Illustration by Josep Prat
Last April, several Spanish cities woke up invaded by pictures of two girls biting an apple, a very, let’s say, original way of announcing the return of the Tentaciones (Temptations) supplement of El País. The campaign didn’t forebode anything good, and although they have appointed very decent journalists as collaborators, each new issue of the new Tentaciones confirms that it’s just a pastiche of nineties trend press with a debatable topic selection, a purposely ugly design and no sense of the ridiculous whatsoever (“mindfulness is the bazillionth anti-stress revolution in the multitasking era”, “there’s nothing more modern than being wellness chic”). Although the most puzzling thing of all is the fact that someone thought it was a good idea to resurrect trend magazines in 2015. During the eighties and nineties, mastheads such as The Face, I-D, Dazed & Confused or Ray Gun were born to blend fashion and music. Back then, they were something new, bold and with a clear-cut personality. And a good business to boot: when it came to sales and, above all, to advertisement. However, times have changed and today the musical and publishing industries lay dying. Money has gone some place else.
As of 1993 and for a full decade, Tentaciones managed to spruce up El País target readers. Lots of teenagers bought the newspaper to read the supplement, half cultural listing, and half trend mag. But if the cause of the resurrection of its printed version is the same now, I’m sorry to say that they’re going to bite the dust. There’s absolutely no way that a twenty-year-old (or a twenty-five-year-old or a thirty-year-old) will go and buy a printed newspaper today. Newspapers have an aged target that still go to the newsagent’s out of routine more than anything. On the other hand, many of the magazines which have served as a reference for this new Tentaciones don’t exist anymore or publish less issues per year after having witnessed a dramatic lowering of their sales and advertising deals. Ray Gun disappeared in 2000 and The Face did the same ten years ago. I-D publishes four numbers per year, although it keeps on making money by exploiting its brand: now it’s part of the Vice emporium and has a web-site including articles and videos, a bit like Vice itself, but more focused in music, fashion and celebs. Wallpaper* had better fortune, since from the beginning it rejected the rock & roll touch and looked for readers who travelled business class and were interested in minimalism, technology and, to sum it up, the beauty of luxury. And we all know that the luxury goods sector is always very healthy indeed. The founder of Wallpaper*, exquisite dandy Tyler Brûlé, has more or less achieved the same thing with his current project, Monocle. The magazine is exemplary, although it somehow seems directed to the same high-income readers.
In essence, Brûlé designed his career by pushing the elitist and hedonist philosophy of trend magazines, which always saw themselves as the height of good taste and sophistication, to the limit. Obsession for anything new was his motor, and politics his taboo. All those magazines educated several generations making them believe that the way to express themselves was through their taste, that they were what they consumed and their compromise should be to brands and favourite bands, and not to the social reality around them. At each given moment, you have to listen to the right music, dress in the right clothes, see the right films, go to the right festival… and nowadays, you also need to have the right computer, tablet and mobile phone.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that nineties’ most important mastheads didn’t employ highly talented photographers and journalists, and that some of them haven’t become fetishes for aesthetes and collectors. Any forty-something with a good memory will remember a cover of The Face with a very young Kate Moss from 1991, know that the first magazines that talked about (and celebrated) British rave culture were the ones just mentioned, and will be able to comment on the design of Ray Gun (so chaotic that several articles were almost unreadable). But the danger of cultivating aestheticism is that you need to be very intelligent not to become hollow and silly.
Since nobody believes in paper anymore, the only possible future for this kind of printed publications is fetishism. Publisher Luis Venegas, a nostalgic of the golden age of magazines who publishes his own (Fanzine 137 and Candy) in very limited print-runs, has it very clear: he avoids newsagents’ and controls distribution by selling them directly to bookshops and “selected” shops in the whole world. It is all a question of having the readers buying them believing that they belong to a special group of people.
This summer, upon seeing one of his magazines on the shelf with other super modern clothes, books, sneakers, sunglasses and all sorts of Colette knick-knacks in Paris, together with different quarterly and bi-annual publications, I had a sort of epiphany. The fate of trend magazines is a precedent of what will happen, in general, to the rest of the press. Most printed newspapers and magazines will disappear and the few survivors will target a well-informed elite who won’t mind spending ten or, I don’t know, twenty euros per issue. If I am right, this means that trend magazines will have set the trend again, for the last time.