It's difficult to review Dazed & Confused's 20th anniversary book and the accompanying exhibition at Somerset House that has just opened without getting personal. It didn't occur to me just how personal until I started walking through the exhibition at Somerset House, where countless impactful images – some familiar, some not so familiar – were reflected back and forth through a series of mirror L-shapes sprouting out from the wooden parquet flooring (down to the brilliant exhibition design by Jack Flanagan).
Picking up my first copy of Dazed when I was fourteen (weirdly, it was the Kate Moss cover that fronts the book – so sue me for being oh-so predictable) felt like a rite of passage. It was like an exciting secret when I saw it in the larger newsagent in Finchley. Some months, Dazed wouldn't appear and I'd have to hassle the newsies about it. Some months, I had to make a choice between Dazed, The Face or i-D by doing as much secret flicking through as possible, because buying all three was a luxury. I gobbled up the images before diving through the text, not quite understanding everything that I was reading, with a whole host of unfamiliar names being thrown at me before Google could help me out. I couldn't afford to buy the clothes (though you always got the feeling with Dazed that buying STUFF wasn't why the clothes were in there…), see the films or buy/see the music but for me, Dazed was the necessary counterpart foil to the Vogues, the Elles and along with the other two aforementioned titles, it felt like fashion could be so much more encompassing than mere glossy surface. You can write this whole paragraph off as typical hipster fluff but it won't change the fact that as a teenager, I was buoyed by escaping into this completely alien world in those pages, tearing them up (laminating them on occasion – sticks up on walls with blu-tack better…) and wondering what they really meant.
Years later, I did end up working at Dazed, as comissioning editor of Dazed Digital for two years, which made me understand a lot more about what Dazed really meant. It has over the years evolved its aesthetic and viewpoint through a stellar rollcall of names and I discoered that Dazed wasn''t just a shorthand for the magazine's name but an adjective for everything and anything that goes into those pages (and on to the website!). It's become all too easy for brands and other mainstream publications to co-opt anything that is 'Dazed', which makes it difficult to see who in the current burgeoning/bursting field of fashion publication, is the originator and who is the latecomer. It's hard to say whether Dazed's edge to be always ahead of the curve has softened slightly in the latter decade, but it nonetheless felt exciting to see stories born, develop and explode in some cases, when I was working there. The magazine's visual past in both book and exhibition therefore can't be divorced from personal feelings of gratitude to Dazed on a number of levels. For those that aren't as blubby and emoted as myself, there's still a lot to get out of both entities. GO SEE (the exhibition is free so Londoners have no excuse…) and well if you can fork over the money, GO BUY.
It's hard to resist the somewhat marketable/sellable story of Jefferson Hack and Rankin, meeting at London College of Printing in the canteen, aged 19 and 23 respectively and putting together the first issue of Dazed and Confused (which was a fold out poster) in one night, naively taglining it with "This isn't a magazine." This mindset, along with antics such as printing "If you can't buy it, steal it" below the barcode on a later issue, would probably seem achingly pretentious today but in the context of the magazine's initial inception, all is forgiven. The truly DIY spirit of hustling for sponsorship and talent and meeting collaborators/subjects through a heady night out is revealed in the introductory conversation between Hack and Rankin in the book, which by the by, once you've finished reading and flicking throuhg a few times, you're more than likely to pump your fists with avid enthusiasm saying cheesy things like "Fuck the establishment!". It goes without saying that I was way chuffed to see my name in teensy tiny smallprint in the back of the book in a list of what Jefferson likes to call "the Dazed family" and it's those key family members that are spotlit in both the book and the exhibition.
The exhibition itself is compact and separated out in a vaguely chronological order, with selected significant visual moments on display – Dinos Chapman resitting their art GCSE for the magazine, Sam Taylor-Wood getting the then-editorial staff to pose naked in the office, Rankin's photograph of Jarvis Cocker (which was then later used to Pulp's album artwork for A Different Class) and Juergen Teller's amazing shot of Yves Saint Laurent backstage at his last show all jump out at you in their magnified size. Then you can meander and get up close to see past photo shoots arranged in these jutting L-shapes with a tilted head.
The exhibition and the book together demonstrate the instances when Dazed tackled topical issues, sometimes without even trying. This shoot, which depicted models actually giving blood was met with positive approval from the British Medical Association, who asked Dazed if they could use the images for their campaign to promote blood donation.
Alexander McQueen, who was an avid supporter of Dazed, guest-edited an issue in 1998 with a shoot that made headlines by featuring physically disabled people to arresting effect. I didn't get to experience them firsthand but I uploaded it onto DD as an online tribute when McQueen died, feeling that the images just wouldn't be as powerful if McQueen, Katy England's styling and that exact era were missing in the equation.
When Hack was walking us through the exhibition, he spoke of the magazine making an impact without selling a lot of copies. Another instance of Dazed's headline making was when Bill Clinton name-checked the magazine, citing its imagery as an advocator of 'heroin chic'. The attention was negative but it was up to people to see for themselves whether images such as those by Corinne Day did promote a hard drug-fuelled lifestyle. In my mind, it's a label that was useful for the media to latch upon but doesn't serve any real purpose when you actually look at Day's images, which in this instance just conveyed biting reality and a beautiful one at that.
The exhibition is mainly print focused but this installation gives people a second chance to have a go at swiping their fingers over this multi-layered editorial photographed by Nick Knight, where the styling of Dazed's key fashion players come together in a user-defined collage.
These key players such as Katie Grand, Katy England, Alister Mackie, Cathy Edwards and Nicola Formichetti are all given their own sections in the book, showing distinctive styles that have shaped the fashion language of the magazine but weirdly never shackled it to any one specific/particular aesthetic. I quite like seeing the distinct epochs in the magazine and also the marks of styling greatness when you can look at a shoot and say "That's Katie Grand/Katy England etc…" without even looking at the credits.
That willingness to allow change and evolution at the magazine carries on today as the present generation of fashion team (Karen Langley, Katie Shillingford and Robbie Spencer) put forth their own point of views, unbound by those that have gone before them.
Like I said, the current sphere of fashion publication is ever crowded and in all honesty, there are a few fashion titles that seem to serve no purpose other than to tickle the creator's vanity. I've learnt to edit my magazine quota down to a core minimum and Dazed for me, to this day is still in that must-read/must-see list of monthly magazines, with the knowledge that its ideas will always curiously break out into mainstream, somewhere down the line. My time at Dazed was paltry, when I considered the magnitude of the ground breaking editorials and features that have graced those pages, but nonetheless, it feels good to have been a teensy tiny part of something so big.