The New York Times (nytimes.com)
When an Office Strikes a Pose
February 18, 1999
When an Office Strikes a Pose
By CHRISTOPHER MASON
''IT'S our dream,'' Stephen Gan said, surveying the vast, gleaming-white new home of Visionaire, the avant-garde quarterly that changes format with each issue and has developed an international cult following among the increasingly entwined worlds of art and fashion.
The soaring 4,000-square-foot space at 11 Mercer Street, which includes a public gallery, is a luxury for the ambitious Mr. Gan, 33, and his partners James Kaliardos, 32, and Cecilia Dean, 29, who founded Visionaire in 1991 with $10,000.
Until two weeks ago, the three darlings of the Prada set were operating out of a cramped space in a once-derelict carriage house, a grim headquarters for a publication that is hand-assembled like an artist's portfolio and strives to dazzle with a phantasmagoria of visual effects.
Like SoHo itself, which evolved from an artists' outpost to a gallery haven to a minefield of designer boutiques and, most recently, to the home of billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Visionaire is moving on.
''We'd never worked in daylight before,'' Ms. Dean said, wearing stark fashion black, as she glanced up at the huge skylight 30 feet above her new desk. Even the cluster of crimson chairs from Herman Miller appeared to strike a pose.
''We had seven people working on top of each other, 15 during deadlines,'' she recalled. ''It became insane when anyone dropped by.''
Not just anyone, of course. Last week, Isabella Blow, the wildly eccentric stylist, arrived, wearing a twisted gold lame antler headdress, a John Galliano ankle-length fur coat with topaz-encrusted embroidery and fawn stilettos by Alexander McQueen. ''Aren't they divine?'' Ms. Blow, fashion director for The Sunday Times of London, exclaimed, as Mr. Kaliardos writhed on the floor, attempting to photograph her shoes. ''Don't you think they're so Duchess-of-Windsor-on-acid?''
A peril of their impressive new space, designed by the husband-and-wife architectural team Neil Logan and Solveig Fernlund, is the inevitable torrent of the fashionable who stop by to pay court.
Youthful models of astonishing beauty stopped by to drop off their portfolios, the most ravishing surveyed by the bosses, while a team of assistants sat mutely in awe.
The public can drop in, too: the gallery opens today, with a lively exhibition of street scenes by the fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo. The gallery's curved corners, Mr. Logan explained, ''were designed to expand the sense of space and help create a futuristic quality.''
At $150 a pop, however, not everyone can afford Visionaire's 27th issue, ''Movement,'' which will be available at the gallery and Rizzoli bookstores on March 1. The front cover presents the supermodel Kate Moss on a swing, hurtling toward the viewer; on the reverse, she is shown swinging from the back. The cover's captivating overlapping images, by the photographer Nick Knight, are reminiscent of the 3-D seaside postcards that wink saucily when tilted. That technology, called multiphase lenticular imaging, can now encompass 16 ''phases,'' permitting admirers of Ms. Moss to savor her range of smiles, from winsome to euphoric.
Also featured is the work of Sean Ellis, a young photographer -- artistic nudes of Joy Behrman, a Playboy model. ''Commercial work pays the bills, but Visionaire provides artists with a platform for more experimental work,'' Mr. Ellis said. ''I get to scratch a creative itch.''
Such experiments do not come cheap, even with the pro bono exertions of friends like Ms. Moss and the couturier Mr. McQueen, who styled her shoot and lent the dress. ''All our contributors work for free, and we don't get paid salaries,'' Mr. Kaliardos said. ''It's a tight operation.'' Circulation is a respectable 6,000, but production costs for recent issues have rocketed to between 30 and 50 times the $10,000 start-up fund.
So how can they afford a glamorous space, whose rent is said to be nearly $100,000 a year? Income from other sources. Ms. Dean, a former model, teaches design at the Parsons School; Mr. Kaliardos moonlights as a makeup artist with the fashion photographers (and Visionaire contributors) Richard Avedon and Steven Meisel. Mr. Gan, Visionaire's creative director, whose magazine career began at Details, most recently served as the art director for a Calvin Klein jeans advertising campaign starring Ms. Moss. The ads are appearing in 22 countries. ''It's Kate as the new Brooke Shields in her Calvins,'' Mr. Gan said of a giant billboard dominating the corner of Broadway and Houston Street.
Was it a coincidence that the Calvin Klein campaign and Visionaire's swinging Kate Moss cover surfaced the same week, or slick synergy?
''It just turned out that way,'' Mr. Gan said coyly.
From the beginning, Visionaire was an escape from mass-market fashion magazines. ''We all grew up looking at all those cheesy high-gloss photos of models wearing ugly merchandise across from ugly ads,'' said Mr. Gan. ''We wanted to do something purer, more creative and personal.'' The issues are designed to be collectible and free of advertising, which, Mr. Gan said, ''imposes certain creative constraints.'' Innovative photographers like David LaChapelle applaud the effort.
