Terry Jones has been the driving force behind i-D since 1980. Richard Buckley reflects on 33 years of innovation.
"Despite changes in people, fashion and culture, i-D has remained faithful to its initial purpose, which Terry Jones said was to give an “alternative voice to new ideas and people with innovative views”."
Finding a copy of i-D in its early years was not an easy task. You had to really search it out. I am not sure where I bought my first copy, but I do know it was the second issue. I distinctly remember that graphic cover with the i-D logo inside a five-pointed star inside a circle. Since then, I have made it a point to buy every new issue. Writing the forward to this book, it was interesting to discover just how much i-D has informed contemporary culture over the last three decades. Reviewing 30 years of i-D covers not only allowed me to relive my past, but to literally visualise how dramatically people, fashion, technology and pop culture have changed since that first issue was published in August 1980.
It is rare in life that things just happen by chance; more often than not, events are a reaction to an action. Cause/effect. The eighties New Romantics movement, for example, was a reaction to seventies punk, which was a reaction to early seventies glitter rock, and so on. While people today have little use for history, i-D’s back-story is fascinating in how it contextualises the way in which the magazine continues to move forward.
While i-D celebrates its fourth decade this year, my own knowledge of Terry Jones, i-D’s Founder, Art Director and Editor-in-Chief, goes back almost 40 years to the summer of 1973, when I bought my first copy of British ‘Vogue’. By the end of the seventies, Terry was already a legend in the world of visual arts, magazines and fashion, known for his work as British ‘Vogue’s Art Director from 1972 until 1978.
I spent the summer of 1973 in London: David Bowie and Bianca Jagger were fashion’s muses; disco music was the new sound; Tim Curry was onstage at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs performing ‘The Rocky Horror Show’; and, everyone was waiting for the opening of Biba, Barbara Hulaniki’s megastore in the former Derry and Toms department store, an Art Deco palace on Kensington High Street. A true visionary, Hulanicki’s Biba would be the first total lifestyle emporium, seven floors stocked with Biba clothes, shoes, furniture, paint, cosmetics, toys and even baked beans. The Rainbow Restaurant and adjoining garden with live flamingos were on the roof.
At the end of the summer, I returned to graduate school in Washington D.C. with the idea that I would return to London to dance in the New Year at the Rainbow Restaurant. I never made it, but letters from London arrived later recounting every fabulous detail of that party. I was left to console myself with the January 1974 issue of British ‘Vogue’ with Manolo Blahnik posing with Anjelica Huston on the cover. The two of them, champagne in hand, photographed by David Bailey captured everything elegant and glamorous that London represented to me, despite the fact they were shot on a tropical beach rather than in Mr. Chow or The Rainbow Restaurant. To this day, I cannot think of another magazine cover that has been more evocative of a time and place as that one was. From then on I haunted the newsstands waiting for the next issue of British ‘Vogue’. I was never disappointed as Bianca Jagger’s glossy, lipsticked mouth and veiled face shot by Eric Bowman graced the March cover. And Norman Parkinson’s photo of Jerry Hall with a blue bathing cap and powder blue telephone receiver was, to use the parlance of the day, ‘to die for’. All those iconic covers – tapping into the zeitgeist of the decade – were art directed by Terry Jones.
From the crude look of i-D’s landscape formatted pages, which were stapled, not bound, its lo-tech production values and its focus on street fashion; I was convinced club kids put the magazine together somewhere in a dimly lit basement. One look at the graphic covers of i-D’s early issues with provocative headlines like, ‘Health, Hygiene, Herpes, Heroin’, and you knew this was something new and radically different. There was, therefore, an immediate disconnect between my first impressions of i-D and coming face to face with Terry Jones, whose work at Vogue had left such an indelible mark on my own aspirations and visual culture. I came to interview Terry in 1981 or 1982, neither of us can remember for sure, about his new magazine and we sat down at the table in his brightly lit kitchen where he cobbled together each new issue.
Terry’s own reaction to the glossy magazines and staid fashion system from which he came provided the action and motivation to launch i-D. The magazine’s creation also happened to coincide at the same time London was experiencing a burst of creative energy, the likes of which had not been seen since the sixties. By 1980, the rough, raw and testosterone-fueled elements of punk had evolved into the extravagance, face paint and androgyny of the New Romantics, a group of young people who used their imagination and fashion to flaunt conventions and establish their own identity in a way that wasn’t too dissimilar to the eccentric behaviour of the Bright Young People of the twenties. While this earlier group was comprised of aristocrats and socialites, the New Romantics were mainly working class kids and students and yet another substrata in various anti-establishment youth subcultures had formed in Britain since WW II. Dick Hebdige’s ‘Subculture: The Meaning of Style’, which I’ve read back to front at least twice, remains the seminal text differentiating all these non-conformist tribes. Hebdige’s premise, in a sentence, a subculture’s challenge to the status quo is expressed through style. By the early eighties each of these subcultures, which included hippies, mods, teddy boys, punks, rockabillies and New Romantics not only had their own sartorial identity, but also their own music and clubs, such as the Beetroot, Dirtbox, Blitz or Taboo.
