Tag Archives: fantastic man

SNAKE

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A few months back I wrote some things about the Nike Air Python, oblivious to the fact a retro was on its way. The resurrection of this shoe seems to have split friends’ opinions — some can’t fathom why this shoe was brought back when there’s more significant shoes in the archive and others, like me, were pleased it made a return, just because they wanted a pair in the stash. I can understand the former opinion because some things are best left as aspiration — while the original intent was hardly one of pure performance (it seems more like an excuse to use some 1987 lasts and tooling), there’s an aura to the rarely seen and now a Google Image Search is going to spit out PR pics rather than a scattering of yellowed pairs. The spell is officially broken.

But you know what? This shoe still delivers — the swooshless oddness, the proto-Troop Cobra flamboyance, the way Nike added those tongue and heel labels as if the shoe was a big deal. As a Jordan II fan (a shoe that’s soon to get its aura bruised by reissues and hype), it’s a solid partner piece and (contrary to the myth of them having real python on them 26 years ago, which I fell for, it was always snake-effect leather) the retroed Air Python’s quality is good. Many’s the memory obliterated by a cheap looking resurrection, but the leather here is appropriately soft, rather than a plastic toy mockery of the original. Having only ever handled a pair under cellophane I can only presume that they felt like this (Edit: I am very reliably informed that the original Air Python was made from decidedly non-luxury leathers and far cheaper materials than the Air Python Lux seen here, which makes it a rare case of a reissue that’s better quality than the source material). Ignore the faintly Liberace steez that my amateur photography gives the snakeskin texture on the silvers (brown drops next month), because it’s undeniably flossy but not as sparkly in the flesh.

That bulbous toebox makes them fit roomy (at least half a size bigger than usual) and they’re surprisingly chunky, but it’s good to tick a box and get these in the teetering pile I’ve amassed since I decided to slow down on the footwear acquisitions. They make more sense releasing in the current climate than they did when they were swamped by 1987’s slew of more heavily publicised classics. Know what else ruins a rerelease? A generic packaging. That spot varnish scale pattern on the box for these is a nice touch. Shouts to Nike for these ones.

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After the talk of Kukinis on Sunday and these 1987 oddities reappearing, I’m keen to level things a little by including the LeBron XI — I’m blatantly in mid-life crisis mode, but that swoosh and Hyperposite combo makes them the logical successor to the Alpha Project lunacy of 2000. This is exactly what a basketball shoe should look like in 2013.

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On that Nike topic, this chat with Chris Bevans, creative director of Billionaire Boys Club on Salehe Bembury’s blog indicates that he’s one of those industry guys who seems to have had a hand in plenty of significant projects. A lot of talented people have passed through Rocawear over the years — while we’re in danger of assuming that Instagram represents the world at large’s tastes, Bevans and company seemed make far more of a splash on a grander scale. There’s a spot of insight here on the genesis of the Kanye West Nike Air 180 that occasionally surfaces during talk of rarity among nerds.

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The new issue of Fantastic Man has a lot of content to recommend, but Jeremy Lewis’ exploration of the mystery of the ‘Dorito’ (that triangular panel) on the neck of sweatshirts, complete with an answer from vintage master Bob Melet. This is still the best men’s fashion magazine out there.

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Seeing my friend Edson of the mighty Patta crew sold these Rockwell sweat pants to me. Edson has significantly more swagger than my disheveled, pallid self, but that print is at its greatest in this context. On sweats and rucksacks this design works, but here, it’s leisure wear done very right.

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BELTS

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Ari Saal’s work has long been an inspiration to me. As ESPO’s business partner, his work as co-owner of On The Go magazine made it one of the seminal publications of the 1990s (I’d kill to read the unreleased Jay-Z issue) and The Art Of Getting Over needs little description here (because I’m presuming that you already own it). While On The Go is long-gone, sitting in yellowing mini stacks alongside Ego Trip, Life Sucks Die, early Big Brother and Grand Royal in many a nerd’s paper armory, it’s good to know that On The Go Marketing is very much in effect. If you ever gawped at the Ruffhouse logo, that was Ari Saal Forman’s work. I still maintain that the Air Menthol 10 project from 2006 shits on nearly every shoe project in 2013 — it made its statement on the power of branding and addiction eloquently, but crucially the packaging is the greatest shoe packaging of all time, down to the hang tags and extra print material inside the cigarette-themed shoe box.

Nike issued a cease and desist, but Newport were apparently a little more demanding, meaning Ari can’t talk about that project any more. That approach to the project typified Saal’s work and the detail he employed highlights why shoe projects now are so insipid — an idea barely related, without message, shoehorned (pun intended) onto a tech pack. Everyone in that industry needs to look at the Menthols and study that execution. Scratch director John Carluccio filmed Ari working on the project in 2006 and spoke to him post legal talk in 2008 for Carluccio’s 17-minute documentary Cease and Desist aka. Ari Can’t Talk About It. It’s on iTunes right now for £1.49 and it’s a great little snapshot to add to the library of documents that capture that transitional time when sports footwear became uncool and formal footwear and Vans took over. Revisiting two of the kids who the director caught queuing for Ari’s creation, they pretty much sum up why things fell off the way they did. I know the shoe thing erupted again, but any semblance of cool that the mid to late 2000s industry awareness of collectors managed to erode is even more absent nowadays. I recommend watching that short for some extra insight.