''It's like having your work in a great group show,'' he said. ''You get the feeling of participating in a movement.'' As the magazine has transmogrified, however, from inexpensive underground object to an ultraexclusive deluxe limited edition, Mr. Kaliardos said, ''we're using more and more special effects, and someone has to pay for them.''
The magazine's roster of established and emerging artists, as well as its elite fashion following, draw corporate sponsors like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prescriptives, the cosmetics company, which underwrite issues (and receive lavish credit).
Issue 18, ''Fashion Special,'' came wrapped in a custom-designed satchel, courtesy of Louis Vuitton. For corporate sponsors eager to improve their hip quotient, ''Visionaire is the ultimate marketing tool,'' observed Tiffany Dubin, director of Sotheby's fashion department. ''It's a subtler way to reach an elite audience.''
Are they ever over budget? ''Each and every time,'' Mr. Gan said. When an artist requires some expensive special effect, he added, ''Beauty usually wins.''
The most extravagant issue was ''Light,'' the first battery-operated publication. Its guest ''curator'' was Tom Ford of Gucci, who conceived it as a light box containing transparencies by 24 artists, including the conceptualist photographer Inez van Lamsweerde. Just 3,300 copies were made, and the price soared to $425.
One image that caused a few qualms was Mr. McQueen's contribution, a photographic study of a penis. ''Tom Ford was delighted with it,'' Mr. Gan said, clearly impressed by such enlightened patronage.
As the photographer Ellen von Unwerth said, ''The Visionaire guys are still doing amazing, out-there work you can't publish anywhere else.''
For now, anyway. Mr. Gan's recent commercial triumphs may have given him a taste for the marketplace. Looking around his giant office, he expressed a sentiment that may seem heretical to Visionaire purists. ''Right now, I'd love to start a new mass-market magazine,'' he mused. ''With advertising.''
Her father is American and her mother Chinese.
Wait WTF ? From the NY Times article, I get that she's 38.While her skin looks amazing, I thought she was 45.I can't believe she participated to 'Visionaire's creation at the age of 21.
Last edited by nanker_phledge; 04-05-2008 at 11:48 AM.
both lisa and cecilia wore very similar rodarte dresses for the costume institute party except cecilia was in black and lisa was in white.
Last edited by decbaby; 13-05-2008 at 06:03 PM.
wow. i love her. i can't believe she's not more popular on this forum. an-oldish article i came across on nymag.com
The Vision Thing
This month marks the twenty-fifth issue of "Visionaire" -- the homespun, high-concept, $150-a-copy 'zine that's the fashion world's latest must-have accessory.
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A cook clambers into Stephen Gan's bedroom, balancing a platter of turkey burgers fresh from the hibachi in one hand as she negotiates a precarious iron ladder. A handful of Gan's colleagues -- editors, production staff, interns -- drift in to survey a summery buffet: Tomatoes, green salad, iced tea, fresh bread. Just a routine lunch hour in the SoHo offices of Visionaire magazine.
Visionaire -- in case you don't own one of the 3,300 copies of the last issue -- is the hippest fashion magazine in America, a quirky quarterly that occasionally shows clothes and looks nothing at all like a magazine. "We prefer publication," says James Kaliardos, one of Gan's two co-editors. "We use portfolio or album more than magazine," adds Gan. "We started it as this thing somewhere between an art book and a fashion magazine." This month, the thing is celebrating a self-styled anniversary -- its twenty-fifth issue.
Packaged lavishly but with a homespun charm, Visionaire has more in common with old-fashioned vanity projects like Fleur Cowles's legendary Flair than with modern fashion rags. Each issue is a neo-surrealist scrapbook packed with photographs, drawings, even art projects that readers can play with. For issue 2, "Travel," the fashion designer Isabel Toledo hand-wound each of the 1,000 copies, spiderweb-style, with yards of black thread. Each copy of issue 18 -- the curiously titled "Fashion Special," which now fetches $5,000 ($4,850 more than its original price) -- came in its own Louis Vuitton case, handmade in Paris. No. 11, "White," was the starkest and most sensually appealing of all: Working with as little ink as possible, the editors used embossing, die-cutting, Braille, and clear varnish to create "the first fashion magazine for the blind."
