer voice. Meet Them.
By Raven Smith
Photographs by Brigitte Lacombe