During the 80s and 90s I loved The Face and later Arena magazines and I still do. As a twenty something I thought those magazines spoke to me. They talked of many things that appealed to me: literature, music, films, TV, pop culture. And the writers seemed truly radical, it was one of the few outlets that didn’t grovel to Thatcherism, monetarism, consumerism (although that did change) or any other ‘-ism that was doing the rounds.
Reading those publications today is a sobering exercise, but reviewing anything from 30 years ago often is. What seemed so well crucial and fashionable at the time just seems a bit embarrassing now. Much of the the content, however, is still fascinating, particularly in retrospect. But the fashion pages… Even at the time I was slightly repelled by them. Did anyone outside London ever wear that stuff? Did anyone in London wear it? And if so did they look as fucking stupid as the poor dorks being paid to wear it in the features? Even some of the models looked oddly unattractive at times and the photographers were so obsessed with shooting something ‘immediate’, ‘artistic’ and ‘impactful’ that it was often difficult to even make out the clothes through the blurred lenses and smoky interiors. In a nutshell, the Arena fashion shoots were up their own arse, sometimes, it seemed, literally. These exercises in narcissism should not be allowed to be forgotten under layers of 30 year old dust. They should be shown and people should be made to look at them regularly to avoid such crimes ever being committed again.
Stupid fashion shot No. 1
From Arena April 1998
1998 was a time when Arena was at its peak. Things were pretty good in the UK. Tony Blair’s Labour Party had been elected in a landslide the previous year, there was a new optimism after the long, dark years of Thatcherism and the Tories, The Good Friday Agreement had been signed, money was being pumped into public services, Britpop was taking off and most people had a bit of cash in their pocket. Perfect conditions for a young-man-about-town’s style and culture mag to flourish. But with such confidence can come hubris, and Arena began to think they could get away with the excesses of London-centric journalism. Don’t get me wrong, much of the content of Arena at that time was excellent but anyone outside London (and probably to a fair number within) Arena fashion shoots particularly seemed like complete Weimar Republic decadence. Rather than being cynical or even incredulous, though, I just found them incredibly funny. You look at the boy in the shot above and a little thought bubble seems to be coming from his head saying, ‘What the fuck…..?’, while a photographer is shouting to him, ‘That’s gorgeous, darling…the camera’s loving you!‘ Mind you, he could always have worn it to Blitz that night, one of the few places he wouldn’t have looked a complete arse. Not a great look for someone with a fat back though, (as Alan Partridge might observe).