Ari’s latest side-project is handmade belts that showcase the same preoccupation with the oft-forgotten art of finishing an object with finesse — those jars he puts them in are a nice touch. Hand sewn, hand painted belts with custom buckles and D-rings, different materials, some college colours well appropriated with some personal stories behind them elevates objects from the same old same. It also addresses the importance of the belt. This Vimeo of a belt making session (complete with a Steven Powers cameo) is better than most wearying documentation of a factory tour. The On The Go Ari site is a good source of old works documented (the adidas and Papaya King gear is particularly interesting) and it’s worth visiting.


While we’re talking Vimeo and magazines, the Magculture conversation with Gert Jonkers and Jop Van Bennekom of Fantastic Man from What Design Can Do is full of good advice for anyone planning to start a magazine. My friends at Goodhood let me do one of their tabletop selections from the store. Normally I wouldn’t engage in that kind of thing, but it’s Goodhood and it’s one of the few stores in the country with an original approach to retail and those Gasius shirts they’re stocking are a strong look. Salutes to Silas and the Soulland squad for this Hova moment last weekend.

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BRITISHNESS

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Please excuse the rushed nature of this blog entry. I was going to move servers to make gwarizm.com the official home of all this claptrap but strange domain redirecting issues meant I actually ended up having the time to chuck something up here tonight after all. My relationship with printed matter is a tempestuous one — for much of my life I dreamed of being a scribe for one of the fancy magazines that broke the £2.50 mark in WH Smiths, but once I actually wrote for one, I realized that most of the content was advertorial (even the stuff without “advertising feature” on the top of the page). That culled my buying habits significantly.

While putting out a publication seems to be a new norm as some reaction to people thinking bloggers are chancers, doing it well is difficult. After all, the big magazines are spreading their pages for advertisers for a reason — survival. Just starting a magazine for the hell of it is as tedious as calling your blog an online magazine, so I’ve slashed my purchases to a handful of regular and when-they-can-be-fucked-to publications. Being lazy and odd (and not actually living in London) I never made it to Goodhood’s launch for the new issue of LAW, but I feel guilty about it, because it’s something worth supporting — continuing the history lesson, when I was putting out strange blog entries for Acyde’s The Most Influential site a few years back, I was determined to keep it UK-centric.

As a Brit, i felt it was my duty to talk about local matters and not my yankophile leanings. TMI actually changed before I could run out of ideas fully, but I was definitely running on fumes. I feel a certain guilt for not representing Britain fully on here, but – as I’ve mentioned several times – I think the ISYS squad, Rollo Jackson and LAW do it better than I ever could. There’s a certain Britishness that barely translates abroad and it’s part of the urban and suburban everyday existence — it’s all sportswear, mild eccentricity, inadvertently odd design touches and scowls. Most of the time we take it for granted and don’t document it (I’ve hunted some imagery for a couple of projects in the last 12 months and was shocked at how little documentation there was). LAW goes in to log it with a keen design eye that affords everyday objects and lives a certain elegance.

LAW #3 is out now and the use of Goodhood’s interior with the magazine’s driving slogan was a nice touch (all LAW-related imagery here is swaggerjacked from the Goodhood site). You can buy it right here for £12.50.

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Another magazine that gets a lot of deserved shine here is Oi Polloi’s Pica~Post. You need to know your stuff to actually have fun with anything and everything in this free publication – from the typography to the product pick is on point. This beats any bullshit slow blog-baiting lookbook (and those Anthony Crook Engineered Garments shots in here are a nice example of how a lookbook can be done) and you can read this online right here but the way it’s printed as an object gives it a purpose beyond the screen. Shouts to Eóin and the whole Pica~Post mind squad.

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In addition to the above, the Joe McKenna profile in Fantastic Man #17 is excellent too. But you’d expect them to deliver on a feature like that, wouldn’t you?

Cheers to Nike SB for letting me do some writing about the Koston 2 shoe for the Nike Inc. site. Anything that lets me interview Eric is the sort of thing that would make the 15-year-old me do an awkward dance in public. Now I just do it in private. There seems to be a quick glimpse of an interesting Lunarlon-aided Koston 2 golf shoe sitting by Tiger Woods’ shopping bags in the behind-the-scenes footage.

