Feature for Shift London
The Face magazine: what the Brit icon meant then and now.
_shift delves into the magazine's past, present and future.
Oasis, jungle and garage raves, and a Jason Donavon libel case. The Face was a magazine that truly defined its time by acting as a window into youth culture, back when the best way to see it was via a double paged spread. And now it’s back. With ‘Youthquake’ being Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year only a year ago, perhaps there has never been a better time for its return.
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Imagine Britpop without bucket hats, 90s raves without MDMA and youth culture without The Face. Started in 1980 by Nick Logan, previous editor of NME and Smash Hits, the magazine ran until 2004. It returned digitally in April ahead of going to print this September. With such a huge legacy to fill, how will the magazine fit in such a changed environment?
Pre the iPhone and Instagram, The Face was a cultural icon. Books were literally written about it (see The Story of The Face: The Magazine that Changed Culture). A fuel of excitement and innovation, it was the tectonic plates in a two-decade long Youthquake.
“It really honestly documented culture, youth culture especially, and I guess even dictated it at times, it really set the tone for other magazines created after it, even the way it was visually designed with bold prints and photography,” says Elle Osborn, foreign politics student and avid collector of The Face.
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A trailblazer of its time with its arty editorials mixed with hard hitting journalism, nothing was off the cards for the magazine. Criticising Margaret Thatcher? Yes. An Amnesty International Media Award for a piece on child soldiers in Somalia? Yes. The Spice Girls in their underwear? Why not. The magazine commented on social issues head first, taking on the issues that gripped the nation; from Thatcherism to racial tensions – perhaps not such a coffee table read.
The May 1992 issue was perhaps the biggest turning point in the magazine’s history. Themed Love Sees no Colour, it focused on tolerance with cover lines that read: “Fight Back! Don’t let the bigots get you down”. It featured Boy George in a top reading Homophobes are fine, I just don’t want them near my children.” The issue set the magazine’s position in an all-inclusive era, notably produced while its editors were settling a high court case with a post Especially For You, pre-Joseph, Jason Donovan. The Australian singer accused the magazine of branding him a liar in regards to his sexuality after they printed a mock up image of him in a top reading “queer as fuck”.
The publication launched some of the fashion industry’s biggest names, giving many of them their first breaks; a 16 year old Kate Moss’ first cover and the Buffalo Collective’s first platform to the fashion world. It didn’t just use youth culture, it really believed in it.
And so, what now? In the weeks after abortion bans and Theresa May stepping down, maybe there’s more than just room for The Face. Maybe it’s needed. “Sadly. It feels like everything that The Face stood for has been rolled back, or potentially could be rolled back depending on what happens with things like Brexit,” wrote Nick Logan in his recent interview with the magazine.
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In 2019, young people are more politically aware than ever before, we’re talking more than Theresa May dancing to Abba; more than half of 18- 24 year olds voted in the last election according to the Ipsos Mori figures. A young politically engaged audience calls for suitable content. Take ‘Britain in its final days in the EU’ videos alongside a photo series of Tyler the Creator fans’ style perhaps. All on the homepage and Instagram feed of The Face.
In a climate where a column and contributing editor title is a free pass to celebrities *flashback to Vogue and its long list of A list editors*, The Face’s contributors are mainly new unknown faces, fittingly providing a platform to a new generation proving its belief in youth power yet again.
We’ve seen its digital platform, a successful hybrid of music, politics, culture and style but what will the magazine bring to print this September? In an industry that’s said to by dying, will the Gen X print thrive in a Gen Z form? Will its distinct voice mixed with edgy imaging carry it through? With the publication already working with every famous rapper’s favourite designer, Gucci of course, it seems it’s grasping the balance between then and now already.
At a time where reminiscing on Britain is popular (see Slowthai’s charting song Nothing Great about Britain in which he swears about the queen while referencing St George’s flag, Doc Martens and Phil Mitchell) we like looking through disposable camera pictures, rave culture is rising again and David Beckham even played for Man United last week, maybe we’d like the voice of 90s Britain now too; cue The Face.
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