BuzzFeed Fashion takes a look at how the iconic image makers of our time made it in fashion in this weekly feature. Today, Dazed & Confused founder Jefferson Hack tells us how he went from editing a student publication with Rankin to growing Dazed into a network of print magazines that thrives even in the internet age.
Can I be emerging? It makes me sound younger and more relevant: emerging, precocious young talent Jefferson Hack? (Ed note: Yes, OK.)
I think the British have always been amazingly creative because we’ve always had to use our imaginations to make a lot out of nothing because there’s never been a big fashion industry in the U.K. the way there has been in other countries.
I met Rankin in college when I was a student at the London College of Printing. He was just going around the London College of the Arts, which is the combined school with St. Martins — they had a magazine they wanted to launch, and he was recruiting. He came to my class and gave a speech and asked if any journalism students would want to contribute to the student publication. I signed up at the appointed time in the school canteen and looked around expecting there to be, like, a bugging scene of young students wanting to get together to make a magazine, and I couldn’t see anyone — and he popped up and then I got the job. It was really inventively titled Untitled. And we started making this magazine Untitled together and I did all the words, he did the pictures.
The first time I met Rankin, he said, “OK, tomorrow we’re doing the first interview for the inaugural issue of the student publication.” He said, “Do you know who Gilbert and George are?” And I said, “No, I have no idea who they are. And he said, “Great, well, you’re interviewing them, and I’ll take the pictures.” I was a young innocent, and Gilbert and George treated me very gently, so that was a great start. And Rankin did some brilliant portraits, and the magazine went on to win a bunch of awards. We had these annual student magazine awards — we won Best Magazine of the Year, Best Graphic Design; all of the awards we could win, we won.
We were always kind of outsiders as a kind of independent fanzine that Dazed and Confused was. When Rankin and I started publishing Dazed — after a few issues of Untitled — I was 19. I think that really my understanding of fashion came about through working closely with Katie Grand and then Katie England, who were my first fashion editors at the magazine, and the designers that they would be bringing into that environment. I mean, it was pretty shambolic and organic in the sense that it was a tiny office, and a lot of what we did was sort of social in terms of how we connected. So I would meet with Alexander McQueen or Hussein Chalayan or with different kinds of graduates all at the same level, all straight out of college. So that was really my first contact with the fashion world, really through young creatives and being a young creative myself, and learning through their eyes and their talent, and understanding what they did and how they did it — the challenges that they had to get recognized and find their own style, find their own point of view in an environment where there was very little support financially.
Alexander McQueen is very special to the magazine because he contributed regularly to a number of special projects over the years. He held a master position as a fashion editor — I can’t remember what the right title is, but he had a masthead title and he contributed these incredible products where he would do something that was editorial and free and experimental. He would speak to us and he would work very closely with Katie, who was fashion director at the magazine and was sort of his creative right hand, so there would be this dialogue between him and the magazine through her, and we would get together and develop what those ideas were.
One of the ideas that got a lot of media attention was when we did a series with Nick Knight with people with different disabilities. So the cover was this amazing image of Aimee Mullins, this girl who was a paralympic athlete with mechanical sprinters’ legs, and a whole series inside including an image where Philip Treacy made a headpiece for a blind girl. This story kind of was the moment when Dazed went from being a niche mag in the U.K. to being much bigger. We tripled our circulation overnight because we had everyone talking about this amazingly creative way of bringing fashion and disability together. So those kinds of things would become a national debate afterward because newspapers would write about it and it would be on TV and it would be an issue of debate about identity and beauty.
McQueen was always asking a lot of questions and provoking a lot of debate, not always by being dark, but often by being positive with his messages. So there’s as much light to Alexander McQueen as there was dark, and I think people forget that. I’ve always been in the stream of these great people and slipped my way into fashion.
I think it’s really an inventive a magazine in terms of the photography and editorial. I’m very proud that it’s the largest independent, and it still does what it did all that time ago, and it hasn’t become a pastiche of itself, and it hasn’t become a sellout, and it’s really amazing. And I’m not quite sure how we did it, or why that’s still allowed, or how we’ve managed. But a lot of it is that we’ve got a great team, and there’s always a new generation who wants to come through and challenge the old, and that’s a space I want Dazed to be in.