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On the shoe topic, now that every hip-hop related documentary of my youth is available on 2-disc DVD or on YouTube, where are the British trainer documentaries? The first time I ever saw Tinker and company was on the excellent 1992 BBC program Trainer Wars. I know that was far better than any recent effort to document sports footwear. Where can I get hold of a copy of it? Back in the day, you paid someone like Dave the Ruf to send you a 240-minute tape of tenth-generation dubs of everything you needed. I need Trainer Wars and the 2001 Sneaker Freaks documentary that Channel 4 aired as part of the Alt.TV series with Jeremy Howlett sitting on top of Howlett’s. OG Air Max 95s being sold for insane money at Meteor Sports and Will Self pulling a gasface at the notion of anyone hoarding Nikes. In fact, I believed that Trainer Wars never happened until I found this footage of the commercial for it from when it showed on Discovery Europe.

FANTASTIC, PROPER & SHELLSUITS

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I don’t usually read many magazines because I’ve written for some and that’s all I need to prove that they’re probably not what they used to be. It’s turning my surroundings into an expensive barely browsed fire hazard. But I like Fantastic Man because it’s written by people who know far more than I do about the history and business of fashion despite a name that makes associates on the train home from work think I’m browsing gay erotica. I just want to read about clobber by proper journalists rather than chancers like me. By putting what’s just a long form FM article in small paperback form, Buttoned-Up (Penguin) is a fair use of 4.99 that can avoid the peculiar provincial town glances reading the magazine on public transport brings my way. I’ve found that an out-of-town commute has been the best book club (albeit a one-man book club) ever making me kind of literate after years of reading very little other than rap rumours. This book lasted from Bedford to Elstree, which is a good 40 minutes of start to finish content, which might be last a little longer if you’re not prone to hastily inhaling text rather than calmly absorbing it.

A 108 page examination of the button-up collar’s shirt and its ubiquity in east London is presented in the style of a Fantastic Man magazine and it’s a topic that fits the magazine’s clinical irreverence perfectly. At the same time, I get the impression it was pitched in a free form way over artisan breads on Kingsland Road without much preparation. Some have marveled about the specific nature of the fastened shirt collar as a book subject, but I’ve read far longer books on less. The interview with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (I remember Chris Lowe‘s Issey Miyake and Travel Fox gear blowing my mind as a kid), who are underrated in the style stakes, essay on the power of the collar in fashion through the 1990s to the present day, and its tees to dandyism and other manifestations of sartorial movements by Alexander Fury and Simon Reynolds’ piece on the buttoned collar’s position in mod culture, skinhead style, The Who, The Creation, Subway Sect, Secret Affair and a brace of 1980s groups who turned the aggressive uniform into a sensitive statement, including Orange Juice (who are cited as key button-uppers a few times in the book).

Personally, I have to pop that top button otherwise I feel like I’m being throttled by cotton, but it’s fascinating to find out just how much meaning can be ascribed to a simple gesture. Buttoned-Up is an amplified but pocket-size example of what Fantastic Man does very well.

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Another publication that comes correct is Proper, because everybody who writes for it seems to enjoy clothes and the cultures around them. It reads like Mark, Neil and the whole crew are having a blast putting it together. If they secretly all hate each other like Sam and Dave and found the publishing and editing process hellish, I’d have no bloody idea, because Proper is so fun. The themes continue, with the surf-centric issue #13 following up the psych-hike of #12. This one contains Yusuke Hanai, lad holiday recollections, histories of the board short and aloha shirt, an Our Legacy interview and an amazing chat with Andy Weatherall (who had a shit ton of tattoos long before everyone else went all Max Cady/Brian Setzer/Mike Ness). I remember going to Magaluf and pick pocketing an overweight holiday rep for extra beer money before falling asleep in a lift. Great times. Proper has undergone a self-fulfilling prophecy by become more proper with each issue in terms of presentation. A few years ago it was like chatting with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but disheveled bloke down the boozer — now it’s all slick but still full of content like a caffeinated coffee shop conversation in one of those places where they know the provenance of their beans. Go and support the new issue.

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I’ve never known how to feel about the shellsuit. I have some fond memories attached to it, including a relative who rocked up at our house one Christmas in a shellsuit, white toweling socks and loafers, Gazza, bare-chested beneath his flamboyant tracksuit spitting bars about how ace being a Geordie was and an episode of Casualty that included a plot about market-bought shellsuits and their notoriously flammable ways. Somewhere down the line, the definition of a shellsuit seemed to get twisted — waterproof running/training suits weren’t the same (some of the Italian sportswear brands made amazing ones) and hypernonce Jimmy Savile’s metallic numbers were something different too. For me, the shellsuit was slightly wrinkly, often unsparing in its use of logos and bore only a slight gloss. I recall owning an Umbro tracksuit with shellsuit trousers but a conventional glossy nylon track jacket. It was shit. I always wanted an adidas one, but now they’re the brown tie and flare combination of the early 1990s — a benchmark of terrible dressing of their times and implicated as part of Savile’s sex offending arsenal due to their elasticated waist.

