We went into the archives to pull up our 2014 chat with the groundbreaking creator of the original Details magazine, Annie Flanders. Now 76, she’s still sporting her signature red locks, talking smack, and living happily in Los Angeles. What did she think of Details these days?
What brought you to Los Angeles?
I started coming out here for events when I was still at Details, and I just loved it so much. I lived with my partner, Chris, for 38 years. He had a heart transplant here in 1995, and his doctors couldn’t compare to those from anywhere else. He was very ill afterward, so I was basically off the grid for 12 years. He was my whole concentration. Unfortunately, he died in 2007. He was a wonderful and gorgeous man.
Why did you leave New York?
The magazine was taken away from me. I was doing NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming], which is a very interesting and complicated thing, and during a session, I was asked where I’d like to be if I only had six months to live. I immediately said, “I’d move to L.A.” I got tired of New York, which was insane, because I was the most New York person ever. I never thought I’d leave, but it kept changing so much. So I came out here.
What did your friends think?
They were thrilled, because they’d all come out here and stay in my house!
And you ended up in real estate?
Not really. My daughter had gotten me into real estate because she wanted to do it and never liked to be alone. She conned me into studying with her and then convinced me to take the test, but I did it for a small amount of time. TheNew York Times wrote about it, which was ridiculous.
Were you a good realtor?
One of the big shocks in the Times piece was that I said I would never go to Beverly Hills. I actually can’t remember the last time I was there.
Are people happier in L.A.?
I’ve never stopped to think of it. Maybe because so many of my good friends moved out here for the weather. There’s freedom and good feeling here. New York is so overcrowded. It’s not the New York I grew up in.
So, Details. How did you come up with the name?
We had a house in Woodstock, and my daughter started making a lot of friends there. One day, she came in after being at a friend’s house, and I was asking her a lot of questions about the family. She said, “I don’t know! I don’t know!” And I said, “Next time you go to somebody’s house, get all the details.” I jotted that down in a book, because I thought it would be a good name for a magazine.
You launched it in 1981. What was your original vision?
My vision was that it started at 48 pages and ended up at something like 300 pages! Almost everything that I did was about finding new designers—young people who needed a place where they did work or had pieces shown. Nobody wanted to hire people with no experience except for me. I was always finding new people who needed that first place to be.
Why was that important to you?
I cared about them. It’s been the base of my life to work with young people. Actually, they don’t have to be young, they can be old too. I brought in photographers, writers, and designers. I never thought of Details as a fashion magazine when I started it, but I won the CFDA award for innovative, new magazine in 1984. In the first issue I managed to give Bill Cunningham six of those pages. As time grew, he’d sometimes have over 100 pages, which was never done before. It was the greatest thing. We watched the Bill Cunningham film again the other night, and I was so deeply touched by it.
How did you meet Bill?
He came to Abracadabra, the store I owned in the late ’60s. He was working for WWD, and was heartbroken when, one day, they took his copy and wrote something negative about how bad the people looked who dressed themselves. He was devastated because his name was on it. I ran into him a while later, and we became closer and closer as time went on. We’re still extremely close.
Who were some of the young designers who you helped?
There’s so many—Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Arianne Phillips, who still tells people I gave her her first job. Anna Sui, who brought Steven Meisel to me when he was an illustrator. Richard Tyler and Patrick Kelly were both very important designers who came in at the very beginning.
You were also instrumental in Stephen Gan’s career.
Bill used to work down in Soho on Saturdays and he met Stephen. Bill thought he looked great, and Stephen told Bill that he was a starving artist. His mother cut off his money because he wouldn’t go to business school. Bill gave him a quarter, which is what a phone call cost then. He told him to call me and that was the beginning of a very long relationship. I saw him in Paris and he wanted so much to come back to the States and I said, “I have a job if you want it, and you can make it as long or as short as you want it while you get on your feet and figure out what you want to do.” He ended up working in the fashion department. He could do everything from illustration to photography. When Details shut down, he started Visionaire.
And you kept in touch?
Bill and I went to his apartment when it started and helped put all the magazines into little plastic cases, so they were all clean and beautiful. I told Stephen that you have to save a good amount of copies of the first issues. He said he couldn’t afford to. I told him, “I’ll take 10 issues right now.” I bought them from him. Later on, he was getting invitations to speak and didn’t have the first issue. He called me and I gave him two, and he said I’d never have to buy another one ever again. The collection keeps growing to this day.
Do you still love magazines?
[Laughs] I’ve been disappointed by too many magazines that are supposed to be great. A long time ago, I’d go to a magazine store in Soho almost every day to see what was in there. I’d see great magazines that would disappear after two or three months. I realized that it was more important to get them in people’s hands than put them on newsstands. I was approached by different club owners from Limelight, Bowling Club, Underground, Danceteria, Studio 54, AM/PM, The Mudd Club, and Peppermint Lounge to start a magazine when [Flanders’ previous venture] The Soho Weekly News went out of business. I worked with each of the owners of the clubs who wanted to do this, and the deal was they would advertise and they would get more coverage of the clubs. We printed 10,000 copies and sent them out to the clubs’ lists, so there was no excess of Details in the first year.
