Gert Jonkers is Editor-in-chief and publisher of Fantastic Man which boasts a fresh re-design in its latest issue on Greece.
You started Fantastic Man back in 2005 – what was the niche you identified at the time and how has the magazine evolved?
Interesting men and their personalities and their personal style. A criterium on which we judge themes and subjects is always whether we like it ourselves. In that sense Fantastic Man is a very personal magazine to Jop and me. It’s not like we spotted a niche that needed to be served. We just felt that a magazine to our taste was missing, so we made it ourselves.
You’ve described a fascination for detail as a key hallmark of Fantastic Man – how is this realised and do you feel by doing so you are highlighting often overlooked aspects of fashion and culture?
In general, we care about the detail as much as about the bigger concept, in the sense that we can spend a lot of time on a photo caption, or on the content pages or on the exact placement of the page number. It’s just a fact that details are important, isn’t it? A detailed focus on something always seems more interesting to me than a global impression. Who wants to know that something is ‘sort of this or that’? You want to know the exact details.
Do you want an incredible dinner in Tokyo followed by a memorable late night in one bar, or do you want to drive around Tokyo in a bus to get a global impression of what the city is like? Of course, it goes for fashion and clothes as well. I have one winter coat that is super warm and comfortable and looks great, but when I wear it, I notice that one sleeve is 2 or 3 cm shorter than the other, and it annoys the hell out of me. That little detail ruins the whole coat.
Why did you decide to redesign Fantastic Man? What process did you go through in landing upon the new format, look and thematic approach?
We changed it because we can. We don’t have a ‘boss’ apart from ourselves and so if we feel like changing something, we can. And, of course, after 15 years of making Fantastic Man, we have changed, and the world has changed, the media landscape has changed, and we felt like Fantastic Man could change. And so, we talked about it for a good year, discussed possibilities – shall we go from publishing twice to once a year, big or small, glossy or newspaper print – and we found the answer in treating Fantastic Man as an object, and each issue as a project, using a theme as a platform to canalise our ideas.
You’ve chosen Greece as the reference point for your 30th edition and a “specific interpretation of Greekness and masculinity”. What did you discover about it and how has what you referenced at Mag Culture about Greece being the “beaten dog of the Euro crisis” impacted upon it?
Europe is an important notion to us. Of course, there’s many sides to how countries collaborate within the European Union, some good, some bad, but we see Europe first and foremost as a positive thing. The Dutch word for society is ‘samenleving’, which translates as something like ‘living together’, and that’s what it is, and the world won’t be a better place if we refuse to live together. And, so, Greece, and what it’s gone through, feels to us like a good example or ‘case study’ for Europe today.
They had reasons to leave the EU, and there surely are Greeks that regret they’re still in the EU, but it seems like the country is climbing up. Greece, meanwhile, also finds itself in the centre of the refugee crisis, which it tries to deal with on top of its own issues. We felt a great amount of hope and positivity in Greece, but not unrealistically so. The country is a fascinating combination of light and darkness, of hope and defeatism, of fun and sorrow, and in that sense a great metaphor for life today.
You met creative director Jop Van Bennekom back in 1997 working on Blvd and established Butt in 2001 prior to launching Fantastic Man, it’s astoundingly successful spin-off The Gentlewoman and COS Magazine (Collection of Style). What lessons have you learned from your partnership and do you think such a pathway would be available to someone starting out now?
I’ve learned that Jop knows more about what wine to order at a restaurant than I do, and in general we know each other quite very well after working together for more than 20 years. Obviously. Of course, these partnerships are still perfectly possible, and still happen in the creative world. And I don’t see why not! Embrace partnership!
What is your relationship with the fashion industry and brands like?
Good. The fashion industry kindly supports us in doing what we do, for which we’re very grateful. The interest is mutual; we’re interested in clothes and design and new ways to express personality and masculinity, which clothes can be a great tool for.
At the Mag Culture conference in London last month you spoke about making politics fashionable again, can you explain what you mean by this and how can be achieved?
I can’t remember to what extend I was joking, in relation to the fact that we’ve often been keen to feature politicians in our magazine but somehow we never got access to politicians. One reason is, of course, that fashion and clothes are seen as superficial. Oh well. I was also thinking that it’s a shame how politics (and, in fact, journalism and ‘media’) are less and less regarded as respectable vocations. There’s a sentiment of being anti-politicians which I really don’t think is fair. Bless those politicians who are honest and want to steer this incredibly complex ship that is the world. Sure, there are crooks, and liars, but I hope there will still a climate where good people are attracted to become a politician, i.e. the respectability and fashionability of politics. How to achieve that? First, let’s unite against Trump, Johnson, Farage, Le Pen, Baudet, Orban, Bolsonaro, etc…
Which emerging designers are exciting you at the moment?
Craig Green, Kiko Kostadinov, Bode, Willy Chavarria, GmbH, Phipps.
Your favourite read of 2019 and why?
You know, I can’t remember. I’ve surely read exciting newspaper and magazine pieces, and I won’t call them ‘consumption goods’, but you read them and get inspired or riled up by them and move on. Great, what to read next! As for books, I honestly should keep a list, because I did read something I really enjoyed in the summer but I can’t remember what it was. Oh yes, one thing was Neil Young’s biography Shaky from around 2000, so nothing about the most recent 20 years. I found the book on the street, literally. A great read! I’m currently reading Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese Ghost Stories, part for work, but I’m enjoying it so far.
What is the unique space that magazines hold within the media landscape today? Any predictions for 2020 and beyond?
I love print, obviously. Unlike online publishing, which is great for news, print requires a slower speed which helps for attention, for focus and detail. Print also just makes for a great visual object. It’s a treat. That’ll become even more special in years to come.
What makes a Fantastic Man in 2020?
There’s not one fantastic man, there are many. We can all be a fantastic man and we should all aspire to be one. Be kind, be hopeful, and strive for a greater world.
Issue No. 30 – In Greece is out now, €24