New ventures are on the horizon for rising publication Tings Magazine. The biannual print issue relaunches along with a new digital content production studio and will feature 3 covers featuring Eman Deng, heartthrob actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and Edward Mapplethorpe, photographer and younger brother of the late Robert Mapplethorpe. Deng, the South-Sudanese model and former refugee speaks candidly about her rise to the magazine, shot by creative director Justin Campbell who has teamed up with business partner and talent manager Michael Flutie to usher in a new era for the mag. The inside 178 pages unveils contributions from photographers Francesca Sorrenti and Steven Sebring; stylist Oliver Volquardsen; and appearances from Tami Williams, Marjan Jonkman, Evan Mock and Kenya Kinski-Jones. We spoke to Campbell and Flutie on the new studio expansion, how COVID19 forced them to take a chance on their new venture, and the future of media being “phygital” experiences.
With F/W 20 titled the “Youth Issue,” how have the youth impressed you in the past year?
Justin Campbell: The title of our issue is a representation of who we are as a studio and platform. I am part of this incredible generation that is more globally connected, aware and invested than any previous generation. Tings is a response to how my peers consume content, our demand for authenticity, and our desire for premium storytelling. I am in awe of my generation’s courage to stand up against a broken system, our refusal to be defined by our own circumstances or the status quo, and how we come together as a generation to effect change. The voices in this issue represent this attitude whether the speaker is an artist, actor, refugee, scientist, designer, or student.
How do you cultivate authentic visuals in brand partnerships, especially for digital audiences on social media?
Justin: As a creator, I can’t do anything that doesn’t feel authentic. I think the old system of simply pairing a recognizable face with a brand doesn’t work anymore. My generation is smarter than that. We need to believe in what we are being sold, and if we are going to be sold something we need to feel like we are getting something meaningful in return.
Michael Flutie: Justin and I have the same taste. He has a great eye for talent and is one of the most talented photographers, directors and wholly creative people I’ve met in twenty years. He has a natural ability to blend fashion with entertainment and respond to the desires of his generation. We both believe in telling cinematic stories, creating iconic images, launching talent and creating premium, relevant content. Justin has an instinct for marketing and the ways brands must authentically communicate with today’s globally connected audience; that’s why I partnered with him to produce and publish talent and content.
Tings has always focused on rising new talent, what made you choose Eman Deng to be on the cover for this new issue?
Michael: Discovering and marketing models and talent is my passion and my history. Eman has attributes that make an amazing model. Star power is so much more than someone’s physical appearance. It’s personality, spirit and confidence. Talent must have the ability to create images, move, perform and inspire the photographer or director. Eman has all that and more. That’s why she is our fashion model cover.
At Company Management I embraced imperfections and championed diversity. We brokered a contract for Lana Ogilvie for CoverGirl, becoming the first agency to land an exclusive contract for a Black model with Procter & Gamble at a time when Madison Avenue shunned these conversations. We were one of the first to represent a transgender model, Connie Fleming, who walked the runways of Paris.
Justin: I first met Eman when I was casting for the F/W 20 Superdry Campaign. Her energy is contagious and we instantly connected. I knew she was special after hearing her incredible story and seeing firsthand her self-determination and confidence. Her ability to overcome, transform and rise is undeniable and yet her spirit is innocent, youthful and eager to blossom. She represents the future. I do not doubt that she will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
What is the inspiration behind the Edward Mapplethorpe ‘American Cycle’ series and what does it symbolize for our current moment?
Justin: Edward Mapplethorpe’s ‘American Cycle’ transforms one of the most iconic symbols, the flag of the United States, into a series of strange and compelling images. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Edward had limited access to his typical studio and creative materials. Undeterred, he found inspiration at home and created this series of photographs of the flag as it goes through the laundry. The colors and patterns of the flag whirl together as they cycle through this cleaning process. The images are a call to action to consider the stained history of the United States, including the inequities that have worsened under the pandemic. As we are days from the U.S. election, we are reminded of the incredible power of protest that we’ve seen continuing to unfold at this moment. We wanted to respond to what was happening around us and create a cover that was not driven by a single individual, but spoke to collective power.