Gan, along with Kaliardos and Cecilia Dean, founded Visionaire seven years ago, using $7,000 he'd saved up to print 1,000 copies of his first issue. Details, where he'd been an editor-writer-photographer-designer, had just gone glossy and mainstream. "I was 25, and I'd been at Details for almost four years," Gan recalls. "I didn't really know what to do next. I couldn't see myself as an editor or as a writer or as a stylist or as an art director. All the jobs out there were -- well, you did one thing." Furthermore, notes Kaliardos, the early-nineties fashion press was a pretty tame place for anyone creative and ambitious. "They were doing white-shirt stories," he gasps. "When the new editors of Details came in," he asks Gan, "didn't they ask you something like, 'How do you feel about jeans?' " Gan laughs sheepishly. At the time, Dean was about to graduate from Columbia, where she studied literature; Kaliardos had finished Parsons a few years earlier, with Gan. "Cecilia and I were both like, 'Stephen, you're so talented. There's just not a place for you. You do your own thing and we'll help.' "
The three future editors of Visionaire met as kids. Dean was a 15-year-old aspiring model living in Long Island and going to Catholic school ("She always managed to look completely glamorous, even in the stupid uniform," remembers a fellow alumna of Hempstead's Sacred Heart Academy); Gan and Kaliardos, both in their late teens, were at Parsons and just starting to get jobs as a photographer and a makeup artist, respectively. Dean's agent arranged to have Gan and Kaliardos work on one of her first test shoots -- "just to do a few photos for all of our books," says Dean. This casual approach to their work has remained a key ingredient in their professional chemistry to this day. Also to this day, the three continue to work at their old day jobs: Kaliardos does makeup for fashion glossies, Gan is a contributing writer for Harper's Bazaar, and Dean models and teaches a seminar at Parsons.
A few other things that separate Visionaire from Vogue: It operates out of a carriage house shared by Gan and Kaliardos and runs no ads; the cover price ranges from $150 to $425; though it's available at Rizzoli, only one newsstand (the one in the lobby of the Condé Nast building, natch) has ever carried it; and, in true do-it-yourself fashion, none of the contributors are paid. "Visionaire is really about a personal desire to do something," says Gan. "These are some of our friends who are artists' favorite images."
Happily, Gan & Co.'s friends include Mario Testino, Bill Cunningham, Karl Lagerfeld (who shot two dozen nude portraits for a recent issue), Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Mary Ellen Mark, and dozens of other fashion luminaries. "Visionaire," comments David Bowie, who contributed a four-page spread to issue 25, "is probably the kind of magazine that I would produce if I had the time." Testino proclaims that the magazine has helped liberate photographers from the white-shirt stories of the world: "Photographers have felt a new sense of freedom in working with Visionaire, and that carries over to the work created for other magazines."
Despite the magazine's impeccably hip credentials, Visionaire isn't about trends, insists Gan: "It's about a collective way of thinking about a certain subject. It's like having a space and inviting different people to come in, and seeing what happens."
The editors of Visionaire are particularly adept at bringing people into spaces: Their publication parties have become star-studded fashion-world events. When they celebrated issue 21, "Deck of Cards," at '21,' a phalanx of cops had to clear 52nd Street of the hundreds of frenzied fashionistas who didn't make it in. "I think a lot of people think we only throw parties," says Dean. "They're like, 'When's the next party?' Well, usually when the next issue comes out."
For the new issue, "Visionary" (the party was held in Paris), says Gan, "we called our favorite contributors and said, 'Your theme is you. Your inspiration will be your work.' " A few of the contributions: A Fabien Baron-designed sign-language tutorial, complete with die-cut finger holes; a pair of blurry, muted landscapes by Mats Gustafson; a clip-and-fly paper airplane (christened Fashion Jet by its creator, Design Box's Craig McDean).
"Visionary" is a return to the magazine's roots in another respect: It's one of the only recent issues not funded by a corporate sponsor. Gucci helped finance the famous issue 24, a $425 plexiglass light box on which "readers" were to view two dozen oversize transparencies. De Beers and Prescriptives funded earlier editions. But the comparatively simple "Visionary" -- 25 unbound pages packaged in a large square slipcase along with an ambient "soundtrack" CD by Deee-Lite's Towa Tei -- was produced using receipts from previous issues (with occasional corporate sponsorship, the magazine, its editors claim, just breaks even).
Which brings us back to the chef. Like just about everything else in the Visionaire business plan, this stylish amenity is less of an impossible indulgence than it would seem. "When we first started," explains Gan, "I couldn't afford to pay anyone. So I'd buy them all lunch every day. Soon, though, my accountant came to me and said, 'Stephen, your printing costs are really high. But your lunch costs are even higher!' I couldn't not give people lunch, though." With his mind thus made up (and the accountant duly consulted), Gan hired a part-time cook for the magazine -- at a fraction of the cost of ordering in. The Visionaire lesson, in catering as in publishing: Do it yourself, at home.
Cecilia Dean strikes a pose at her party.
The Frick Collection Young Fellows Ball (Cecilia in Alexander McQueen)
Last edited by La bordélique; 21-06-2009 at 05:00 PM. Reason: Please see tFS guidelines - crediting images