Fashion 'It was madness. It was brilliant': the irrepressible spirit of the Face, by the people who made it
With news that the Face is relaunching this month, some of its former staff – including Nick Knight, Sheryl Garratt and Neville Brody – tell the story of the magazine through their favourite covers
The Face is back! The magazine, one of the most revered of all time, was set up by the former NME editor Nick Logan to chronicle youth culture after punk: fashion, clubbing, music, film, politics and more. Art directed by Neville Brody, it was the first magazine to combine radical design and world-class photography with sharp, in-depth reportage from the frontlines of 80s subcultures, from Sade and Leigh Bowery to the New York vogueing scene. Image-makers including the stylist Ray Petri would synthesise the energy and excitement of the times into agenda-setting fashion stories that collided streetwear and high fashion, menswear and womenswear. Before long, the Face became a global byword for cool, and a lifeline for readers dreaming of hanging out in the Wag club but stuck miles away in the sticks.
While the Face is still sometimes referred to as an “80s style bible”, under the editorship of Sheryl Garratt and then Richard Benson in the 90s it arguably got even better. An image of Kate Moss photographed by Corinne Day announced the new decade’s arrival as decisively as the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays appearing on Top of the Pops. This spirit of starry-eyed, post-rave optimism that swept Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall was captured by writers such as Gavin Hills, whose dispatches from Berlin, Kosovo and Angola were unique and unmissable. Other writers such as Chris Heath and Miranda Sawyer would bring a new sense of mischief and intimacy to interviews with Face-friendly stars ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Jarvis Cocker, while photographers including David Sims and Sean Ellis created fashion imagery that prized pushing boundaries over flogging clothes – a spirit shared by contemporaneous designers such as Alexander McQueen.
I wrote a handful of pieces for it in the mid-90s and can still remember what a thrill it was to have even a little article under that magnificent red-and-white masthead. I was features editor for about 15 months at the turn of the millennium and vividly remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into each issue, which all took place amid a heavy schedule of parties, nightclubs and festivals. One night, I remember going home at 2am near the production deadline, absolutely exhausted – when I came in the following day everyone was still there. The Face was not exactly well organised, but everyone cared about it passionately.
It folded in 2004. But this year it will return, as a website and print magazine, the latter published four times a year. It’s a prospect at once worrying and exciting. The Face was, by definition, all about the new, so a revival seems intrinsically at odds with everything it stood for. The jury is also out as to who the new Face will appeal to, given that the young clubbers and students who were always its principal constituencies no longer read magazines. Yet if the new Face has the subversiveness, excellence and innovation of the original, it will still stand out like Keith Flint on a hot pink background. This selection of Face covers sum up why it was so special.
Sheryl Garratt, editor 1989-96, on the July 1990 cover
In 1988, as the Face was nearing its 100th issue, the magazine’s founder, owner and editor Nick Logan was seriously considering closing it down. It would have been a magnificent gesture, finishing the publication that for many had defined the 80s, before the decade was even over. But to me, it was also deeply depressing. I had only recently started working there full-time, and I loved it.
Sales had been declining, but the magazine had a brilliant and enthusiastic team in place. Acid house had turned clubland day-glo, British dance music was exploding, fashion was finding exciting new directions, and it just felt as if the Face was needed.
Logan kept the magazine open. But when he made me editor the following year, his brief was clear: having gone on and on about all these new potential readers who were out dancing all night in the fields, I now needed to make a magazine that appealed to them.
With a tiny staff and an even smaller budget, there wasn’t the time or the money for a grand reinvention. So we did it gradually, learning from our mistakes and building up a roster of great new writers, photographers and stylists. I’d like to say that this cover was part of a grand plan, the unveiling of our new intent. But it wouldn’t be entirely true.
Art director Phil Bicker had showed me a picture of an unknown young model from Croydon, a Polaroid that had been bought in by Corinne Day, one of several new photographers he was developing. He suggested that this teenager could become the face of the new Face, and we put her on the cover in May 1990, wearing an Italia 90 football shirt. Her name was Kate Moss, but no one really noticed.
