OGR No 13: Luis Venegas
I am aware of only two people whose collection of fashion magazines I would want to spend time (a lot of time) going through: one is Luis Venegas and the other is someone who we both agree has the most remarkable collection of them in the world. More from Luis and me on the latter in the interview.
Back to Luis. He lives in Spain, and besides owning (and living with!) a deep array of thousands of fashion and pop culture magazines and photography books, he is an editor and publisher of five independent, limited edition magazines. The guy is a print fiend! His website is full of spreads from issues of each of the five magazines so I’ll let you discover them at your own pace, but do be sure to visit (and buy them when they come out, many sell out quickly and go up in value as a result) for you’ll immediately see that only a long-time, passionate fashion magazine lover could have produced such appealing results.
Before we hear from Luis I do want to point you to one specific recent project of his. Earlier this year Rizzoli released a beautiful collection called The C☆ndy Book of Transversal Creativity: The Best of C☆ndy Magazine, Allegedly. It showcases the finest content from the magazine's first twelve issues and Vogue international editor-at-large, Hamish Bowles, put it best: “With immense creativity, wit, and style, C☆ndy Transversal magazine celebrates the wondrous and many-faceted world of gender fluidity, bringing a discerning eye to the icons (past, present, and future), and the friends and muses of the community of free spirits living individual truths.”
All the same can be said of Luis himself. He is always ahead of the curve, knows what came before, and the fashion magazine industry has no bigger champion than he. I could have gone on and on with Luis, but here is a sample of his sweet world. -WDV
WDV- What’s your most treasured magazine issue you didn’t think you’d ever get your hands on but did in the last year?
LV: Oh, so many! How difficult to say! But the first two that come to mind are the July 17, 1995 issue of New York magazine with the coverline “Every Man a Queen, Drag Busts Out” and also the stunning Boys Don’t Cry magazine that Frank Ocean published in 2016. The New York issue is a fabulous document of a very special moment for drag culture in the US—and per extension in the rest of the world, when drag was starting to be seen as a mainstream art; in my opinion that moment planted the seed of the drag explosion we’re finally living in nowadays. The Boys Don’t Cry is an impressive big format, heavy publication, very unique and rare. Conceived by Frank Ocean as a promotional tool for the release of his eponymous album, it stands itself independently as a strong magazine done with a very personal point of view; that’s something I always appreciate, artworks that don’t look like any other.
A number of excellent magazines, both defunct and still publishing, have already received the coffee table book treatment, so which title is most worthy of next having a book done about it?
Again, lots of them! But let’s send a letter to the universe: a big book compiling the best shoots by Steven Meisel for Franca Sozzani’s Vogue Italia. Also a great book would be all the interviews with fashion designers published in System.
It’s amazing how relevant Meisel has been able to stay for decades. I’ve thought for years that Taschen should give him the same treatment they gave Helmut Newton with Sumo, he’s one of the only living fashion photographers who could justify it and who (I think) still has a sizable-enough audience ready to pay that price.
What are three top books about magazines?
The recent Issues by Vince Aletti published by Phaidon is fundamental! And other monographic books that I like about magazines: the first Butt book, the amazing Flair book, the Index A to Z book, the Pansy Beat book, the Steven Meisel: Three Hundred And Seventeen And Counting… sorry, you asked for three and I could keep on forever!
And I’d be happy to let you, but…
Meisel again (shocker) and you’re the only other person I know who has it!
I really liked Vince’s book as well, and would have gladly taken it 2/3/4x longer, anything to more closely reveal the depth of his collection and the significance of his favorites. I hope people see it. Actually Vince surely has that Meisel book, too. When I think of supreme fashion and pop culture magazine aficionados it’s really just you and Vince who immediately come to mind. I don’t wish to be morbid, but after he passes I wish his apartment could be open for tours exactly as it currently is. Can you share how you feel about him?
