Essay: The New Fashion World Order

by Steve Beale on 6 December 2002

On its 10th anniversary, journalist Steve Beale waxes lyrical on the 'new establishment' of Dazed & Confused magazine.

On its 10th anniversary, journalist Steve Beale waxes lyrical on the 'new establishment' of Dazed & Confused magazine.

Dazed is where it is after 10 years because its creators thought big. They wanted a magazine that possessed the highest production values and featured the most glamorous cover stars and the most important movements. If the first generation style 'bibles' - The Face and i-D - were a 'street-level' reaction to the Condé Nast publications’ dominance of the glossy market, then Dazed's arrogance, self-importance and pretension were the refreshing alternative to a worthy, over-democratised market. Never lo-fi and always as arty, fashionable and beautiful as possible, Dazed reminded lifestyle magazines that decent music coverage, articles that read well or 'making a point' really didn't matter.

Rather than 'kicking against the pricks' as so many established style mags would gladly do, were there the corporate ad revenue to keep funding it, Dazed & Confused wanted to be the pricks. This was evolution of a kind not anticipated by the baby boomers that had created i-D and The Face or the equally aged trend consultants who whined that there was 'no rebellion anymore'. Rather than offering themselves as the alternative to the establishment, Dazed were the new establishment. Whilst others seemed content to innovate from the security of their bedsit, Dazed would settle for nothing less than an ivory tower. Anyone who has ever worked in the Mickey Mouse business of the 'cutting edge' be it on a magazine, record label, design house or whatever, where the atmosphere is generally more Red Dwarf than Absolutely Fabulous, could hardly blame them.

Dazed drew their new establishment around them in a virtuoso display of networking, both through the pages of the magazine and otherwise. Mark Saunders’ art items (often the only articles where the words themselves were actually worth paying any attention to) identified the YBAs long before they were known as such. Björk and Alexander McQueen, as the music and fashion world’s greatest contemporary talents, were embraced to the degree that they were practically part of the staff. Other notables loved the intellectual take on celebrity culture, most pertinently expressed through Rankin’s portraits that the magazine offered. It was the ideal ‘positioning’ for stars that felt above the celebrity frenzy.

And for "positioning" Dazed was indeed perfect, rock solid in the new age of 'the brand.' The magazine was arguably as excellent a piece of marketing as it was a piece of media. In Dazed’s late-90s heyday Matt Roach’s design looked like the propaganda of a ruthless regime. Parties, spin-off books, the gallery, the senior staff’s personal work (and personal lives) threaded together impeccably. Fuelling all of this was an entrepreneurial spirit again anathema to the right-on world views of the London style magazine world. Most embodied by Dazed’s industrious fashion team, Thatcher’s children came not wearing pinstripe suits, but spike heels teamed with army surplus coats.

So Dazed & Confused became more establishment than any of its supposed peers. It was the post-modern update of what a glossy magazine really is - the best-looking court circular ever produced. The desktop publishing revolution was there to assist, enabling photographers and art directors to create high-budget images on little or no credit. The magazine’s imagery was in stark contrast to the reactionary introspection of Corinne Day or Juergen Teller. Phil Poynter’s defining fashion photography did not occupy the fringes so much as comfortably plonk itself right at the centre. In an increasingly visual age the images tied Dazed together rather than the tired ‘front section, features, fashion, back section’ magazine format.

The establishment itself embraced these hard-working, savvy creatives who craved their approval. Unsurprisingly, since at the time of grunge and acid house, a surly and unattractive uprising unpleasant and frustrating to those who controlled the fashion and entertainment industries, was the norm. The music business for instance embraced Dazed's notoriously wanton prostitution of their 'alternative back covers'. "They muck us about all the time but there’s no point in us taking them to task, because then they'll go out of business, and we won't be able to buy their back cover ever again. We’re desperate for style magazine coverage. There's no other magazine that's so good for us that we can do that with."

There were other areas of darkness within the empire. Dazed has often been criticised for not paying contributors. These critics are obviously unaware that mould-breaking style magazines with towering production values do not make fortunes. Dazed was a ‘platform for creativity’ upon which the talented could make their name. Style mags had always been thus, but Dazed in comparison were unapologetic. The magazine was a very modern charity - it helped people help themselves. Those with talent thrived and went on to greater things - those that received scant reward most likely didn’t deserve it.

Rankin is now the most famous British photographer since David Bailey, Katie Grand is 'the most important woman in fashion' (c. all Sunday supplements) and Jefferson is siring the next generation of Hacks from the most beautiful woman in the world. And Dazed itself has inspired a hundred imitations (even caused rebellions in the shape of mags like Vice), changed for ever the way style mag editors and publishers think and written the book on how to get ahead in the modern media. Harmony Korine may have love, but there isn’t a single person reading this that won’t have reverence, and be not a little in awe.




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