The cover people did notice was in July: a black-and-white image of Moss wrinkling her nose in a goofy grin. From a fashion story shot by Day and styled by Melanie Ward, the pictures were mostly taken on Camber Sands. Day worked hard to bring out the personality that had attracted her to Moss in the first place, creating something that was warm, funny and also flawed and slightly awkward, an antidote to the gloss and perfection of 80s fashion.
Moss complained later – tongue firmly in cheek – that she had been teased at school for showing off her flat chest. Actually, she had worked as hard as she always does to give Day what she wanted, running down the beach in skimpy outfits, somehow making a cold and windy weekend on a Sussex beach look like a summer idyll.
It didn’t gel as a cover at first, and we even tried out other ideas (comedian Sandra Bernhard was briefly a contender). But when Bicker cut out the feathers in Kate’s headdress, allowing them to poke over the Face logo, it felt right. It was cheeky, irreverent, fun, and we quickly made it work with the features inside, pulling everything together with a headline that declared “The 3rd Summer of Love”. It helped launch Kate’s career, established Day and Ward as style mavens, and sales of the magazine grew until, in 1996, it reached its highest readership ever.
As for this latest relaunch, I wish it luck. I hope the new Face is brave, and willing to go into real depth about popular culture, with long, well-written features. I hope it pushes at boundaries, and explores new ideas in its design, photography and fashion. Most of all, in an era where we are all drowning in information, with more music, YouTube clips and product than we could ever hope to consume, I hope it curates its content carefully and becomes once more a voice we can trust. If so, I will be an avid reader.
Nick Knight, photographer, on the Alexander McQueen cover, 1998
I had worked with Lee McQueen not long after he graduated. I had seen the catwalk show for his Joan collection in 1998, and a couple of weeks later he approached me. He had been asked by the Face to do some imagery and he wanted to expand the themes of the show.
He was interested in using his own physique to express the ideas behind his collections. He wanted to express the idea of the burning rage felt by Joan of Arc being burned at the stake. That’s the red eyes, that’s the blood, that’s the fury. That’s the anguish and the pain. The deathly white skin and all that was the idea of death itself.
What McQueen did was find an outlet for a whole lot of stuff that is normally locked into people’s darker imaginations. So he articulated pain – what it must have been to have been burnt alive – and the sort of things that normally only come out through horror films and don’t normally find their way on to the catwalk. I don’t think the gothic beauty that McQueen brought in his work had been seen before.
We did the shoot at Metro Studio – one I used to frequent a lot. It’s a very straightforward photograph, to be honest. It was shot with a 10 by 8 camera and that’s pretty much how he looked, I haven’t really changed anything beyond, perhaps, a bit of colouration.
I think it’s a great cover. It’s a good piece of layout and typography. But the Face’s heyday was in the 80s. By 1998 there was a pretty well-established counter-culture in the magazine world. The Face was nearly 20 years old and, like any person 20 years on, it didn’t have the same tastes any more. I think it was slightly trying to work out who it was – I don’t think it still had the ethos it did when it started.
I had first heard about the Face when I left college in 1980 – Nick Logan started it in Carnaby Street, on the other side of the street from NME. Logan was an ex-mod and everything that goes with that, so mods are fastidious about how they dress, they are particularly into the in-crowd … the Face ran very much in that vein, saying who was in fashion, what was stylish and who should be looked at in a very directional way. There was very much a scene that the Face promoted, whether it was Jerry Dammers from The Specials or Ian Curtis from Joy Division or whoever else made their covers.
Neville Brody was the graphic star of the time. He wasn’t there from the beginning but what he managed to do with the Face was revolutionary. He introduced this new graphic style, a sort of modernist version of Russian constructivism, that had a huge effect right the way across popular culture. That was really where it shot to fame – it looked so good.
If you look that great, that sharp, you attract a lot of people wanting to be in it … the writing, from people like John Savage to Julie Burchill was great. When someone said the Face was launching again, I very nearly wrote on their Instagram: “Why?” The Face should rank among the top 10 magazines ever, anywhere, and those Neville Brody years were its epitome, its pinnacle.