Another came about just because the editors of Dazed wanted to do more and there weren’t more pages, so we created Another Magazine out of necessity — we had no choice really, we just had to do it because we wanted to tell longer stories and spend more time bringing them together. When it launched, there wasn’t a market for it, so we sort of haphazardly created a new market in magazines by being the first biannual, which I’m quite proud of. Then Another Man came quite a while afterwards, but that’s because it was unsustainable really for a couple of reasons: One is because the cycle’s a little different for men’s fashion, so it became difficult to really package the information in a way that that would make sense. The way the magazine’s distributed and the way fashion magazine advertising works, it’s just very difficult to have a biannual that operates for both sexes. And also, there was just too much competition for pages, so Alister Mackie said, we’ve got to have our own men’s biannual, otherwise no one’s going to take us seriously. And I said, you’re right, and you’re worth it because you’re a creative genius — and we kind of built Another Man around his vision of the modern gentleman and created this idea of what Another Man is today.
I think Dazed is constantly doing things that are not in the mainstream, and I think there is a lot of fear within the media to be daring, to be different. But I still think that it doesn’t really affect our organization very much. I think the mainstream is very predictable, but I think in the indie press people are as risk-taking as they’ve ever been. I don’t feel — and I know my editors don’t feel — pressure to feel more concerned about political correctness than they ever have been.
If you get caught up in the media shitstorm, it’s more of a reflection of the rest of the society. Sometimes you can just get into a media shitstorm for no reason at all — most of the stories that have blown up around Dazed have never been ones where we have tried to cause controversy, because as soon as we’ve tried, it’s fake anyway.
There’s definitely a change in attitude between the late ’90s or early 2000s, which was much more about shock for attention, and I think that’s less important today. I think a sense of sincerity is quite important, and if you want to take on issues such as race, gender, sexual politics, then I think you’ve got to do it without a sense of irony, which seems old-fashioned. So a sense of sincerity can feel iconic. So maybe that’s how Dazed has changed over the years, and it’s more to do with not really changing the message but changing the style in which the message is told — making it sound more authentic for the time because that ironic wink around serious issues feels a little bit less exciting.
I think we’ve got a really exciting, provocative issue called “Masked Rebellion,” which is all about activism. I think it’s great for a magazine like Dazed to take on visual freedom and see how that then informs the fashion and how that informs the styling and the photography and the package of the whole issue. I don’t think we’re going to be particularly PC in that issue.
Dazed is about 650 years old. We’re giving National Geographic a run for its money. (Ed. note: it started in ‘92.)
The internet has massively changed how we approach the magazine. It’s kind of a question of where to start, the impact has been so enormous. I think it’s changed image-making, it’s changed journalism, it’s changed the way people perceive magazines, it’s changed the value people place on content in magazines, it’s made people feel and think differently. But the magazine still comes out in print, so I’m very happy about that. Dazed has had to convey more of a sense of collectivity, more of a sense of timelessness. The way we tell stories and the way that we interview has to be more timeless in print — looking more for the definitive story. So if you’re breaking a new band, it has to be the definitive interview of that band; if it’s a fashion story, it has to be something that you would find in a book, not a magazine. So it’s trying to elevate, it’s trying to make everything the least disposable as possible. So with the print, you have the reference — you have the authentic art of that. That doesn’t mean it’s more of an object, that means the content has to be really, really strong. It can’t just be so news- and reviews-based and so trend-focused and all that other stuff that really is going on on the net.
My advice to young people is don’t take any advice. Don’t listen to anyone. Fuck the system, fuck the rules, make it up as you go along — don’t copy what anyone else does, follow your heart, follow your dreams, and eventually you will wake up and you’ll look back at your work and you’ll realize that what you did was honest to yourself.
—As told to Amy Odell
Previously: How Stacy London Made It In Fashion