By Serah-Marie McMahon
Worn Fashion Journal and Fashion Projects are among the more prominent publications presenting alternative voices to mainstream fashion mags. Respective editors Serah-Marie Mc Mahon in Montreal and Francesca Granata in New York City recently discussed the intricacies of taking fashion seriously.
Francesca: I get the idea from reading the third issue that a lot of people who write for Worn have a fashion history background. I was wondering if you do too, and how and why you ended up starting it?
Serah-Marie: I don’t have a fashion history background I actually studied Fine Arts, and I’m currently a student at Concordia University in Fibre Arts. A few years ago I worked at a modeling agency in Toronto. I was involved in the highly commercial aspects of the fashion industry and I learned a lot, but I also figured out that I wanted to be on the other side of the phone. I wanted to be making something. I was also pretty disillusioned by the whole scene– buying and selling the way people look. The job really embodied every negative stereotype that people have about fashion. I later worked at an independent video rental store full of medianerds for a while, and they all read these film publications that were insanely focused and detailed. I looked for an equivalent in fashion, but it just didn’t exist. So I moved to Montreal and while going to school, I started Worn. I guess I ended up doing something that’s not so far from my job at the agency: I am not necessarily making something myself–though sometimes I write and take pictures–mostly I bring other creative people together to make something. How did Fashion Projects start?
F: It was actually accidental. I wanted to do my PhD in fashion, but I wasn’t finding a program that suited my needs. I did a few internships at museums, but I really wanted to explore more. My boyfriend is a music-writer and he does a ‘zine. He was like “why don’t you do a ‘zine?” That idea of self-initiatiation is very common in music culture. There is an indie fashion scene with designers and stores, but not the publications to go with it, whereas the indie music scene has always had ‘zines. It was great because I found a lot of enthusiasm, people responded well. At the same time it was really hard. I learned a lot though; sometimes I think more than I did by traditional higher education.
S: Where did you do your Master’s?
F: I did it at NYU, in Film Studies, and I was writing a lot about fashion in film. It was something I really wanted to do all the time. But then I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do it in the academic crowd. But since I started the ‘zine, I have found that they are some of my biggest supporters and contributors. It totally counteracts my idea that people who work in museums are stuffy, and of course that wasn’t the case. One of the first things that attracted me to your publication was the interview with [ROM curator] Alexandra Palmer. People like that usually never get interviewed, for whatever reason. I thought that for Fashion Projects it would be fun to ask people who don’t usually get asked really.
S: I really like the fact that you are almost completely interview based.
F: It was a little random; I didn’t feel confident that I had enough to say yet. I was also really inspired by this now defunct magazine called index. It was filled with these informal interviews with semi-famous people. I feel like at the beginning, I was just really curious to find out other people’s point of view. I wanted to know about being a designer, and the difficulby ties involved. I feel like when it comes to discussing the properties of design, and even the small economics of it, I was quite ignorant. I figured if I wanted to find out, then maybe other people would want to find out. Even the economic issues, which we talk about a little, are not really ever discussed in print. What about the structure of Worn?
S: I tried to narrow its content down only to fashion, and I look to see what is not being covered elsewhere. We don’t spend pages and pages trying to sell products, we don’t give recipes on how to dress. We never tell anyone how to copy some expensive look for cheap or the top ten black dresses that make you look skinny. I just kept reading about how fashion magazines make women feel bad about themselves and that nearly breaks my heart. Fashion is fun! It’s a way to express yourself everyday. I also like history. I find it really inspiring, and it seemed the best way to inspire awesome dressing was to tell people were it comes from.
F: One of the biggest problems for me was a question of funding. When I went to put it together, the designer said we have to put it in colour otherwise it might not make sense. Even though my print run is small, that pushes up prices. I was wondering how you deal with that?
S: I have the same problem. When I was planning Worn in my head, I was just going to photocopy it in black and white. Then I realized that was ridiculous. Colour is such a huge part of clothing; it’s like watching a movie with the sound turned off. It’s kind of fun for a bit, but after a while…Also in terms of printing, durability was really important to me, so I couldn’t just do colour copies, because after sitting on your shelf for a while all the pages stick together. Funding was the huge problem. I sunk pretty much all the money I had in the world and put it into the first issue. We print half in colour, half in black-and-white, and it works pretty well, and keeps costs in check. I haven’t been able to recoup that money yet, but every issue makes just enough to pay for the next printing. The other big factor is that it’s run entirely by volunteers. Everybody, from the photographers, to the illustrators, the writers and the production team works for free, including me. There is no way that I could have done this without that help. I haven’t received any grants yet, but I’ve applied for some this year. I saw that you had some grant logos in the front of Fashion Projects.
F: I got a small grant to help us get off the ground. New York has a little grant money available for publications, but they don’t include fashion. Design sometimes, but not fashion. I have asked the head of funding why there is no section for fashion, and they seemed surprised at the question. People think of fashion as very commercial, and not in need of funding. It’s part of culture too. I think there are a lot of gender issues involved when they choose these categories.
S: I find the same thing in Canada, except that I just ignore those categories, and apply anyway. I feel that is part of Worn–a way of proving that fashion is an art form.
F: It is strange that we don’t fit in any category really. I find the same problem with distribution. Stores don’t know what to make of me. Many art stores were wary of carrying anything with ‘fashion’ in title. I got a distributor because I just couldn’t handle it. Where do you sell?
S: I entirely self-distribute. I mainly only sell where I can drive, so I talk to everyone myself. We’re in some book and magazine stores, but most of our outlets are vintage and independent clothing shops. I figured that people who are really interested in what I’m talking about would be the same people who shop at those kinds of stores.
F: I’ve been approaching museum gift shops, especially places that have fashion exhibitions, and that has worked out well. It sort of makes sense. What about your website? We both bought each other’s publications that way…
S: Most of our subscriptions have come though the website. I wish I could spend more time on it…it’s a good place to talk about what fashion events are going on around the country. Because it was really important to Worn to only talk about timeless things so that you can pick it up in five years and it will be just as relevant then as it is now. I guess that seems normal for a lot of ‘zines–but for a fashion publication, it’s revolutionary. Fashion magazines are meant to be disposable, often like fashion itself, in and out of trends. These are the attitudes we are trying to contradict.
F: Making a fashion ‘zine is political. Lots of people don’t get that. They think fashion is this thing that is frivolous, it’s sort of decorative, so it doesn’t even fit in a design medium, let alone an art one. The first wave of feminism was totally anti-fashion. Within academia at least, fashion just did not fit the feminist agenda, so they wouldn’t study it. It wasn’t being taken seriously as a medium in the art world for a completely different reason. That has obviously changed a lot, with museum exhibitions like the [recent exhibition at the Design Museum in New York] Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting show, but I feel like there is still some of that left over.
S: There is a huge need to talk in-depth about clothing–what we wear and how we wear it. I feel that it is crucial to have independent press in the fashion world.
F: It’s really important. It’s more acceptable in mainstream fashion publications to have no clear boundaries between advertising and content, like you would in a more cultural publication, just because of the way the industry works. There is a gap in what commercial publications cover, what they can cover, and what they do cover. These publications have to write for a huge audience. I can do whatever I want. It’s very empowering.