Nick Knight is shooting the campaign for “Medea” showing the The Onassis Cultural Centre in May 2019
David Sims, photographer, on the September 1993 issue
The idea of putting Kurt in a tea dress came, I think, from seeing him wearing a dress on stage. I used to go out with a girl who wore vintage tea dresses in the 90s, and I thought to combine the two. I can’t explain why it felt right to a 26-year-old photographer but I remember he didn’t object. I was deeply in awe of the man. He was really humble and quiet and he felt like a sweet person.
They – he and his team – were a bit late to the shoot, and it seemed as if they had done 100 interviews that day already, so they were slightly oblivious to the whole thing. Courtney [Love] was there, too. I remember she flounced in and threw herself on to this couch. For a moment, it was The Courtney Show – she tends to holds sway wherever she goes – but it made things mildly problematic because I just wanted to shoot the band. We were in a studio, and running out of daylight and I hadn’t brought any other lights so we were really up against it.
Anna Coburn was the stylist – we collaborated a lot over the years – and she managed to just hold these dresses up quickly and get him into them. There was no negotiating. It was all quite fast. However it may seem now, back then the history of the magazine was sufficiently broad-minded and ad hoc that the “rebelliousness” of the shoot didn’t come into view. Wearing a dress wasn’t really a thing.
I shot for the Face over about four or five years. I was brought in by creative director, Phil Bicker. The role that it played at the time it first appeared compared with now, when culture is so diverse and broad, and it’s easy for an audience to thin out, feels quite different. When we read magazines, our attention can go a hundred odd places – but that was probably inspired by the Face. It was challenging. It challenged the reader. And it developed as it went. Mainly, though, it didn’t commodify things – it just brought them to our attention. I think many magazines today have lost that purity.
Neville Brody, art director, 1981-86, on the March 1985 cover
It’s hard to describe how the Face worked. Ray Petri, [its main stylist] had an open platform to explore things. He would drive his styling, pick the photographers he wanted to work with and select models. He pretty much invented the word stylist to describe what he was doing, and would come in and say: “I think this is the cover”. Thank God he was doing it with us.
“Buffalo” [a cultural youth movement and fashion house led by Petri that championed diversity and contemporary club culture] was a response to post-punk as well as luxury fashion. It was about a homegrown approach to art, culture, fashion and design but really it was about discovering people. This cover exemplified all that. Ray always used to find stars – he was friends with the parents of Felix [the 13-year-old boy on the cover], but Ray took him into a new sphere. We were always out in the same clubs as the people we were featuring. It wasn’t like people stuck in Fleet Street running up and down the country trying to spot the latest talent.
The whole movement was coming from R&B, funk, reggae and punk. On the cover, you have a feather in a gentleman’s hat and a classic crombie coat, which was an almost mafioso-style street statement, one that skinheads had previously adopted. It was black and white, too – a fairly radical thing that, for me, along with the ripped out “Killer” [on the hat, was very like something from a fanzine. But on the other side [the photographer] Jamie Morgan was really inspired by reportage and classic press photography, which historically was black and white. Ray knew that it was a killer shot.
The word here was meant, as in “wicked”, “top” or “best”. It was a bit tongue-in-cheek but at the same time it was coming out of street slang in a way. In all of Buffalo’s photography, the model or the subject is in control of the shot. That’s so clear here with Felix – to see such sophistication at a young age is part of our fascination with this.
Every issue of the Face was intense – about trying to push things as far as you could before the bike took the thing to the printer. It was madness. It was brilliant. There’s one word I would have used: authentic. And you can see it in this cover, there’s a real authenticity about it.
Personally, I was using The Face as a platform to explore new ways of doing layout, and thinking about typography and how to use images in media – crop them differently, place them in different places, use juxtaposition to bring out new stories. Everyone was rejecting tradition that was for the sake of tradition, but if there were ideas in tradition that when combined with something else could create something new, then, as we can see with the classical references in this cover, it was something fresh. If we launched the Face now we would probably launch a fanzine.
Rosemary Ferguson, cover model, on the June 1992 issue
I don’t think I really grasped what was going on at the time of this shoot. I’m not even sure where it happened – maybe Corinne Day’s flat or some tiny studio. I was just wearing the sort of thing I wore then – a vest and jeans, some smudged makeup. And that was how I stood. Corinne said I had that ability to stand in a natural way that lent itself to shoots, so that was how she used to shoot me.