Oh wow, that’s nice of you to say…but I’m waaay behind Vince. Well, I’m also quite younger than he is, haha. Let’s hope if I ever reach his age I’ll also reach some of his level of excellence. After some emails of mutual appreciation, I met Vince Aletti in October 2018 at his apartment and it was a dream come true. It was a very, very, very special experience. Vince is a very generous, sweet, but also sharp person. That apartment is a temple. Some day that unparalleled library of magazines and books should be preserved by some institution as it is certainly a priceless collection of publications and art, an absolute gem in the realm of visual and creative knowledge at so many levels… I have no idea, but I guess some great American institution must have thought about it. If not, it’s about time!
If you could read a biography about any creative director, whose would it be?
About my good friend, the legendary Ruth Ansel. I love her, she’s a total icon, a great, sharp storyteller. It’d be great to know more about her life and her experience in the “world of men” that creative direction found itself in back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s when she did some of her most recognizable work.
Do you ever buy multiple copies of the same issue or only when you think something will be historically important or rare?
Yes, sometimes. Last time I did that it was for the “Call Me Caitlyn” Vanity Fair cover.
What’s the most impressive magazine being published today?
Do you mean one not published by me? Haha! I like maaany but if I had to pick up just one, I’d say System. It has a very clear and simple approach to its subjects and stories: good imagery, great long in-depth texts and “basic” design that makes the themes they feature shine at full brilliance. Also they always have a refreshing approach to all their stories and an impressive access to many different elusive people. It’s very of its own time but also timeless, collectible content.
Sorry, don’t let me limit you! One shouldn’t muzzle such passion. Please, others?
Well, two of my favorite magazines that are also revered and super successful these days are done by Spanish editors: Apartamento and Buffalo Zine. Basically I like them for the same reason I like many others: they’re magazines that have a specific personality that makes them different from any other. Seems easy, but it doesn't happen so often.
I like magazines done by other independent editors who are also friends of mine: Dust for its own “dark” approach to its subjects; A Magazine Curated By because of the idea of keeping alive the link between art and fashion; SSAW for its own Finnish soul point of view; Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman because of their consistency for this many years; FFFZine because of its humor; Dazed and i-D because they’re indie classics in constant re-invention; Self Service and Purple because of their French flamboyant soul; Interview because it really still is “the crystal ball of pop culture”; Pin-Up for its unique approach to the very serious world architecture; Arena Homme + always, in this case linked to my own nostalgic excitement to that title; I liked Doingbird but I’m not sure what’s happened to that Australian magazine anymore… I could go on an on and on…
I know you could! Pleased you mentioned Buffalo Zine, their #10 was my favorite single issue of any magazine last year.
You get to change Vanity Fair’s long-running Proust Questionnaire that famously closes each issue. What do you replace it with?
Well, I used to love back in the 90s when Vanity Fair included a one-page interview by George Wayne. It was pretty irreverent and usually super funny. Also Wayne’s self published magazine R.O.M.E. is one of my all time favorites…so let’s bring back George Wayne’s interviews to Vanity Fair. OR, come on, they should ask Fran Lebowitz to write a new questionnaire. How is it possible that they haven’t done it yet?
Agree, loved George’s page as well. But today’s VF is a pretty distant cry from Tina and/or Graydon’s. It’s also of course a different economic print world then it was in their glory days, but speaking of Graydon Carter, have you been reading his online-only Air Mail? I ask because I’m just sure you’re a fan of his and I’m curious how much digital reading a print lover like you does?
I haven’t read Air Mail, I don’t even know what it is. Should I? (I’ve been mostly underwhelmed unfortunately so I think you can skip —WDV) I have a great respect for all his years at Vanity Fair… but I don’t know, for some reason I’m not fascinated about him—at least for the moment—as I’ve always been with his predecessor there, Tina Brown. I was so happy when she published her diaries a few years ago, I devoured that book. (BTW, I loved it but I have to say I expected even more inside stories about how most of those 80s-early 90s unforgettable Leibovitz and Newton images happened.)
I read lots of digital…but not as many as I probably should, honestly. And I’m not loyal to any digital publication in particular nor even subscribe to any. Digital is excellent to access great stories and be the first to know the news…but as far as creative visual content I’m afraid I’ve never been genuinely impressed by anything digital other than the pioneering work done for many years by Nick Knight’s showstudio and some attempts done in the past by Garage magazine. After all—and even if the technological world goes fast—how old is this “art craft” of digital content, let’s say 10 years? As much as it seems a long time, it’s still a new thing, evolving fast but still with a great potential to be developed, in my opinion.
