About The Face | The magazine that invented everything


Pippa Brooks talks to Paul Gorman about his new book, The Story of The Face

In the beginning Nick Logan created The Face … a Biblical moment in the history of independent magazine publishing and a touchstone for pretty much every “style bible” since. Paul Gorman’s new book The Story of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture is a meticulous examination of The Face and its significance, from content and design to its wider influence, from inception in 1980 to 1999, when Logan sold it to EMAP.

As a champion of forgotten genius (see Mr Freedom, Tommy Roberts: British Design Hero and Reasons to be Cheerful, The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles), Gorman felt strongly that Nick Logan’s story needed to be told. It’s an exciting, inspiring read, especially the material covering the early days, when every issue broke new ground. The alumni include an impressive roll call of photographers, writers, artists and designers and Gorman makes sure everyone, from the famous to the supporting cast, is recognised for their part in a magazine that went far beyond style and surface, engaging with culture on multiple levels.  

Pippa Brooks: So, why did you decide to write this book?

By the early 2010s The Face seemed to have almost disappeared from view

Paul Gorman: It had been at the back of my mind for a few years. Nick Logan was a very helpful contributor to my 2001 music press history In Their Own Write and there had been sections on The Face in my other books, including mentions in those I wrote with George O’Dowd and Goldie as well as The Look and the Tommy Roberts and Barney Bubbles monographs.

By the early 2010s The Face seemed to have almost disappeared from view, existing at best as a curio on Tumblr feeds etc., with photos of covers and pages being posted out of the context of the times and circumstances in which the magazine existed and been so important in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2012 I sourced pieces unrelated to The Face for the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition ‘British Design From 1948’. I took Nick as my guest because he hadn’t been invited. There were covers of The Face on display and discussion of the 1980s art director Neville Brody’s contribution to graphic design, but no mention of Nick in the show or the accompanying 400-page catalogue. That night I resolved to set the record straight. My agent got me a deal with Jamie Camplin at Thames & Hudson on the basis of a two-page proposal. “We have to do this book,” said Jamie.

The Face, May 1992

Favourite cover and why? 

‘Love Sees No Colour’ from May 1992; a Thomas Krygier portrait of George O’Dowd, shaven-headed and wearing a bindi and Indian drag holding two babies. The image speaks to the issue’s themes of acceptance and diversity, particularly for minorities, in the face of the rise of the hard right and rabid intolerance among youth across Europe.

What is your favourite spread and why?

‘The Chronology of Nightclubbing’, September 1988. This was painstakingly created in coloured pencils and Letraset type by art director Phil Bicker at the magazine’s printers late into the night as the issue – a bumper edition to celebrate the 100th edition – was going to press. The graph traces London club culture back to Billy’s in Soho and Mayhem on the Thames in 1978 across the ensuing decade and includes many familiar places – Shoom, Spectrum, Mud Club, Dirtbox, Fred’s, Westworld – with ones I had totally forgotten about like Family Funktion (a rare groove place in my memory). Altogether it expresses the vibrancy and hand-crafted energy of the best of The Face.

The Face, March 1985

Do you think people read either The Face or i-D? In your book there is a sense of there being two camps in a way. I’m sure I read both but it’s strange to imagine a time when there were only two magazines to choose from! Like BBC and ITV.

There were two camps to start with and then they started to bleed together, particular after Terry Jones recruited the likes of Nick Knight and i-D’s fashion became so strong, so people started to buy both. i-D was always about impact and a degree of spontaneity whereas The Face was more serious about its journalism, so you could get a hit of each if you bought both magazines. The third lifestyle magazine Blitz was in many ways a bit of a Face-alike but was very good on fashion under Iain R. Webb, so I also bought that.

Would that make Dazed & Confused Channel 4?!

In a way, yes. Like C4 in 1982, Dazed a decade later was calculated in its execution as an alternative voice, responding to what had organically grown out of The Face and i-D. That helped shake things up on the independent magazine publishing scene and kept the two established titles on their toes through much of the 1990s.

I love the Paul Rambali quote in the book when asked ‘What is The Face?’, he said “What LIFE was to the 1950s, what Playboy was to the 1960s, what Rolling Stone was to the 1970s.” Such a brilliant comparison, and I wonder what you think the equivalent would be today, to the 2010s? 

We absorb our media in such a variety of ways now so I don’t think it is possible for any one title to reflect the latest across the overall culture in a coherent manner. But we are living in a golden age of journalism as a response to the horrors of Trump and Brexit so I find that I can gain a patchwork of insights and info from a mixture of titles. Those on my current list are online outlets, for example Vanity Fair’s The Hive and Vice TV, and physical publications Apartamento, The Financial Times Magazine, The Gentlewoman, Mushpit, New Yorker, Private Eye and THIIIRD.