I was scouted in McDonald’s when I was 15. To be honest, I never set out to be a model. I remember at the time, Corinne said she thought I was a good-looking boy, which I think was meant to be a compliment, but it was also a sign of the times. I didn’t do any modelling for a couple of years, but changed my mind about it when I was 17. That whole androgynous aesthetic was in, the grunge era that was in … It seemed to sort of fit what I was into. When this came out, I was at college but I hadn’t told anyone about it. It was quite a surprise. The Face and i-D were like the Bible in my sixth form.
The Face shoots weren’t particularly organised, and were certainly all quite low-tech compared with modern shoots. Fashion today isn’t like that. The photographers are older than the models, and it’s much more structured. It’s not that they didn’t care, though – Corinne was very, very particular about what she wanted from a shot. A hard taskmaster. There were guidelines and briefs and you’d be there freezing your ass off on Camber Sands trying to get the right shot.
The thing was, we were all the same age, and all friends, and that’s how it worked. It was like hanging out with extended family. We’ve lost Corinne, of course [she died in 2010], but a lot of us are still in touch – David [Sims), Kate, and I think that’s why it functioned, because it felt collaborative rather than like work. I did a few shoots for the magazine, often with Corinne. I stopped modelling around the time of my third child, and trained as a nutritionist and I still work with some of my friends from back then.
I don’t know if we knew what it was, or what it would become or what it represented. But I suppose it’s testament to the way the magazine was able to source and find talent that almost everyone who worked there went on to do good stuff, or got poached. I think Corinne went on to shoot for US Vogue, and obviously Glen [Luchford] and David Sims are huge. And Kate [Moss] obviously.
That’s probably why it was so successful. Fashion looked to the Face for what was cool, fashion, and for direction. It was a powerhouse of ideas and talent. It was incredibly sad when it shut.
Heathermary Jackson, fashion director, on the September 2002 issue
This was one of my first covers. I was talking to then-editor Ashley Heath about shooting some up-and-coming designers, and we went for Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, Lee [Alexander] McQueen and John Galliano. Ashley suggested superheroes as a theme. The only one that didn’t want to do it was John Galliano. He came up with – and I wish we had done this – The Invisible Man, the idea being someone wrapped up in bandages. It’s ironic, though. Back then, Galliano was the biggest draw; now, he’s probably the least.
We had such a high-class team. For this shoot, Val Garland did the makeup and we had Lee as the Silver Surfer, so we got these silver contact lenses. Phoebe was Catwoman, and Stella was Batgirl. Phoebe was at Chloé at the time, but here she looks like a model. We shot it in a small studio in east London, everyone as separate portraits. I don’t remember it being difficult to get them to say yes to it. Phoebe was great – of course, she just looked perfect, so obviously we went with this cover. But then the Face was the only magazine that could pull this sort of thing off, that could get people like this to pose like that. It was such a British institution.
When I joined in the early 00s, we were the “fashion people”. Everyone would sit there and not talk; no one really spoke to us. It was us and them in the office – they were serious journalists, I was in awe of them, and my mission was to bridge that gap. The idea was when Katie Grand joined, more fashion would be injected in – up until then, it wasn’t the main thing.
I was freelancing at Dazed magazine at the time and I got a call from her. It was a rarely sunny day, we went for a walk, she told me she was going over there and did I want to be her fashion editor. Obviously, I jumped at it. I loved the Face. It was one of the Bibles, you know? When Katie left, I went for her job and got it.
I was 26 and I had only just stopped assisting on [fashion] shoots but I knew it was big. The way they would break people before anyone else, and the way we shot them in a new and completely different way. I remember when we shot Destiny’s Child in Dublin in 2001, I think. I had no idea who they were. But I remember the parameters. Beyoncé’s mum was there, we couldn’t shoot anything that sat above the knee, there was gospel music playing. In the end we did something naughty and used just Beyoncé on the cover, then three months later it broke that she was going out on her own. It was so prophetic. That was just the Face for you.
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