Magazine To Watch: Document Journal

by The Daily Front Row

(NEW YORK) Last week, the New Museum was transformed into a late-night party hub by a band of downtown scenesters (and one red-faced fire marshal manning the at-capacity soiree) for the Issue 2 launch of Document Journalco-hosted by Y-3, Anestasia Vodka, and Bjarne Melgaard. The bi-annual arts, style, and culture glossy, which debuted in September during New York Fashion Week, already boasts a readership of 60,000 worldwide, not to mention a contributor list which includes the likes of Rick Owens, Chloë Sevigny, Francesco Vezzoli, MaripolJeff Burton, and even Glenn O’Brien. We checked in with Document co-founders Nick Vogelson (formerly creative director at Out) and fashion editor/stylist James Valeri to see what the buzz is all about. 

How did Document start?
Nick Vogelson: In the past ten years, so many wonderful magazines have disappeared from the newsstands in the U.S. We felt there was a place in the market for a strong, semi-annual luxury title based in New York that combined the best artists, photographers, and writers.

Do Europeans do it better?
James Valeri: When we started Document, we realized that our favorite magazines were all European. There are some amazing fashion magazines in America, but they’re very much about the fashion of the moment. We wanted to do something more timeless for a general audience that’s not just into fashion, but loves beautiful things: art, architecture, literature. We wanted to make a magazine that stays on your coffee table and gives you a reason to collect it. These days you flip through a magazine, read a couple fashion stories, and throw it away. You might as well see everything online. If you want a magazine to survive, it has to be something that people want to keep. 

James, you’re listed on the masthead as editorial director, design director, and publisher; Nick is the creative director, fashion director, and publisher. How does that breakdown work on a day-to-day basis?
James: It was hard to figure out the masthead and how we would define ourselves. There’s no publishing company behind us, and we don’t have a full-time team on board every day, so Nick and I do everything with the help of our contributors. We go to advertising meetings, organize freelancers, do photoshoots, edit…
Nick: One of the ways we cut costs is by keeping a slim staff and multi-tasking. As our advertising grows, hopefully our team can, too.

Where’s your office located?
We have an office in Chinatown, and also use James’ studio in the East Village. We share the Chinatown office with a typography company called Commercial Type. They do the typography for Esquire and T: The New York Times Style Magazine; they also did the original typography for our magazine.  

What’s your management style?
James: We foster a creative, free environment here. The way we edit is by choosing who we collaborate with. We can, of course, give suggestions, but giving complete freedom to our talented contributors is our guideline. We don’t want to interfere with the vision of the photographer or the team that we’ve hired to do a story. 

Where do you distribute?
Nick: We’re distributed worldwide in major cities like London, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo, but in the U.S., we’re at all the major fashion newsstands, MoMA, PS1, and Bookmarc. We make it a point to be in galleries and museums, too.
James: We’re not a magazine that would make sense in a newsstand in Times Square.

Gotcha! So what do you look for in feature stories?
Nick: Everything from our architecture coverage to our dance coverage is really conversations going on within their respective worlds that we’ve brought to a wider, more general audience.
James: No matter what story we do, w
e try to find an interesting angle, many times with a crossover into another field. For example, we wanted to do a living homage to Mario Testino in the second issue, but instead of interviewing Mario, which we’ve seen a million times, we focused on his amazing art collection. We had him interviewed by Sadie Coles, his art advisor and one of the biggest art dealers in the U.K. Rick Owens is another example. In this issue, we had him interview his muse, artist Kembra Pfahler

What stories have been really popular?
Nick: We’ve gotten a lot of press from our feature on Benedetta Barzini, who was the muse for Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Salvador Dalí. 
James: She was a rich supermodel from a famous Italian family that left New York to go back to Italy and become a Marxist and a radical feminist. Now, she teaches anthropology. We found the story of her life to be amazing, and we liked it because it’s very controversial.

How important is your website?
Nick: We’re primarily focused on the print product, and only use the finest paper, but we don’t want to ignore the website by any means. It’s a good place to house our outtakes and behind the scenes footage.

How are you able to nab so many A-listers as an indie mag?
James: At the beginning, Nick and I used personal connections, but as we went along, we created prototypes of the magazine so people knew what we wanted to do and what it would look like. People were excited by that, plus once you get a couple names, other people feel more comfortable. For us, it’s all about being straightforward with what we want to do, and giving people the freedom to create. People are ready to have something new and different. They’re excited to chip in.

