Wonderland is a magazine with a style located in a distinctly British publishing tradition. Its particular art direction has a clear link to the unique London style of publishing that arose in the 1980’s when magazines like Blitz, I-D and The Face burst onto the scene. Although each of the new UK titles that were facilitated by developments in desktop publishing had their own particular angle and style, it would be reasonable to say that what was so distinct about British magazines at that time was their content.
If glossy French and Italian magazines were heavily fashion focussed – and most definitely fashion in the luxury brand sense of the word- and the Anglophone world had a tradition of great journalism in the arena of the music press, then what defined Britain’s new swathe of glossy magazines was the conflation of these realms. Fashion and music (together with film, design and other forms of culture) acquired an equal status on a level playing field, significantly producing a new type of magazine that appealed to both male and female readers. Furthermore, fashion was not of the ilk previously associated with glossy magazines, instead being drawn from the flamboyant street fashion of London and the burgeoning new generation of UK designers who no longer felt that they should set their sights low.
Of course, the world has changed a lot since the 1980’s and barely one title born during that original flurry of new British publishing either remains or remains under the control of the original creatives.
Yet, in many ways, Wonderland, though set up a lot later, continues with certain lessons learned from that original trope: a content balance that speaks to both men and women; a spread of editorial that takes in fashion, music, film and celebrity; a stark graphic style that suits the identity of an almost hybrid magazine.
Known for its diptych covers that are often a means of reinforcing the title’s equal gender appeal, Wonderland, like its predecessors, understands that a particular approach is required, particularly when featuring a broad range of celebrities as cover stars. Taking into account the achievements of a magazine like The Face, for example, it soon becomes clear that a dominant overtly fashionista style of photography is hardly going to be something that will make certain celebrities or artists feel comfortable. Sure, it’s readily successful when an issue’s cover star just happens to be a model or a celebrity who has openly exploited his or her model good looks, but it just isn’t going to wash when the cover star happens to be a gnarly old genius actor or nerdy looking musician. As with The Face or Blitz, Wonderland understands that balance between charismatic portraiture and looking great.
The two covers to the Feb/March issue of Wonderland are a fine example of how this is managed.
On one cover, classically beautiful Canadian model Jessica Stam stares out at us from what is, for the greater part, a traditional glossy fashion magazine cover. One might say that it was a timeless look if it wasn’t for the fact that no look is timeless, something that Wonderland’s art direction team seem to understand all too well. Here, Cuneyt Akeroglu’s smoky photo of a glammed-up Jessica has a rather 1970’s feel about it: she could be someone that Guy Bourdin might have photographed. But, by picking up on the shocking pink in the image and using it as the key colour for the text and title logo, it also makes a gesture of 1950’s innocent glamour. We are not offered nostalgia, but rather a fashion image that is a post-modern composite; something contemporary that is aware of its own past.
By contrast, David Armstrong’s soft-focus black and white shot of Keith Hernandez, the face of the second cover, is far more akin to the kinds of portrait photography associated with the covers of iconic British titles that first gained an international audience in the 1980’s, the tradition to which Wonderland often aligns itself, intentionally or coincidentally. Ironically, although the jaunty style of the image suggests a hot young pop musician, Hernandez is not an artist or a celebrity for which this approach has often been more suited, but a professional model. From this, one might deduce that, even when engaging directly with the realm of fashion -a sizeable part of its content offer- Wonderland is acutely aware of the strength of this tradition and the relationship to its own place in UK magazine publishing history.
Naturally, the choice of photographer also plays its role and in the case of David Armstrong, it is notable that, in addition to his work as a fashion photographer for leading international titles, he is also respected as a fine art photographer whose other genres of photography have also been shown in prominent institutional exhibitions.
The current covers of Wonderland are a striking example of not only the unique identity of the title, but also a simultaneously informative example of its place in UK magazine publishing trends since the 1980’s.