What do you feel was The Face‘s most important contribution to pop culture?

Without Nick Logan’s decades-long contribution to design discourse, our present would look and feel very different

First off by insisting that coverage of what had, up until that point, been considered as ephemera in fact deserved quality treatment and professional values because it was important to vast swathes of mostly young people: glossy paper, decent repro, high standards of photography, innovative graphic design and the best journalism around. By doing so The Face then made a significant contribution to the wider culture. Soon fields such as advertising, cinema, broadcast and print media responded, as did the way fashion, music and design were visualised.  Without Nick Logan’s decades-long contribution to design discourse, our present would look and feel very different.

How important was Neville Brody’s visual aesthetic at the time? 

Very important in the period he was art director (1982-1987). Brody’s daring and technical invention provided the magazine with a visual language. This drew on the early 20th century European avant-garde art and design movements such as Constructivism and The Bauhaus but recast them, providing contemporary relevance and immediacy. In many respects Brody was responsible for an aspect of the look of the 1980s.

Buffalo, the new romantics and soccer fan casuals were all youth movements heavily covered by The Face. That aspiration for accessibility and creativity rather than high fashion consumerism was such a strength of the magazine, I think. Do you agree?

For sure. Logan’s journalistic impulse was as an egalitarian tastemaker, providing the best – in design, fashion, music – to the widest possible audience but never pandering to populism and – that very Mod thing – always staying one step ahead. There were times when the magazine was treading water – say in 1987 or so, when it failed to pick up on the coming of acid-house, but it soon corrected with what editor Sheryl Garratt called “the revenge of the suburbs” which celebrated provincial pride and inclusivity, sweaty hugs in fields rather than too-cool-for-school froideur behind the velvet rope of some Soho niterie. Kate from Croydon and Naomi from Streatham, not glamazons from Manhattan.

Three sides of The Face

How important was the fact that The Face kept on top of politics as much as the latest music trends?

Very. Otherwise it would have been just another magazine. The Face was always oppositional, if sometimes not overtly; remember – for 17 of the magazine’s 19 years of publication by Logan, consecutive Conservative governments were in power.

From the first ‘Barometer’ Nick wrote in January 1981 – which mentioned, alongside the latest New Romantic styles, haircuts and clubs, the nuclear dread which followed the arrival of Cruise missiles – and Bob Elms’ 1982 ‘Hard Times’ piece discussing youth unemployment and Britain’s inner cities being flooded with cheap heroin, social awareness was an important part of the mix at The Face. This was consistent on Nick’s watch; the last issue before Logan sold up to EMAP (July 1999) may have had Natalie Portman on the cover in Star Wars garb, but it also contained a feature inside on the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe in Leicester and the social tensions arising from that.

Do you think it’s true to say that The Face is the only glossy magazine to have reflected the lives of working class youth?

Logan had been a working-class youth and remained true to his roots. So that’s correct. But the fact is that The Face was a beacon to anybody – regardless of class, colour, sexual orientation, gender – who was receptive to new ideas. To restrict it to one social strata – and one which had already become difficult to discern midway through the 1980s – is to do the widespread appeal and significance of the magazine an injustice.

Paul Gorman: The Story of The Face

Post-internet, is the physical, glossy magazine still relevant? Or, maybe a better question would be, do you think a magazine like The Face could be successful today?

It seems to me that print magazines including some content on vanguard ideas no longer make sense within a corporate structure – see Glamour dropping down to two issues a year, Rolling Stone up for sale, NME given away free as a “music paper” – without the vision, determination and chops of, say, Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair – and I’m heartbroken he’s leaving – or Emmanuelle Alt at Paris Vogue.

Time will tell in regard to Edward Enninful, but time was certainly up on the previous regime. See how testy their response has been; a sure sign of resting on their laurels for too long. It seems a positive move to me; Enninful comes from the i-D/The Face culture and if anyone can make British Vogue break out of its hidebound nature then it’s him.

But for sure the energy in magazine publishing now resides with the independent sector where niche activity and readership meets multi-platform flexibility. That’s why The Gentlewoman and Mushpit are making waves and between them have inspired a plethora of, mainly female-led, titles. I’ve met a fair few of the people behind this new wave, and The Face is a touchstone. It’s great to see that it is no longer a curio but a model for forward-thinking, independent-minded publishing. C