It’s a shame, because there’s something a bit Stetsasonic circa ’88 about a flamboyant shellsuit. The Palace crew are trying to bring it with a Trailblazers logo homaging variation in the new collection at Slam — it actually has a 70% cotton count on the shell unlike the OGs which were made of nothing but polyester and napalm to immolate you while you were cooking Super Noodles. Palace played with World Cup 1990 imagery for their Umbro collab, so it looks like they’re following it up with a tribute to Gascoine’s post semi-final stardom steez. Theo Parrish wore this jacket at Boiler Room and if anyone can bring back the shellsuit, it’s Theo and Palace. After the current preoccupation with fleece, raglan and loopback, are we going to regress back to the shell? I kind of hope so. If the year ends in everybody breaking out pajamas and shellsuits in public, Liverpool’s got another thing to never, ever stop bragging about.

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NORTHERN ITALIAN EXPORTS

As I lay here trying to influence myself to write anything, the whole notion of influence (and Bob Beaudine and Paul Adams’ works disprove the blog-centric notion of what constitutes and influencer) becomes even more ludicrous. Still, I’m honoured that my friend Mr. Matt Halfhill (whose drive and sheer knowledge of SEO and power of social media is genuinely inspirational) put me at #41 on a Complex list of people who have some juice in the sports footwear sector. To be honest, I don’t feel any more influential than I did when I started winging it in this industry — I’m still winging it to the present day. I’m also looking for some influence to assist me in executing some projects I’ve been lucky enough to get involved in, so I’m currently looking at hardcore performance boots from some respected names that don’t seem to have made the crossover. I’ve long been a fan of Bavarian boot masters Meindl (I obsessed over a transparent demo version of one of their top tier designs for some time), but Italy’s La Sportiva are an excellent brand too. I saw some of their ugly but efficient looking mountain runners on Japanese feet a few years back and became preoccupied with what this 80 year-old brand does.

The needs of mountain runners are myriad, but La Sportiva”s Zianno di Fiemme based factory makes performance footwear that’s far from rustic close to home with some serious GORE-TEX affiliations. From a visual standpoint, the Nepal EVO GTX mountain boot is hardbody and deeply obnoxious (my two key boot criteria), with the Rasta coloured midsole housing a variable thickness TPU for front crampons, the yellow being a similar deal for rear crampons and the red being an antishock material. This boot looks like a good post apocalyptic pick. I could spend a substantial amount of time just gawping at the wild designs La Sportiva put out and while they’ve had a rep for bold colours since the 1980s, these are serious in their performance capabilities. I believe that Merrells well-regarded 1980s and early 1990s Italian-made output came from the La Sportiva factory too. There’s colourway inspirations for days right here, but their more subdued stuff holds up pretty well too.

Another superior export from Northern Italy, Giorgio Moroder, is the subject of a tremendous interview in the new ‘Fantastic Man’ that covers an array of topics that might be relevant to the interests of this blog’s handful of readers. He purports to have never used drugs (despite the image I posted here a few years ago, with what seems to be a colossal line of chop), bigs up Rick Rubin and David Guetta, reveals he worked with Michael Jackson and, with a progressive mindset, explains that “Moroder-esque” is usually a byword for regressive sounds that he wouldn’t make now. He thinks the soundtrack to ‘Drive’ would be, “a little outdated in the ’80s.” Between that and Nile Rodgers’ 60th birthday video messages with the Daft Punk appearance, it’s a good week for legends who are still standing.

MORE DOCUMENTATION


This is part of an irregular series wherein pretend I haven’t thought of anything new to write about by writing about the last documentary I watched and tenuously trying to link it to a current pop culture phenomenon to give is a semblance of relevance. But there is a little more to my fandom of 1982’s ‘The Killing of America’ than that. Firstly, if the lurid warning above doesn’t set alarm bells off, and you’re of a sensitive/normal disposition, don’t watch this documentary — that’s as close to a NSFW warning as you’ll get from me. I’ve long been fascinated with the mondo strain of extreme documented cinema, but I’m repelled by the frequent violence against animals in them (Victor Schonfeld’s ‘The Animals Film’ is a much better use of that kind of footage) in the infamous ‘Faces of Death’ and earlier Antonio Climati/Mario Morra productions like ‘Ultime Grida Dalla Savana.’ While the genre is often without merit, I still think that the “cargo cult” scene at the end of 1962’s ‘Mondo Cane’ (partly soundtracked by Riz Ortolani, whose work was on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack) is an affecting piece of footage. Laugh it up, but I’d sooner worship that crude plane reproduction than the stuff you’re deifying on your Pinterest boards.