A trip to London in the early eighties, no matter how frequent, was always a voyage of discovery, and, as a fashion journalist for ‘Daily News Record’, a menswear trade paper, I was always on the hunt for a new story whether that meant searching Olympia’s apparel show for John Galliano and finding him, with his first collection, Afghanistan Repudiates Western Ideas, in a fire exit, or climbing a rickety flight of stairs in a building that should have been condemned in Dickens’ time to view the jewellery of Tom Binns. I went to see Sue Clowes, a printmaker who outfitted Boy George in the early days of Culture Club, in her Brick Lane studio, long before that area became a destination. The first stop in London was always Kensington Market; a souk of individual stalls selling apparel and accessories, including individual designs that had been stitched up, more often than not, by fashion students in their bedsit the night before. Kensington Market, which no longer exists, encapsulated London’s ever-evolving avant-garde fashion scene. The speed at which things changed was famously noted by Chris Sullivan, host of the Wag Club who said, “One look lasts a day”.
There were the outrageous catwalk shows by Vivienne Westwood, Body Map and Katharine Hamnett, to name only a few, as well as the theatrics of designer-turned-performer Leigh Bowery, who once tried to kiss me while made up to look like he had pus-oozing sores all over his face. During the early eighties, it seemed like everyone in London was in a band, or dressing a band. These groups would have one hit in the UK charts, become an overnight sensation, and then just disappear. But as fleeting as their success might be, they always had a style that was instantly picked up as the next big thing.
i-D captured all of the energy of that unique moment in time. There was nothing else like i-D if you wanted to know what was really new in London. On its covers and inside pages, i-D presented its own brand of art directed subversion and social documentation, offering an insider’s look at British pop culture that you would not see in print anywhere else. The fact that i-D was, in general, illegible made the magazine all the more mysterious and what you saw on its pages were secret signs that only those ‘in the know’ would be able to decode.
Terry Jones has been the driving force behind i-D throughout these past 30 years. He never takes credit for i-D’s success himself, but always emphasises that each copy of the magazine is the result of the collaborative efforts of a large creative team. That said, he has directly, or indirectly, launched the careers of dozens upon dozens of editors, art directors, photographers, writers and stylists, many of whom came to i-D because something they saw in the magazine resonated with who they wanted to become. These people shaped i-D and the magazine shaped them. Over the last three decades, i-D has been a launching pad for many photographers including Nick Knight, Juergen Teller, Craig McDean, Ellen von Unworth and Wolfgang Tillmans. Madonna, Sade and Bjork all had their first magazine covers on i-D, while model Kate Moss, who has appeared on the cover 11 times, has matured before our eyes over the last 16 years from a waif to a woman.
Looking through 33 years of the magazine, there have been many surprises to rediscover like: Mario Testino’s first magazine cover in December 1984; David Bailey’s portrait of young architect Sophie Hicks with gaffer tape over one eye; and, Naomi Campbell’s debut on the August 1986 cover, shot by Robert Erdmann with a fashion story inside by Sam Brown. Because of i-D’s strict budget constraints, Terry remembers that the film for Wolfgang Tillmans’ fashion story in July 1992 was developed at a One Hour Lab. I saw large scale prints from that shoot a year or two later in an exhibition of new photographers at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The deeper you dig into i-D’s past, the bigger the treasure you’ll find.
The distance technology has evolved over the past 30 years is staggering, and it is easy to see the progress from the handmade graphics of i-D’s first cover to Nick Knight’s recent work with 3-D scanning. In 1980 people didn’t own computers. Many newspapers and magazines were still being typeset. The first issues of i-D were published by offset printing, a technique that would reproduce – with varying degrees of quality – original artwork onto A4 paper. Photocopy machines easily do the same thing now, but in 1980 those were few and far between, not to mention expensive, and, it would have been next to impossible to find a colour copier then. The lo-fi techniques used to create the magazine’s homemade look were, in fact, done by hand.
In the last decade we have seen the platform for listening to music change from compact discs to electronic transfer. i-D’s third issue published in January 1981 included a flexi disc (a thin, bendable phonographic record, played on a turntable) of a song recorded by The Scars. That was a year before CDs were even commercially available.
Fashion has changed significantly over the last 33 years as well. In 1980 there were still ‘sitting editors’ at magazines, not stylists, and you would never find credits that read ‘stylist’s own’ or ‘customised by the stylist’. In fact, the fashion in the early issues of i-D that documented the street style of London’s various tribes was often made from the imagination of their wearers, rather than something they bought in a store. In the eighties, individual style was celebrated over branding and marketing, and there were no smug ‘fashionistas’. Street fashion today consists of celebrities, papped on the red carpet or shopping. Fashion is so co-opted now there are even ads that urge consumers to ‘celebrate originality’, which is another way of saying, ‘Buy me’. If everyone’s hip, then what’s cool?
Despite all these changes in people, fashion and culture, i-D has remained faithful to its initial purpose, which Terry Jones said was to give an “alternative voice to new ideas and people with innovative views”. While I am definitely older since the magazine’s launch 33 years ago, i-D only grows younger with each new issue. On the back cover of the first issue were the words, “Style isn’t what but how you wear clothes. Fashion is the way you walk, talk, dance and prance. Through I.D. ideas travel fast and free of the mainstream – so join us on the run”. I am most grateful to i-D, its photographers, various editors and Terry Jones for allowing me to take part in the journey.