Dublin’s independent fashion publications shatter the parochialism of their industry parameters
In a world so strongly characterised by digital undercurrents, does our craving for physical publications feel counterintuitive? Having traversed many’s a specialist magazine store over the past two years, I’ve been continually struck by the sheer volume of niche magazines; their visually-arresting covers adorning the Insta-prepped shelves. A perusal of Barcelona haunt Chandal spawned the purchase of Journal du Thé, a playfully-framed journey into contemporary tea culture, whilst a trip to Berlin’s Do You Read Me? brought a successful conclusion to my hunt for bi-annual interiors gem, Cabana. Both magazines may differ in genre, but there are two clear similarities between them. Firstly, the connection between audience and author is iron-clad: the writers know exactly who their readers are, whilst the latter can consistently rely on the calibre of each new issue. Secondly, their ability to subtly but effectively build hype is faultless: any design aficionado worth their salt will snatch the first chance to land Cabana, whilst Le Journal du Thé’s debut edition sold out across Europe just a month after initial release.
There could be no better time to capitalise on this widespread thirst for indie mags, but as our British counterparts are conjuring up new titles by the second, the Dublin print scene – by virtue of its compact marketplace – is more considered in its creative output. What’s personally most intriguing about the ascent of these specialist shops is their un-regimented organising of stock; offering displays in which an independent fashion publication can rest comfortably alongside a gorgeously-shot, gastronomic journal. Given that both subjects reside in creative realms, it makes complete sense that they should occupy a neighbouring space. Yet in the case of more traditional, gloss-slicked titles, this kind of cross-pollination would be far less commonplace – giving rise to inessential barriers in Ireland’s already-minute consumer-scape.
For the founders behind FRANC, Cove and Thread, their forward-thinking, independently-produced fashion magazines emerged from a desire to articulate – both visually and textually – what didn’t yet exist on Irish shores. The tirelessly-innovative Aisling Farinella brought Thread’s first issue to fruition in 2011, working alongside Garrett Pitcher and Keith Nally amidst economic austerity.
“The recession was really kicking off,” recalls Farinella, “and [Thread] was centred on bringing together a community of independents: independent retailers and independent creatives in Dublin. That was very much where the magazine came from, as well as there being no other publications in which we could really express and explore our own experience of contemporary fashion and Ireland.” Farinella brought an entirely-fresh framework to her fashion reportage, having been less concerned with Condé Nast in her formative years than with the staple magazines of skateboarding culture. “I was in that scene for many years, and magazines were a huge part of [it]: even if we didn’t have the money to buy them, we’d go into Tower Records and stand around reading them. Some of the photographers I started out my styling work with were doing skateboard photography around that time, and are still hugely influenced by that culture.” As she became organically involved with fashion styling, her subsequent inspiration source is unsurprising to hear – “I got myself hooked onto a Vogue Italia subscription, and had that for years”.
Much like Farinella herself, the late Franca Sozzani (Vogue Italia’s long-standing editor-in-chief) saw fashion through a cultural lens, and as a powerful means of voicing new takes on contemporary social commentaries. For those unable to click with “shopping guide”-style glossies, Thread made for a refreshing arrival; one which sought to eliminate any creative segregation between those who had left Dublin for pastures new and those who had stayed.
There are clear-cut parallels between Thread’s nine-issue portfolio and the thoughtfully-produced magazines FRANC (boasting a four-issue figure) and Cove (currently two issues into its trajectory). For one, all three have seamlessly struck the balance between relating to their surrounding market whilst striving for overseas connections. Their standards stretch to international benchmarks, evidenced by FRANC’s securing a number of specialist stockists in the UK and Cove’s ongoing expansion to involve international contributors. Between stunningly-shot editorials and essays worthy of rumination, their contents regard fashion as far more than the sum of its parts. But most crucially, each issue is imbued with utterly personal connotations, resulting in reads that value emotional connections over specific creative tastes.
Of course, the challenges of keeping both emerging and established magazines afloat are indisputable. Who would pursue the independent-publication market for the promise of cash cows? Farinella has always operated Thread as a free-print, while FRANC’s founder Briony Somers and her coterie of editors have been consistently selective in their brand partnerships (the likes of which have included Bang & Olufsen and Jameson Irish Whiskey). Cove’s Gerardine Dempsey, who’s currently based in New York, has no qualms with turning down “offers to do projects that don’t suit Cove. I still don’t want to commercialise it – I know the magazine’s audience, they’re definitely there.” Dempsey’s confidence in her consumer base is emulated by Somers who, akin to Farinella, was spurred on to create FRANC to reflect her own experiences of fashion, yearning for a space “where this aspect of female culture was given the weight and consideration not only that it deserved, but that other cultural forms are given, without limiting itself to an insider audience”.
Social media was still enjoying relative infancy when Thread first surfaced, and its online presence has remained purposefully microscopic. In the case of Cove and FRANC, however, their approach reveals an inherent understanding of how print and digital worlds can coalesce as opposed to clash. Online activity plays a pivotal role in connecting Irish publications with international consumers – an imperative move to let Dublin magazines finally grow beyond their closely-packed domestic market. If there were any doubts as to the veracity of these claims, an industry insider may assuage you: Daniel McCabe, the Bath-based founder of specialist magazine shop Magalleria (an early stockist and supporter of FRANC), is just as emphatic that “print and digital go hand-in-hand.” Hundreds of titles have embellished the store in its 3+ years of business, with McCabe’s eagle eye spotting magazine talent from Finland to (probably) Fulham. As he encapsulates it, “The big picture in print is that the big magazines have crashed and burned and they’re almost seen as dinosaurs. While they’re biting the dust, there are these smaller, more agile magazines that cherry-pick their audience segments and target them clearly; giving them the information they need.”
If this triptych of talented magazines proves anything, it is that we’re slowly but surely entering into a new phase of fashion publishing – both in Dublin circles and far beyond. Sartorial pieces that centre on emotional stimuli and reader engagement – rather than fad-like features or transitory trend guides – can be consumed and returned to time and again, avoiding the traditional expiry dates of mainstream newsstands. There’s no innate reason why we can’t set the bar to international standards, whether we’re selling in the capital or several countries away, and McCabe affirms this; the same rules for successful independent print apply anywhere. “When people buy fashion magazines from us, they don’t tend to care about [nationality]. The key thing to be offering something fresh, different and easy to understand, so that people grasp what you’re about. Frame your vision clearly – and be bold!”
Words: Amelia O’Mahony-Brady