As a child, I was obsessed by the idea of ‘Faces of Death’ — at school, a fellow pupil claimed to have seen it, and described a scene where an ill-fated parachutist drops into a crocodile enclosure at a zoo. It’s worth noting that with maturity, I have less inclination to view this strain of exploitation, but I would love to see that scene. It turns out that my classmate was just a liar. The majority of ‘Faces of Death’s human atrocity is hoax footage, and even the memorable “death” of Pit Dernitz, the tourist eaten by lions on exiting his vehicle was fake, albeit a fake convincing enough to move Gerhard Richter into immortalising the incident in 1990’s ‘Tourist (with 2 Lions)’ painting. These were the days when incidents like a death on a Noel Edmonds show were discussed among peers, but never televised, and the cult of amateur footage had yet to grow into something bigger and murkier.
Continue reading MORE DOCUMENTATION

PAPER VS. PIXEL — WHEN WRITING ABOUT MAGAZINES GOES BAD

Consider this another cautionary tale. Over a year ago, I cockily accepted Acyde’s challenge to provide a top 10 magazines pieces for TMI. It sounded easy — I like magazines. I quite like writing. Job done. I went home and wrote it over a few hours, mourning the print industry and sneering at Kindles and other modes of techno-book. Then I found myself returning to it every other week to add a publication and switch something to my RIP section, as for every new indie on the market, a handful more would perish, never seeing a follow-up issue. Then it seemed to go the other way. More introductions and less passings. Then Steve Jobs announced the iPad, and I gave up.

I seemed to have haplessly timed this piece at a time when magazine industry shapeshifted and a recession was being ridden out. As a result, the text below is included as an example of ill-timed writing. Some of the prose uses references so dated, i may as well be babbling on about BSB Squarials and Rabbit Telecommunications.

My attempt at a magazines top ten falters because it changes daily (I think there’s a good case to have put ‘Frank151’ in there too). I think ‘Swallow went under, ‘Sup’ is cool but they owe me freelance £ and I’m not sure that ‘Apartamento’ is actually that good.

‘Mark’, ‘B’, ‘Proper’, ‘Brownbook’ , ‘SOME/THINGS’, ‘Novembre’ , ‘Huge’, ‘Dodgem Logic’, ‘Slider’, ‘No’, ‘Journal de Nimes’ , Tyler’s ‘Mediterraneo’, the amazing ‘McSweeney’s newspaper one-off, ‘Livingproof’, ‘AIE’ and ‘Obscura’ are things I probably would have mentioned now, either as new startups, case-studies or contenders. Lesson learned. Don’t try to summarise something this vast in a few sickly paragraphs.

PAPER VS. PIXEL

“Who be first to catch this Beat Down?/My Rap Pages be the Source/Ego Trip remain victory and no loss/Rap sheet show you details of wars in streets/Where the most live, catch Vibe and Blaze heat…”
GZA ‘Publicity’

2009 was subjected to a papery cull, and the increasingly barren shelves of your local newsagent attests to this. On the achingly familiar work route, a newsstand, once dense with logos, bombastic cover stories and promises of informational enlightenment has downsized into a metal shack with only a fraction in stock.

Many have fallen these last few months. Some, like ‘Maxim,’ were publications you might have assumed were defunct in the first place — others, like ‘FACT,’ recently forced into an excellent online-only form after the free status didn’t work for them, deserved a bigger spotlight, but with a net-savvy, MP3 right-clickers as it’s core readership, once openly questioning as to who the hell actually buys music magazines in this day and age.

In fact, dwelling on the music magazines, some might say, that the Dad-rock periodicals, ‘Mojo,’ ‘Uncut’ and ‘Q’ may live to cover more Bolan and Coldplay by dint of a readership that isn’t net-savvy in the slightest. ‘Vibe’ bit the dust. Many grew up with that magazine around them might mourn them — beyond the daft internet polls, it’s a shame – Bobbito, Bonz Malone, Cheo H. Coker and Kevin Powell’s work was part of a golden age of black music journalism, but by instigating a brouhaha around the best hip-hop blogs, one can’t help but feel they championed one of the key causes of their own demise. Anyhow, most hadn’t bought it since it switched from saddlestitch to a perfect bind.

On a similar topic, whatever your opinion of ‘HHC,’ it was something of a UK institution, pre-empting the deluge of hip-hop publications, and its absence leaves a gap on the shelves that, like Romero’s mall-dwelling undead, those grabbing it monthly out of habit find themselves scowling at the missing shelf link between ‘XXL’ and ‘Knowledge’.

For years, even the most tinpot tech prophets have been predicting print press’s downfall, but it took a recession and the knock-on with advertising budgets to cause the real closures. It’s not just music magazines taking a slap — ‘Arena’ went under, and ‘i-D’ is now bi-monthly. What’s the solution? ‘i-D’ has been stronger in the last two years than it has been for a while. Magazines should exist without electronic interruptions. Online, everyone’s a critic and everyone’s a writer.

