the rise, fall and hedonistic rule of 90s magazine pavement
Speaking to the publication’s founders about the cover stars, culture and clashes behind the magazine that introduced New Zealand style to the world.
While New Zealand was relatively quiet in the early 90s, the young people, like young people everywhere, were devouring the era-defining fashion and editorials of magazines like i-D, The Face and NME. In a pre-internet, pre-PR agency world, these were the bibles that united the like-minded spirits of a generation. And in this atmosphere, in 1993, Auckland-based journalist and teacher of Sociology of Popular Culture and Film & TV Studies, Barney McDonald, was inspired to launch his own publication. Spurred by a desire to write the kind of stories he wanted to read, he took a literal approach to naming his new street culture title, enlisted the best Kiwi writers and photographers he knew and just like that, Pavement was born.
While it already possessed many of the makings of a cool project, Pavement still needed someone to steer its design aesthetic and fashion content. Fatefully, art director and designer Glenn Hunt had recently returned to New Zealand from an inspiring stint in London. He immediately saw the publication's potential and contacted Barney about working on the launch issue. Glenn went on to creatively direct every issue of the magazine that would come to reflect 90s cool in New Zealand and around the world.
Pavement ran for thirteen, very busy, years. In a little over a decade the team shot everyone from Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio to Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Courtney Love and even the very first pictures of an emerging model named Gisele Bundchen. We spoke to Barney and Glenn about New Zealand in the 90s and peered into their impressive archives.
Can you tell us a bit about the very early days of Pavement.
Barney: I got the ball rolling and Glenn came to see me about designing the mag. We'd both been raised on a healthy diet of international mags and Kiwi titles like Rip It Up and Cha-Cha. So we clicked right away. Glenn's aesthetic was perfect. So after the first couple of issues we formed a company together and rolled it out from there. It was actually really easy and fun.
Glenn: I'd started collaborating with the photographer Derek Henderson, who I'd grown up with. He introduced me to the local fashion scene and helped set me up as the go-to art director/designer. When I came along, even though the first issue was only 64 pages, all black and white, with no fashion shoots, Barney had some interesting, well-written content, and an office in Ponsonby with an an advertising team underway. I instantly sensed the potential of what we could achieve.
What was it like in NZ at the time?
Barney: NZ felt like it had the potential to be more international in its creative outlook, but was still hemmed in by an inhibiting parochial nature. But the culture accelerated in the 90s. We started and just a couple of months later the inaugural Big Day Out happened in Auckland. Key local fashion designers were progressively looking overseas for new markets. Peter Jackson made Heavenly Creatures, then The Frighteners, paving the way for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. OMC released the one-hit-wonder How Bizarre and topped numerous international charts. Drum and bass hit the clubs and raves. It was all go! It energised us. Hopefully we energised others.
Glenn: The market was crying out for a relevant, cutting edge, fashion-focused youth title that embraced this and framed it in a local context. We didn't need to do market research; we were a part of the target market. We had access to a great pool of contributors and talent that also needed a platform. We trusted our instinct and never doubted that we'd succeed in providing that.
You've said that Pavement was you bringing the world to NZ and taking NZ to the world. You guys featured so many great people in the magazine, how did this tend to happen from Auckland?
Barney: We quickly developed a network of contributors outside NZ who could shoot stories for us, whether music, film or fashion. Some of them were Kiwis: Derek Henderson, Regan Cameron, Max Doyle, to name a few, plus several Kiwi photographers continued to shoot for Pavement when they ventured overseas. As Pavement gained currency, plenty of foreign contributors came on board because they enjoyed what we were doing, and the creative freedom we fostered. Our philosophy was: if it's worth doing a story on, it's worth doing our own pictures for. No original pictures meant no story, mostly.
What was Pavement's aesthetic and how did you keep it consistent?
Glenn: It was the single-minded thing that drove me — to despair sometimes! Especially in the early days when there weren't enough pages to do what I wanted and too many bloody words! I loved what Barney was producing and always felt it was my duty to do bring those words to life in the best way I could. Barney and I both loved and appreciated photography and it became one of the strong-points of the magazine.
Do you have a favourite story, shoot or editorial, something that has really stuck with you?
Barney: All of them! It was all fun. And it all felt right. We made some creative mistakes. There are still a couple of covers that make me cringe. But mistakes help colour the palate. We evolved one step at a time, but the genesis of what we wanted to do was there from the outset.
Glenn: Oh man, so many! Although, being a fashion victim at heart, I always got a special thrill from the supermodel covers. It just made me really proud to see the same face on the front of Pavement as on Italian Vogue, but shot exclusively for us, in our style. My most memorable shoots were those where we took visiting bands, such as Placebo or Elastica, out to the West Coast beaches for the day to shoot them. There's a great shot of Placebo's Brian Molko standing on the rocks at Piha getting totally wasted by a huge freak wave.
Barney: Even though Glenn and I were on the same wavelength as regards design, we were always brawling over how much space text should get. Deadlines were always a stressful couple of weeks — Pavement was bi-monthly for a decade, then quarterly for the final three years — and one night at the office Glenn was having a go at me over the length of a story. I picked up the first thing that came to hand — a reasonably large Oxford Pocket Dictionary, as it happens — and threw it at his head. It was a good throw! He stormed off to his office, but a minute later we were both cackling with laughter.
Oh yes, we've heard about the parties, can you tell us more?
Barney: We had MASSIVE parties. We even threw Australian Fashion Week parties at Q-bar on Oxford Street. I remember Laurence Fishburne turned up because, little did we know, he was shooting the first Matrix movie in Sydney at the time. Nice guy, tall.
Glenn: Sometimes we'd throw after-parties for visiting bands like Massive Attack, Marilyn Manson or Interpol. One of my highlights was when Johnny Rotten turned up to a Pavement birthday party, as obnoxious as ever. When one of the photographers offered to light his cigarette, his response was, 'Fuck off, you peasant!'
What changed about the cultural landscape in the time you were doing Pavement?
Barney: PR people started sticking their beaks into everything, and both Aussie and NZ fashion weeks took up too much of a designer's time and marketing budget. Music — and the way we all accessed it — changed fundamentally as well. Digital took over, as it did for photography. In the 90s all the pictures we published were shot on film. And it was fun pouring over proof sheets and prints. Digital was the seismic shift that continues to this day.
Glenn: I really noticed a considerable shift from the early 2000s. In the 90s it felt like we were truly part of a continuously evolving alternative creative scene, where paradigms were constantly shifting and always inspiring. You could still be original and a sense of aesthetics and even history were important factors in informing and motivating what one did. Ironically, it was alternative media like us that helped propel youth culture into the mass market.
What eventually led to its closure?
Barney: It was on the cusp of the blighted "online revolution" in publishing. As a result our advertising revenue took a sharp dive over the last few issues and we didn't want to degrade the quality of the mag in response.
Glenn: We always had a punk mentality and neither of us was particularly commercially minded, so we decided to call it quits….and I was sick of getting the dictionary thrown at me!
Text Briony Wright