The Book about the Magazine about London in the ‘80s

Paul Gorman has authored a coffee table book about a magazine. And in the very act of doing so, he’s inadvertently pointed out one more reason why the magazine format itself is so valuable.

’The Story of The Face’” has the size and heft of a coffee-table book, with plenty of striking reproductions of famous covers and spreads,” writes Hua Hsu in The New Yorker.

Clearly, Hsu is a fan of the subject of the book, the original magazine The Face, which debuted in London in the early ‘80s.

“I learned about the British magazine The Face in high school, when a worldly friend started talking about it and I pretended to know what it was,” Hsu admits. What set the magazine apart in his mind was its air of mystery.

He notes that “…unlike most titles on the newsstand, which would at least hint at what was inside or how often they published, The Face maintained an air of mystery. It was founded in London, in 1980, and it reveled in the multi-racial, multicultural sensibility that was taking shape there; the pages themselves, full of vivid photography and experiments in layout and typography, communicated the era’s new possibilities.”

The universe was expansive and evolving, infinite and unknowable—except for those dozen times a year when a small part of it arrived on newsstands and in certain bookstores and came, momentarily, into focus.

It was the beginning of the marriage of art and commerce, a line that has extended into modern times with magazines like Monocle, Apartmento, and Fantastic Man, titles that Hsu says “can feel more like accessories than magazines.”

Getting back to the book for a moment, Hsu points out exactly what is missing in the book – and in our increasingly “flattened” digital content experience too.

“It is easy to become frustrated with “The Story of The Face” not because of what it is but because of what it could never be: a big stack of the magazines themselves, the beautiful, self-contained objects that they were,” he explains.

He read one section about the May 1992 issue themed “Love Sees No Colour,” and found himself wondering “how this Zeitgeist ran through other articles in that issue or surfaced on the letters page or in the sneaker ads. What albums came out that month to clinch the feeling that they were living in such special times?”

That’s precisely what is so special about magazine content – the carefully edited theme that carries through, each piece standing alone but playing off each other as different instruments in the orchestra take turns carrying the melody.

“It’s about a different experience of time. The feeling I get when I pick up an old issue of The Face is a sense of boundedness,” he muses. “These magazines were portals to other lives, systems of taste I learned by acquiring the small talismans and minute gestures that held these worlds up.”

His review makes me want to buy the book – which is great for Gorman and his publisher. Even more, it makes me want to prowl some dusty London stacks and see if I can’t find a few back issues of the magazine.