As Man About Town, the bi-annual men’s fashion and lifestyle publication, releases its Spring/Summer 2015 issue tomorrow entitled A NEW HOPE, one gets the feeling this new generation is predestined to set the stage for a social renaissance. On the multiple covers shot by Alasdair McLellan a prepossessing Bjorn stands semi-gawk semi-sophisticate with styling by Olivier Rizzo that is democratic in its androgyny. For the issue, the exclusive previews of AW 15 Gucci, J.W. Anderson, Raf Simons, and Prada match MAT’s pitch perfect breed of meta-decadal fingerprinting.
We spoke to Ben Reardon, the editor-in-chief of Man About Town, recently to get personal insight and some cultural forecasting. After a stint at British GQ Style and i-D before that, he’s found familiar terra firma at Man –the independent magazine world being a language more native to him. Ben understands that the the editor’s compass is always shifting following cultural zeitgeists.
Photos courtesy of Man About Town
S: We met while you were at British GQ Style, and before then it was I-D. Now you’re the editor-in-chief of Man About Town. What attracted you there?
B: The idea of a return to independent publishing and the freedom that entails was really appealing. I learnt so much at i-D, it wasn’t just a job, and it was more like family at a pivotal time in my life. I still think of Terry and Tricia Jones, the founders of i-D, as my second parents. After seven years it was time for a new challenge and I had always wanted to experience work within the incredible world of Condé Nast. The thought of bridging the gap between the mainstream and counter-culture always appeals to me. I was very proud of the work we achieved there: commissioning Inez and Vinoodh to shoot James Franco as Adam Ant, Juergen Teller to go to Noma, the best restaurant in the world, Alasdair McLellan to shoot One Direction’s first ever editorial, Harmony Korine to shoot his first ever fashion story, pairing Gus Van Sant with the genius stylist Panos Yiapanis and Terry Richardson shooting the guys from Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy to celebrate a golden age of TV. My final cover was Pharrell just on the stratospheric upturn of his career, wearing Jake and Dinos Chapman for Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton with cover graphics by Fergadelic–the designer who I currently work with at Man About Town. These were all big moments and felt genuinely exciting to broker under the GQ banner.
But I have an independent aesthetic at heart and a deep-rooted love of the young and the new, all of which can be fully realised at Man About Town. The only constraints here are what I can make happen. From issue 1, it was about turning a good, functioning magazine into something relevant and vital. Brooklyn Beckham’s first ever, editorial story was a punt I wanted to take for my first cover. I loved the idea of the words ‘Man’ and ‘Boy’ written closely together on the cover, extending the remit of how menswear was delivered editorially. The punt paid off–those images went global, featured across the global news media, on talk shows and breakfast TV. They set a news agenda for a week, something you can’t often do at a fashion magazine. It was just a boy in a school uniform, but it delivered a very explicit fashion message that was British, simple, elegant and in tune with its times. Sometimes the pressure is daunting, but I purposefully wanted to open a door into a new vocabulary in menswear.
S: Can you describe to me any cultural drifts, things more substantial than a trend, that may be informing some of what you put into the magazine in terms of content and talent?
B: I attend the fashion shows each season in London, Florence, Milan then finishing in Paris. These are when buyers, editors, stylists and journalists see the clothes and concepts we will be working with the following season, which we then have to digest, process and translate to the reader. The way that I work is very instinctive. I rely on my cultural awareness and set a theme accordingly. The team then tries to understand my random thought process and hopefully incorporates fashion into something wider and more meaningful than a selection of garments. A lot of care and thought goes into everything from the graphics to the titles, the teams paired and the journalism. I believe the written word, paired with a great photograph, inspired styling and a brilliant title graphic can be explosive. I believe in printed matter and always will. It’s still the best way of organizing thought when executed correctly.
S: Do you have any process for cultivating your intuitions in this scope – or gathering inspiration?
B: When I was growing up the Internet wasn’t around. It was a time before everything was readily available. So you had to rely on libraries to read books, charity shops for clothes and markets for records and fanzines. The first fashion magazine that I actually bought was Kurt Cobain on the cover of The Face. I was going on holiday with my mum and dad and it was in the airport. I was 14, at the awkward age when you hate everything. I was in a hot country and stayed in the shadows, reading that magazine from cover to cover time and time again. Seeing fashion photography for the first time blew my mind. You pick at the seams of culture now and things fall apart. The only thing we have left in an age of shared information and aesthetic overload is the intimate specifics of someone’s taste. I try to hang a lot of those thoughts together in magazines because that feels like their magic to me.
S: Reading and looking at your work, I get a feeling that your intentions are to produce work that feels more regional and colloquial. That there’s value in that context. Have you ever thought about this?
B: The previous issue of MAT was specifically themed around the idea Is Britain Still Great? It was put together at a shifting, scary, weird time politically in Britain and we wanted to address it. We spent the summer travelling around the UK, finding beauty and interest in small local stories and tackling politics along the way. There was a genuine feeling back in the office when we assembled the stories that we’d achieved something more thoughtful than just another magazine about menswear. To care and to give something depth resonates more, hopefully. We chose Jack O’Connell as the cover star as for me he represents a particular British localism, albeit one that is translating to a world stage. He’s the handsome wag who lives down the street that just happens to be super-talented. He’s won a Bafta and bagged a Prada campaign whilst the magazine is still on the shelves. Again, we felt like he said something more than just being a nice face in nice clothes.