A blog onslaught offers no substitution for excellent editorial — magazines have long been the training ground for some of the most astute cultural commentators, while the many blogs deemed “influential” lack insight, critique and all but the most rudimentary writing skills. They’re no replacement for a tactile, well-structured paper reading experience. A smartphone or iPad offers little of the tactile ritual of purchase, dog-earing, flicking, pass-around or zoning out on enlightenment during public transport. That’s not to say print press has any right to respect above online publications. From a personal perspective, the two just feel, despite attempts at synergy, with PDFs, flick-through previews, archives and exclusive passworded content, like utterly different entities — paper versus pixel.

Conversely, just jumping feet-first into print without a killer application, well-selected team or ability shouldn’t be a fast track to credibility. Call it quaint, but the magazine, in its position as an informer, and ideally, an agitator and thought provoker, should educate, enlighten and challenge its readership. Those heading up a project should be great writers, great minds and troublemakers. Telling them exactly what they already know makes for a passive, nod-along experience, as uninvolving as elderly neighbourly smalltalk, that’s utterly throwaway.

These are disposable times, and it takes a little more to be supreme. At time-of-writing, with a little digging, what’s available is excellent, albeit disparate. There’s no handy compendium cherry-picking what’s a necessary read. You’ll have to work for it. As of yet, no one’s captured the current bloggy zeitgeist in a refined, unpretentious way. Elsewhere, pseudo-pretension without an inkling of ability, insight or intelligence just keeps on sinking newcomers.

The magazine diet is utterly subjective. The following is tinged more than a little with a mildly male bias, and only scratches the surface of the sheer number of publications worth celebrating. There are many, many notable omissions.

For example, while it’s easy to keep it strictly niche, arguably, mainstream publications like ‘The New Yorker,’ ‘The Nation,’ ‘National Geographic,’ ‘Time’ and ‘Wired’ (US edition only please) warrant a place in a top ten. Some magazines had glory days that have since passed — ‘The Source,’ ‘XXL,’ ‘Loaded’ (anyone remember a doomed pilot issue of their foodie spinoff, ‘Eat Soup’?), ‘Newsweek’ and ‘Rolling Stone’ are perfect case studies.

Others are honourable mentions — ‘Dazed’ (and its Japanese edition), ‘Empire’ for the ’09 Spielberg guest-shot, ‘Lightning,’ ‘Groove,’ ‘Paradis,’ ‘Popeye,’ ‘Clark,’ ‘Spray,’ ‘Lodown’ for holding it down where others have come and gone, ‘Vice’ for providing stronger content than the lion’s share of magazines for sale despite the hate, ‘Monocle’ — smug but informative, ‘Juxtapoz,’ ‘Warp,’ ‘Sense,’ ‘Murder Dog,’ ‘Acne Paper,’ ‘Wallpaper*,’ ‘Thrasher,’ ‘FRANK151,’ ‘NEWWWORK,’ ‘Xplicit Grafx,’ ’Little White Lies,’ Wax Poetics,’ ‘Elephant’ ‘Arkitip’ and its newspaper project, ‘Draft,’ ‘The Rig Out,’ ‘Qompendium,’ ‘The Journal,’ ‘Zoetrope,’ ‘Creative Review,’ ‘INVENTORY,’ ‘Lurve,’ ‘It’s Nice That,’ ‘ME,’ ‘Man About Town,’ ‘Purple,’ ‘Pop,’ ‘Frank151,’ ‘Wooooo,’ ‘ANP Quarterly,’ ‘Arena Homme+’ ‘Fire & Knives,’ , Complex,’ ’ Kilimanjaro,’ ‘Mono Journals,’ ‘Sneaker Freaker,’ ‘Encens,’ ‘Men’s Non-No,’ ‘Vogue Homme Japan,’ ‘No.Zine’ ‘A Magazine,’ ‘032c’ and ‘Sneeze’ are all strong.

In fact, the ‘Vice’ movie issue and ‘Frank151’ De La Soul were the two best issues of any magazine last year. And they didn’t cost a damn thing.

Before continuing, a moment-of-silence for the other fallen soldiers worth stacking – ‘Neon,’ ‘On The Go,’ ‘Philosophy,’ ‘True,’ ‘Grand Royal,’ ‘Rap Pages,’ ‘Select,’ ‘Street Scene,’ ‘Blues & Soul,’ ‘TAR,’ ‘Year Zero,’ ‘Life Sucks Die,’ ‘Mugshot,’ ‘One Nut,’ ‘Mass Appeal,’ ‘Boon,’ ‘Missbehave,’ ’12oz Prophet,’ ‘Relax,’ ‘Ego Trip,’ ‘Jack,’ ‘+1,’ ‘Phat,’ ‘Dirt,’ ‘Scratch,’ ‘Jockey Slut,’ ‘Sassy,’ ‘The Face,’ Rap Sheet,’ ‘Sky,’ ‘The Bomb,’ ‘Represent,’ ‘Big Brother,’ ‘Select,’ ‘The End,’ ‘Boy’s Own,’ ‘The Downlow,’ ‘Beat Down,’ ‘Big Daddy,’ ‘Grand Slam,’ ‘RAD,’ ‘Elemental,’ ‘Kings,’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’.