How are you able to nab so many A-listers as an indie start-up?
James: At the beginning, Nick and I used personal connections, but as we went along, we created prototypes of the magazine so people knew what we wanted to do and what it would look like. People were excited by that, plus once you get a couple names, other people feel more comfortable. For us, it’s all about being straightforward with what we want to do, and giving people the freedom to create. People are ready to have something new and different. They’re excited to chip in!

What magazines would you put yourself in league with?
Nick: We prefer to not think of competition. We appreciate lots of magazines already out there; we’re just trying to do it differently. There’s no other magazine that has original artwork with as much fashion and as many amazing features as we have. We like magazines like V or CR Fashion Book, but they don’t have an art cover that’s done by a different artist every issue like we do. 

Carine Roitfeld increased the price of CR Fashion Book in February. Do you see the price of Document increasing any time soon?
James: We asked our distributors’ opinions on the pricing, and set the price point at $20 per issue. We don’t have much advertising yet, so we basically survive with that. So far it’s working out, and we’re trying to keep it at that price. We didn’t make this magazine to make money, to be honest. We just wanted something that was beautiful and had its own voice. That’s the only way to survive in a market that’s become conformist, and dictated by advertisers. Of course, you keep advertisers in mind, but we don’t want to be the magazine that only shoots advertisers. That twists the creativity of fashion.

Are you picky when choosing advertisers?
James: We wanted to keep the ads in the beginning of the book, and limit them to only 15 percent of the total pages. We’re trying to stick with luxury brands with beautiful campaigns, like Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs. We’re also trying to be more creative with the advertising, bringing in art galleries and museums, because at the end of the day, the people who buy fashion are the same people who like to go to an art show or buy books. 

Tell us about your approach to covers.
Nick: We always do four covers for every issue. We decided on this because Document is only distributed twice a year and we want to expand our scope of cover photographers and artists. Also, when you see the magazine five weeks from now, sitting on the newsstand with a different cover, you may very well pick it up and rediscover the magazine all over again. 
James: And we wanted to make the magazine look more like a collectable book, so we decided to place our coverlines on a sticker. That way people have an idea of the content and direction of the magazine, but also have the option of removing it once they take it home.

What about your Issue 2 cover with Lindsey Wixson?
James: We like to do a special on one designer each issue. In the first issue, we did Kenzo because we’re based in New York and thought we should cover New York designers. In this issue, we wanted to step it up and do a crossover collaboration so we chose artist Bjarne Melgaard to work with Proenza Schouler. The Proenza Schouler designers are great because they’re influenced by art and have a great knowledge about it. Plus, they didn’t say we had to shoot the full looks from the runway. Instead, they said, ‘Go for it and have fun.’ That’s brave for young designers. Today, everything is so controlled, which is why it’s becoming so boring. I got a couple emails from the first issue from various PR reps saying I should have shot the full runway look and we shouldn’t have mixed the clothes with other designers. That’s frustrating because you hope to do things that are inspiring. You don’t want to see the same things on the runway. Where’s the fun? What’s the point?

What’s the fashion POV?
Nick: While we’re hitting our credits and getting all our quotas in, we want to allow our photographers and artists to have total freedom with the stories so their point of view comes across. For example, Jack Pierson did an 18-page nude men’s story where there’s only one credit in the whole piece.

We noticed you weren’t afraid of male nudity…
James: We made that a point in this magazine. In the first issue, we had transgender nudity and female nudity, so we thought is was only fair to show the boys naked! 

Is there anything you learned via trial and error from the first issue that you applied to the second issue?
Nick: There’s definitely a learning curve, but we really wanted to set the bar with the launch. We put a lot of work into it, so we could build an identity around it right away. The second issue was just a natural progression. 
James: We were a little more nostalgic in the first issue because we wanted to create something more timeless and elegant. This time, we were thinking more contemporary, so that’s why we chose artists like Spencer Sweeney, Sterling Ruby, and Luke Gilford

What’s the most surprising part of your job?
Nick: The level of trust people have placed in us and the level of contributors we’ve been able to get.
James: We’re very grateful. It just goes to show that when a bunch of people are passionate about what they’re doing, there’s a truth that comes out in the magazine…

You may also like