FASHION: THIS ENGLAND ; Is It Art? Is It Fashion? or Is It Just a State of Mind? Whatever It Is, the Eclectic "English" Aesthetic Propounded in the New Issue of the World's Most Must-Have Fashion Magazine Is Something That You Can't Afford to Ignore This Summer. Rebecca Lowthorpe Explains Why, for the Cognoscenti, "Big" Has Never Been More Beautiful
Lowthorpe, Rebecca, The Independent (London, England)
To those outside the fashion and advertising worlds, Big magazine will mean very little. But among those working in such image-driven industries it is considered to be the most stingingly hip of all coffee-table bibles. Unlike the usual fleet of slickly manufactured glossies such as The Fashion (cover tag: "In Clothes We Trust"), Pop ("Hot Shiny Stuff"), and Wallpaper ("The Stuff That Surrounds You"), Big - impossible to pin down to one easy slogan, not that it would ever attempt to use one - is an independent, New York-based magazine, headed by Marcelo Junemann, a Chilean-born, Spanish- bred aesthete who prides himself on sourcing talent to push the boundaries, not just of fashion, but of photographic imagery in general.
"I never wanted Big to be a straight fashion magazine," says Junemann, who launched the magazine 10 years ago in Madrid, well before the newsstands began to groan under the strain of quasi- fashion/art journals aimed at the self-conscious "thinking" style set. "Big has never been a mainstream magazine, like The Face or iD. I don't know whether we're cult, but we're certainly innovative, and that's difficult in the 21st century, to do something new," states Junemann.
Big is unique in that every issue - there are 10 a year - is put together by a different editorial team in a different country, closely co-ordinated by Junemann over at Big HQ in New York. Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US have all, at one time or another, documented trends in aesthetics by way of showcasing the cream of that particular country's talent.
Past issues have focused on such intangible themes as "The Sublime", "Youth" and "Horror" - the cover of the last featured the model, Shalom Harlow, clasping her own "decapitated" head. One issue centred on the work of controversial shutterbug Bob Richardson, the William Burroughs of fashion photography; another was devoted entirely to the king of fashion/advertising imagery, Nick Knight, who chose Big to publish his ground-breaking work of the 1990s. More recently, Big invited the Brazilian supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, to become its subject, the results of which were far from the sort of Pirelli-style pin-up shots one might expect, and included computer enhanced images of the bombshell as a 90-year-old.
With no commercial restraints to speak of (fashion brands advertise and sponsor the magazine because they hope some kudos will rub off on their products, not because they expect editorial credits in return), Big has no problem in attracting the best, be they art directors, photographers, stylists or models, all of whom clamour to work for a magazine with few, if any rules.
"It's a dream commission," says Daren Ellis, the London-based art director who approached Junemann in New York with the concept for the latest issue. Junemann approved both the idea and, most importantly, Ellis, whose impressive credentials include art direction on style bibles Dazed & Confused, The Face and Arena Homme Plus. Together with the issue's editor, Mike Fordham (ex-features editor of Dazed & Confused), Ellis has produced Big: This England, which sets out to document tradition and cliches in contemporary English (as opposed to British) culture through a broad spectrum of literal and abstract photo-essays. "We've taken an entertaining, light-hearted approach that taps into aspects of England now," says Ellis, brandishing the cover image: a typical pub dart-board.
Alongside personal essays by Ekow Eshun and Kevin Williamson - who question English identity from, respectively, a black Englishman's and a Scotsman's perspective - and Miranda Sawyer's tribute to the darker side of suburbs, you can see the work of some of the best image-makers in the business. …