There’s no daft numerical ‘Top Trumps’ style criteria at work here. The following ten magazines are highlighted for their presentation, taking specific topics and just going all-out. What works and what doesn’t is down to personal taste. One key criteria is that sense of anticipation on purchase, and a lengthy read on returning home. At what point does a magazine just become a book? Is self-proclaimed ‘journal’ status a snooty attempt to rise above? A certain regularity, be it monthly, quarterly or annually, and a position on magazine shelves were the clinchers here.

Rouleur

One benchmark of good magazines is to make the niche utterly absorbing. Bikes are all around you, but ‘Rouleur’ veers to the serious side of bikes as a sport, with plenty of hobbyist touches. Track bikes, road bikes…whatever — 2009 was the year that the fixed fixation truly sank into self-parody, but look beyond goons in checks and a one-leg pinroll, and you can appreciate the discipline, construction and beautiful builds that make cycling so appealing.

‘Rouleur’ is truly covetable without spot varnishing, embossing and other fuss, bar paper stock switches – it oozes serious cyclist without alienating the browser with minimal interest in pedal-power. The photo essays are stunning, it feels cohesive, contemporary and curiously ageless, and Guy Andrews is an editor who takes the two-wheeled subject matter extremely seriously. Whether it’s kinetic, mud splattering tournament shots, or static, fetishistic vehicular deconstructions, this is a phenomenal undertaking. Even the ads for brands like Rapha (owned by the same company) are beautiful. Guy’s history of Reynolds in issue fifteen is particularly strong.

www.rouleur.cc


Swallow Magazine

Food magazines out there tend to fall into two camps — the snotty bon viveur (their time’s limited – see the demise of ‘Gourmet’ for proof) member’s club feel, or the housewife’s choice. Neither appeal. It’s surprising that an appetite for something that captures a current spirit of gastronomic fetishism hadn’t been sated up to this point. ‘Swallow Magazine’ gives it a damned good try. See that cover image? That’s Salmiakki licourice right there.

Giving each issue a specific regional feel, the inaugural edition is strictly Nordic. Essays on the local mushrooms, beautifully rendered pencil illustrations of reactions to dishes during a family dinner, food label scans, fishing trip photo journalism, black metal pubs and tasty looking Karelian pastys make up the content, and the design and photography is spectacular, down to the embossed hardcover.

www.swallowmagazine.com


Apartamento

Published in Barcelona, with offices in Milan, ‘Apartamento’ is staffed by a mob who look and dress like, well, the kind of people that work on a magazine called ‘Apartamento’. But while the likes of ‘Wallpaper’ are merely aspirational, this is a little more inspirational. The killer application here is an un-styled way of presenting interiors that potentially could kickstart you to upping your quality-of-living without excess expenditure.

There’s nods to the escalating appreciation of classic furniture, but you won’t be cajoled into feeling inferior over a handmade oak table, custom carved in a remote Scandinavian village, or presented with mammoth yards you’ll never own. A fine merger of lifestyle elements, ‘name’ contributions from the likes of Mike Mills and Geoff McFetridge, next to a classical layout, solid balance of words and pictures, plus no shortage of ideas carries a certain consistency.

www.apartamentomagazine.com


Vanity Fair

Since relaunching in 1981 after it was cancelled during the great depression ‘Vanity Fair’ is underpinned by one fundamental mystery — whom is it actually targeted toward? Those celeb-heavy cover photos and layouts, plus regular jewellery supplements point to the females or the ultra-ultra-ultra metrosexual. It can make a read on the train attract glances of derision, but stand tall, because this, with its lengthy exposes and reportage may be the ultimate public transport read.

A polar opposite to the quick fixes of this capital’s atrocious free newspapers, writing from the likes of Peter Biskind and Christopher Hitchens satisfyingly sprawls with a continue instruction, to the back pages. Photoshoots are expensive and expansive, technically superior and studded with stars too. It goes without saying that Graydon Carter is a very well connected man.

www.vanityfair.com


Sang Bleu

Pushing the remit of what constitutes a magazine here, ‘Sang Bleu’ is a publication of extremes. Dealing with tattoos and body modification, it eschews the lurid skin shots of the usual tattoo art publications for something far more refined, but without compromising tattoo culture in the slightest. And while it ain’t cheap, this Swiss creation is big in stature — on missing the release date for volume III, Editor-in-Chief Maxime Buechi decided to merge it with volume IV, clocking in at 500+ pages, filled with gatefolds, supplements and even a CD. It’s a definite labour-of-love.