S: Where did you grow up and what were you interested in as a boy?
B: I grew up in Newport, South Wales. When I was growing up everyone was in a band. NME labelled Newport the new Seattle. Donna from Elastica went to my school. Everyone drank at the local club called, The Legendary TJs, where Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love and the Manic Street Preachers hung out. TJ’s was pivotal to me in every way. Dressing up and getting the bus into town was an event there. My sister loved The Smiths and Morrissey, so Morrissey has always been a constant throughout my life. We listened to Hatful of Hollow in my dad’s car, cut out posters from magazines to paper her walls with and I wore her boy-sucking-a-lollipop Smiths tee for my non-uniform day in Junior School. When I was aged 14, Morrissey played support to David Bowie in Cardiff, I was so excited I puked all over myself. So, Morrissey. It has always been Morrissey. And it will always be Morrissey. Who else is there?
S: Have you ever had any odd jobs?
B: The jobs I did like stacking shelves and working in an off-license were to supplement me doing work placement at magazines whilst studying at Art College. I met Rachel Newsome, who was then Editor at Dazed and Confused, and worked there for a year, editing the Eye Spy pages at the front of the book, previously edited by Nicola Formichetti. Katy England and Alister Mackie would visit the office and it would be a sensation seeing in person people who I had studied the work of for so long. A job at i-D was advertised in the Guardian. I applied, was interviewed by Terry Jones, got the job and later became editor.
S: Are there any personal obsessions that you inject into your work? I know you’re wild about at least a few things.
B: Morrissey and David Lynch are the two constants. They’re there in pretty much everything I do, explicitly or implicitly. They informed my taste at a crucial age. You can never run away from that.
S: I think you’re really great at pairing talent, sometimes finding obscure fixings. What’s your objective when building the team for a project?
B: It has to be more than just a model, a photograph and some clothes. It goes back to people caring. I value knowledge and intuition. The people I collaborate with are experts in their fields. You can’t force someone to take a picture otherwise it becomes so bland and catalogue. I think when worlds collide and things clash, then you get brilliant results. The high and the low is always a tense, interesting mix.
S: Who would be your dream team?
B: I’m lucky to say that I only work with people I love and admire. Having said that, I would love to meet and work with Bruce Weber one day. The world he creates with his pictures is one I would love to inhabit.
S: Are there any models you would use over and over again?
B: I love Lara Stone. Her face and attitude evokes European cinema and she always creates an interesting character. She can turn from submissive to aggressive, from sex to restrained in the curl of a lip or furrow of her brow. And she is, when all’s said and done, a breathtaking beauty.
S: Especially for this previous issue of Man About Town, you worked closely with Alasdair McLellan. What are your favorite elements of his work in-and-out of the fashion medium?
B: It’s very personal with Alasdair, we trust each other. It’s a pleasure to work with him. It’s not just taking a fashion image; it’s about finding talent, an oddness, a narrative and a story. We share very similar references and Alasdair knows pop culture like nobody I have ever met. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure facts and figures related to the charts, 60s kitchen sink dramas, Morrissey lyrics, scenes in Star Wars and he uses this to create characters in a world that is just his. And he makes it all seem so effortless. His pictures look like beautiful stills from the most amazing film you have never seen. It’s always very British, sometimes dour and with a touch of sadness, but always with great elegance and sophistication. His expert hand is like no other and I am beyond proud to call him my friend.
S: Has the British aesthetic resurged in prevalence?
B: There’s a new wave of super exciting image makers coming through in London, as an editor, it’s an exciting time with a host of new photographers and stylists to collaborate with. They all share some esoteric similarities, making work that is very personal, arty, weird, wrong, sexual, staged, sincere and very British. I guess it’s the first time since Alasdair that we’re watching a new wave coming through which is always inspiring to see.
S: How has the landscape of the fashion industry, men’s in particular, changed over the last decade?
B: There’s a lot more of it and it’s gotten much busier, with London Collections Men’s added to the schedule and now New York Men’s fashion week being spoken of. The process of editing so much visual information down to a coherent thought has become even more of the most beautiful headache.
S: What’s your favorite film?
B: Star Wars. Always.
All 4 covers, Bjorn by Alasdair McLellan (Art Partner) / Styling by Olivier Rizzo
Shane and Hamish Frew by Alasdair McLellan (Art Partner) / Styling by Olivier Rizzo / Hair by Matt Mulhall (Streeters London) / Makeup by Ninni Nummela (Streeters London)
Photography by Mike O’Meally
Michael by Alasdair McLellan (Art Partner) / Hair by Malcolm Edwards (Art Partner) / Makeup by Lynsey Alexander (Streeters London)
Harry by Letty Schmiterlow / Styling by Danny Reed
Finnlay Davis by Jamie Hawkesworth / Styling by Jonathan Anderson / Hair and grooming by Gary Gill
Hugo, Jules and Marko at Rebel by Gosha Rubchinskiy / Styling by Lotta Volkova Adam (New York: ArtList NY, Paris: ArtList Paris) / Hair and grooming by Gary Gill