With the global pandemic adding additional stress to the medium, what do you think is the future of traditional print media?
Justin: The landscape had already shifted before the pandemic. The traditional way we consume media is no longer the desired format for digesting information. Print media must become non-disposable. It must be special. We have a digital-first business model while our printed biannual magazine celebrates the heritage, craftsmanship, and artistry of publishing. That the print magazine is a limited-run publication makes it that much more exclusive and prized.
Michael: We can invent and create or live in fear and retreat. When the world came to a stop, Justin and I had no place to go. We were on lockdown and decided to take a leap of faith. We recruited our friends and started building our shared vision.
In today’s competitive economy, talent and brands must have access to creatives who can support their brand, tell stories, produce and publish with and for them. We are supporting marketers across all media, including the fastest-growing digital subset, while empowering talent to monetize their personal brands. While we acknowledge that commerce drives conversation, we are first and foremost a content-creation studio that is committed to the editorial voice of our audience and industry. Tings responds to the current needs of talent and brands in the global fashion and entertainment economy.
Why did you decide to venture into production and a magazine studio?
Michael: After detouring from the fashion and model management world in 2005, I began representing experts as talent. I activated a business for Talent Branding, coined Talent Brand Management, and produced shows for various networks including Westside on Netflix, which focuses on nine emerging artists. After spending several years in Hollywood, I believe the future of the industry was not in representation but content creation. Last year, Jaime King (a model I discovered when she was 15) introduced me to Justin. I loved his creative energy, his connection to his generation, his relationship with talent and, most importantly, the way he captured images. He had already published a few issues of Tings, and I recognized the potential and the business opportunity of collaborating together and building a publishing company and studio that could produce talent and content.
What challenges have you faced with production during this pandemic?
Justin: The hardest challenge was having to slow down, but that also allowed us the luxury of letting the creative process marinate so we could truly build the platform we envisioned. Another silver lining was that people found themselves with a lot of extra time. We were able to work with incredible contributors who were excited about our new platform.
Michael: We started in March and immediately began producing content while building a digital platform and web presence from scratch. We reached out to friends for help. The first call was to Wim Huurman, a long-time friend who is a motion graphic designer I had worked with at Company Management. Justin and I knew we needed the digital platform to appeal to an audience that jumped from one story to the next. We wanted fashion, but we also wanted culture and science stories. We knew our audience wanted a premium, multimedia experience and to be able to scroll through images, read, listen and watch.
Production on the print and digital version of Tings happened with input from creative people around the world. While we were building the site we reached out to Edward Mapplethorpe and Michelle Yun (American Cycle), who used an iPhone and their home as a photography and writing studio. Tanya Selvarratnam and Marcello Freire brought us human cell research from the laboratory (Death, Regeneration, and Rebirth; In Our Bodies and in Our World). Justin reached out to E.L James to write the script for Touch Screen and started shooting Marjan Jonkman, Ton Heukels, Francisco Lachowski and Tami Williams.
We launched Tings Studio at the same time, so Justin flew to London to quarantine for two weeks before meeting with the Superdry marketing team and prepping for the global campaign. I was in Los Angels producing via Zoom with a nine-hour time difference. Casting models, looking for stylists, calling model agents and reps, all who were operating from home. We had many challenges, but it was fun, exciting and new. We were discovering talent, inventing, creating and embracing the opportunity to produce during a global shutdown. Now we get to tell the stories.
What does the new era of Tings have in store for its audience? What are the elements you want to build on?
Justin Campbell and Michael Flutie: We are working on new stories, a new global campaign, and our next print issue. We are excited to continue telling authentic stories, discovering and fostering new talent, and collaborating with creatives and brands that we respect and admire. We are creating a search platform for emerging talent called screen test. We want to continue growing our audience and connecting brands while amplifying the content we create in new territories all over the world. We also have a special cover dropping next week! Stay tuned…