Do you still have all your old issues?
I have all of them bound. These days, people collect them! They’re smart! It’s a really good magazine. That’s what everybody tells me. It’s not dated, but in a way it is with the things that are in there. People just love them. I read them again recently and it blows my mind how good it was.
You had a phrase—something like, “Details magazine was like Studio 54, and our doorman is your mailman…”
In our first year, we’d sit up all night putting stamps on the issues and getting them in the mail the next morning. The idea was that you couldn’t buy the magazine at that point—it was not for sale—but we’d deliver it to you directly.
Did it feel like a family?
Definitely. It was hard for me to fire anybody. I only had to fire two people.
When did the work day begin?
Very soon after we started, I realized that we were all going out to clubs at midnight. The idea of going to work in the morning or even the afternoon was crazy. I decided that I needed the editorial and art department to be there by 4 p.m. We were there for eight hours and then we’d dress up and go to clubs all night.
Were there tons of drinks and drugs?
I wasn’t doing that, necessarily. For me, it was work. I went there to see how people put themselves together and how great they looked and to find people to write about. Clubs were a great source for stories. I’d say that most people were doing drugs, though.
What were the drugs?
That’s a very good question! It changed all the time. It was cocaine, Quaaludes—LSD was a little less popular by then—and, of course, pot.
What did it mean to be featured in Details?
It was always people that needed coverage. Bruce Weber would work for me all the time. One time he did a piece for an Italian magazine and they wouldn’t run it because they said there were no clothes, so he gave it to us.
What did you do for Bruce?
Everything. Nobody would publish his work because it was a new style—so genuine and so real. All he wanted me to do was bring this guy from Los Angeles to New York for a shoot, and he’d take care of it. The guy never ended up leaving. It was this gorgeous guy, Jeff Aquilon, who became the biggest name in New York. Calvin Klein picked him up immediately. He was shot on a mattress on the floor with his hands down his pants lying on a bed. It was incredible and almost caused riots. It was really wild. Bruce made that happen.
Do you still look for new talent?
I don’t have a vehicle for them, but I do help them a lot. I help photographers when they come out here. I do a lot of mentoring. That interests me more than fashion itself.
What do you think of fashion these days?
I can’t figure it out. It’s beyond. The outfits that people put together that are supposed to look good, 95 percent of the time, it looks terrible. I just don’t get it.
Do you still read Details?
For years, they said they’d send them to me, and I saw the editor at one party and he said he’d send them to me, but I never got them. I was still always thrilled to see it on the newsstand. One day recently, they started coming to my mailbox. It changed so many times with so many different editors, but this one [Dan Peres] is really good.
Did you ever want to start another magazine?
No way. It’s a nice idea, but I led a very full and fantastic life, and I’m exhausted.
But it sounds like you’re happy on the West Coast.
I am! I like it a lot. Now I have a question for you: I was surprised by the quality of the paper, and how often you put out The Daily. Does some zillionaire own your magazine?
Not at all!
PLUS! Memories of Annie with Bruce Weber…
“Annie Flanders was an editor who gave you an adventure. She made a world you wanted to live in—never too hip, yet never too square. When she was at The Soho Weekly News, I was just starting out and working with Paul Cavaco and Kezia Keeble and we asked Annie for a plane ticket to fly the most handsome guy in the world from L.A. to New York City. The magazine didn’t have a cent; yet Annie paid for it herself, because she was so determined to see the sitting happen. That determination and passion for what she does best as an editor are the reasons why I’m still a photographer.”
AND! Hal Rubenstein…
“I was Annie’s caterer when she was style editor of The Soho Weekly News. She knew I was a journalist as well, and when she told me about her concept for Details, to chronicle and define downtown New York, I was hooked. She convinced me not to write about food, but about going out to eat, because it’s always been one of my favorite things to do. And so “I’ll Eat Manhattan” was born. You want to know how special it was to work for Annie? Everyone at Details worked for IOUs for the first two years simply because we believed in her vision. She was willing to risk everything for it, so how could we not do the same? I learned that if you have nothing new to say about a subject, no fresh take on a place or happening, no insider view, then you have no business writing the story. Annie hated nose-pressed-up-against-the-glass, ink-stained wretch observational journalism. She was quick, quixotic, restless, endlessly inventive, ridiculously funny, supportive, mercurial, incisive, and totally in love with her partner, Chris. With help from Ronnie Cooke’s keen eye and the ever-brilliant photography of Bill Cunningham (Annie was his best collaborator), Annie opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that fashion wasn’t created solely on runways, and if fashion isn’t worn, it really doesn’t exist. It’s just showing off. Fashion is most valid when it’s dressing people living their lives.”
This article was originally published in September 2014