How many books are you usually reading at one time?
Only one book at one time, I’m very “loyal” to only one book every time I start one. And magazines are like affairs I have aside that loyalty to one book only. And also lots of Marvel comic books!
Oh, comic books? I certainly respect their variety, originality, and unique story-telling capabilities, but know so little about them. Which single issues or collections (Marvel or non) are MUST reads for a great reader who is open to exploring them?
Among maaany others, I’d say for starters the Chris Claremont years at The Uncanny X-Men, with amazing artists: John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita Jr, Marc Silvestri, etc. Also the New X-Men by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I mean, Frank Quitely is one of my absolute favorite contemporary artists in the world nowadays, it’d be my dream to collaborate with him on something someday. This question about “must” reads in the world of comic books is sooo vast that it could be the sole subject for another interview. Really, I’m a big, big, big fan. I think the few people who know what I do think of me as someone who has a certain level of knowledge about fashion, photography and publications…well, I have that same interest and level of knowledge about Marvel comic books, only I haven’t explored or developed that area as a field of work…yet! Haha!
I did not know that about you, but have no doubts of the degree of your fandom knowing how you are with fashion and photography books and magazines.
What would you say is the most famous magazine cover ever printed?
Probably there are some “serious” socio-political covers that are very famous…but I don’t know, those aren’t the first ones to pop up in my mind. So I’d say the Yoko Ono and John Lennon Rolling Stone January 22, 1981 cover, and also the pregnant Demi Moore Vanity Fair August 1991 cover, both shot by Annie Leibovitz.
Can hardly get more iconic than either. Annie has the latest cover of US Vogue and her longevity is most impressive. Who are photographers a generation or two after Annie who excite you when you see their work in print?
Maaany great photographers, but again let me choose just one to make this shorter: Meisel among them all. Steven Meisel is the only one capable of keeping so many other photographers’ legacies alive, so he keeps the idea of fashion that I loved growing up alive inside of me…and which I bet is the same feeling for so many other devoted Meisel followers. He can do “his own” Avedons, Newtons, Penns, Bourdins, Bill Kings, etc…and even if the references are so obvious, Meisel always adds his own “je ne sais quoi” of modernity and impeccability, his own point of view to all those familiar worlds. That’s somehow still exciting for me. He’s the main reason I buy British Vogue often, probably my favorite edition of Vogue nowadays.
Magazine prices have understandably gone up the past decade due to fewer copies selling, but when you go into a well-stocked magazine store the shelves are bursting with new titles. How many magazines are you buying today versus ten years ago and do you have a different relationship with them now than before?
I have to admit I still buy quite a lot, but not as many as before. Ten years ago I used to buy around 20 magazines each month…now I’d say 10, but also counting vintage magazines found on eBay. When I started buying magazines I could spend days looking at each new issue, now it’s some 10-20 minutes—depending on if there’s any interview I’m really interested in or not—and after that they go immediately to my shelves. But I know they’re there, waiting for me anytime I’d like to look back…or until the day I’ll decide myself to sell them on eBay as well!
I want to finish with a flurry of questions which I think anyone who meets a collector of print materials always wonders: How many magazines would you guess are currently on your shelves, is your whole collection together in one space, do you know where everything is, and how often do you search out specific issues for enjoyment?
One year and a half ago I was finally able to put together the whole “Luis Venegas library,” and another teenage dream of mine came true. I stopped counting long ago, but I think very probably I must have around some 10,000 different magazines. And yes, I know exactly where everything is and found a very simple storage system to have pretty easy access to all the copies. The idea of having messy piles of publications mixed doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not functional. I like to collect all those titles because they’re like a tool to me, I look at them often but never to copy something that has been done in the past, it’s always for research and also as a reminder that I have to try to “level up” myself every time that I start working on some new idea or issue. They’re a reminder to keep up high energy.
Like you need it! Thanks Luis!