A heavy focus on fonts, with Max running the BP foundry, dense blocks of explorative texts and the black and white looks periodically interrupted by colour blasts of tattoo flash, means it’s an arresting experience, even if your interest in the covered subcultures is minimal. Don’t question how a project like this can be profitable — just appreciate it while it’s here.

www.sangbleu.com


The Economist

Maintaining an oft-imitated advocacy journalistic approach, with a perpetual consistency and reliability, plus a discreet sly wit creeping in that rarely misses its mark or hits heights of whimsical self-indulgence, ‘The Economist’ is the one that hasn’t dropped off yet. Like all the best periodicals it leaves the reader enlightened, and masters of summary that they are, sums up some heavy-duty business and political theory with a brevity that’s far from smart-arsed. Reportage and criticism is naturally, of the highest standard, but with a history stretching back to 1843, by their own description it doesn’t technically qualify for inclusion here, with an insistence on calling itself a newspaper despite the glossy pages.

A devoted following is quick to write in to correct, complement or lambast, ensuring there’s a certain interactivity to the proceedings. Most wouldn’t take the time to squint at the contents on a monitor, but stapled and in your hands, there’s a week to slowly digest it before the next installment. With a comprehensive in-house style guide, there’s less showboating from contributing writers — rather an attempt to achieve a steady tone, and a refusal to treat its readers like imbeciles, ‘The Economist’ is very necessary. As weekly reads go, it isn’t cheap, but if you can the daily newspaper purchases and consolidate the cash, this is a smarter buy.

www.economist.com


‘Sup Magazine

Available semi-regularly and free of charge providing you keep an eye on the scattered handful of pickup spots, ‘Sup Magazine’ is New York-based, but with a strong UK editorial presence, it manages to scoop up the best in terms of young journalists and photographers.

The editorial decisions are appropriately offbeat and you’ve got to salute a magazine with Carl Craig on the cover. Previously, ‘Sup’ looked decent, championing emerging bands, artists and writers, but with issue 16, the art direction became more refined, resulting in the fine object it is today. If you’re running a title with a pricetag, you really should be striving to top this one for content and value for money — more of a challenge considering team Sup…’ made the unorthodox choice to make it complementary.

www.supmag.com


Fantastic Man

Too many hetrosexual minds behind a men’s fashion magazine would sink it. It would be a mass of chambray shirts, chinos and workboots. That’s all good, but it’s wearable basics not necessarily fashion. From the minds behind ‘Butt,’ ‘Fantastic Man’ is run by people that can commission a page long ode to the perfect white tee, but celebrates the more avant-garde side of clothing too.

Referring to interview subjects as Mr. and instigating some of the cleverest shoots of any periodical, the devil is in the details — ‘Style Notes and Other Matters’ accompany conversations, ‘Word of the Season’ is announced early on, ‘The List’ changes in theme each issue and is a compulsive read imbuing the whole shebang in a clinical tinge of camp that annihilates the menswear competition. Recently switching from saddle stitch to a perfect binding, somehow the price has dropped too. ‘Fantastic Man’ is contrary like that.

www.fantasticman.com


The Believer

Something of a cerebral bench press, ‘The Believer’ is from the ‘McSweeney’s stable, and having run for several years now, it’s suffered some flak for allowing advertising in its previously ad-free pages, provided they fit with the magazine’s literary tone. There’s a lot of text in ‘The Believer’ and the occasional themed issue, but by and large, it’s accessible, and with each issue the reader emerges enlightened. Whether they thought they’d need educating on the cultural history of the wing chair is another thing.

Embarrassing encounters are relived and great minds correspond — ‘Short Takes On Books That Don’t Exist’? Charles Burns on cover illustration duties? Yes please. From a design perspective, it’s all steeped in a certain traditionalism, with illustrations of contributors accompanying a piece and a full list of what’s discussed preempts an article, and like ‘Fantastic Man’ there’s more than enough seemingly throwaway detail tucked into each page to confer regular purchase.

www.believermag.com


Free & Easy

It would be too easy to punctuate a top ten with non-English language releases, particularly Japanese niche publications, so only one has been retained here – ‘Free & Easy,’ a magazine for the ‘young and young-at-heart’ that merrily panders to fans of ancient workwear, cars, furniture and even strange pets. If you’ve ever wanted to dress like Dustin Hoffman in ‘All The President’s Men’ or wanted to source a manufacturer remaking depression-era t-shirts, you’ve come to the right place.

Pathologically comprehensive, this paean to older male style has been running for years, but now the hipsters seem to be trailing (a good ten feet behind it has to be said), the workwear bandwagon, ‘Free & Easy’ is here for the duration, but it’s readership must be burgeoning.

Extra points for running their own ‘Rugged Museum,’ regularly featured with surreal captions summarizing certain visitors. How the team gathers enough information and imagery to put this out monthly is staggering. Plus Managing Editor Minoru Onazato always precedes each issue with a missive titled, “Dear Readers” — it’s debatable as to whether English language is necessary. In terms of information it’s clearly a goldmine (with an authentic pair of denims to match that era), but that language barrier gives the magazine an extra mystique.

www.east-r.co.jp