As the the Swedish fashion magazine launches its first ever glossy edition in London, we chat to editor-in-chief Johan Wirfält about Scandinavian style, print versus online and what happened when Acne's Jonny Johansson met Kanye West
Sweden, although minuscule in geographical size and near non-existent as a global political power house, has a burgeoning cultural scene, spreading its influences far outside domestic and continental borders. Music, literature, architecture and arts are all areas in which Swedes have conquered far and beyond. But it's the local fashion industry that has gained unprecedented coverage and acclaim of late. Ironically, with such a creative flow, there's little on offer in terms of domestic fashion press. BON has carried the flag high for quite some time, but old newcomer Rodeo's first print issue in years - having gone from free sheet via online fashion blog to glossy magazine - has cornered a spot in the market where the focus is on everything Swedish and Scandinavian that is worth telling the world about...
Dazed Digital: Who's on the cover and why?
Johan Wirfält: A model called Hanna Samokina and a guy we casted on the streets of Paris. They are characters who draws you in with their attitude, not through being famous. I’m not against celebrity covers on any principal level, we might very well do one in the future. But they easily turn formulaic and for us it was important, especially with this being the first issue, that we had a cover that carried a strong identity of our own. To me, these pictures are as much deeply personal portraits as they are eye-catching fashion images. Johan Sandberg, the photographer, and Ellen af Geijerstam, the stylist, did an amazing job.
DD: Who have you worked with in this issue?
Johan Wirfält: The photographers range from Sweden’s new generation, people like Julia Hetta and Marcus Palmqvist, to the legendary Hans Gedda. Gedda’s portrait of Nelson Mandela with his clenched fist to his forehead is an iconic image. We are very proud to be the first magazine ever to publish a portfolio from Hans Gedda’s private archive: his dark and amazing still life photography. As for the writers, we’ve tried to achieve the same mix. Monika Fagerholm, one of Finland’s most elevated writers, have penned an essay on the magic of Alexander McQueen. But we also feature Björn af Kleen, Sweden’s most respected young turk, and pieces from up and coming writers barely out of their blogs.
DD: Most fashion magazines, if anything, go from print to online. You've gone from free sheet and online to glossy magazine – why?
Johan Wirfält: The short answer would be that it’s just about presenting stories in the best way possible according to the actual content. Rodeo was the first fashion magazine in Sweden to do discerning, day-to-day and hour-to-hour online reporting on style and pop culture. For print, it was more about building an editorial environment for long-read and long-look stories. The reason you spend money on a magazine today is not because you need quick updates on whatever the latest trend is. You do it, in a sense, to buy yourself time – to go to a place of your own where you can indulge in stories, people, pictures and ideas. More than ever, magazines are turning into luxury products. I don’t mean that they need to be expensive, but if you look at actual consumer behaviour, people buy mags less out of necessity and more for their own pleasure.
I have this theory on the reading of magazines which I share whenever I get a chance, because it actually explains why we have such a hard time giving them up even though ”everything” is available for free online. You know when kids learn to write, scientists have noted that they learn faster and better if they practice on pen and paper rather than a keyboard. The reason for this is that the movement of their writing hand makes an imprint in the brain. Letters and words gets stored deeper that way.
This is just a hunch, but it makes sense at least to me that when reading a magazine, or a book for that matter, the brain works in much the same way. Once you flip a page with your hand, instead of just scrolling down the screen on your laptop or swiping a finger on your iPad, the brain opens up for new input, new information, new ideas. The physical act of reading is more multidimensional when your reading from a magazine or a book than from a screen. That way it’s more likely to make a lasting impression. And that’s why we refuse to give up magazines...
DD: How 'Swedish' do you think Rodeo is in what it covers? How much focus is on promoting Swedish talent etc?
Johan Wirfält: When re-launching Rodeo as a print magazine, we sat down and asked ourselves what magazine we were missing on the shelves. We realised there were loads of magazines covering all the cool things kids are doing in London, New York, Paris or Tokyo. But no-one was putting the lense on Sweden or Scandinavia. We have one of the most vibrant creative scenes in the world right now, and have had so for the last decade. Not only in terms of fashion and style, but also in film, art, pop music and, of course, gloomy books where lots of people get mutilated by sadistic serial killers.
DD: Sweden is a tiny country but very creative and prolific, why do you think that is?
Johan Wirfält: At the end of the day creativity is about having the means to create things. In Sweden and Scandinavia in general, we have a highly educated population, a financially secure population and, not least important, a social-insurance system that looks after the population. It is a good environment for growing creativity. Of course that is true for a lot of other countries in the Western world too. But Sweden also have this sort of indvidualistic openmindedness, an eagerness to explore the world and all its fruits. You know we come from seafaring people. The vikings used to ravage and burn och the English coast. These days, Scandinavians ravage and burn in fashion schools and the London fields.
DD: What's your personal highlight from the issue?
Johan Wirfält: There are many. I love Monika Fagerholm’s essay on McQueen. The personal story that Swedish economy professor Mats Lundahl wrote on Hotel Oloffson in Haiti is an amazing account of how a single building over decades can serve as a safe haven in an otherwise chaotic state. I think a lot of the images are extremely good – both the fashion and, as mentioned above, the Hans Gedda still life portfolio. And personally, I’m really happy with how the profile on Acne turned out.
DD: You've written a piece about Acne called 'Swedish Style' - how would you define it?
Johan Wirfält: A fashion house that basically does jeans has, through open minds, educated taste and strong work ethics, built something which is so much more. In this, there is something fundamentally Swedish at work. The thing about being Swedish is you look at what people that aren’t Swedish are doing. The country might seem small and insular when you live there, but once you take a step back you realise Swedish people are extremely open to the world around them. I think this is the core of Acne’s 'Swedish style', in the same way as it is the core of H&M.
They’re obviously doing different things, but they share this openness and that is the key to their respective success. So, defining the actual Acne style is hard. In the piece, fashion journalist doyen Tim Blanks says that Acne is ”ambiguous and weird, and that is very attractive”. I think he’s absolutely right. Acne is elusive – and as we all know, it is that which escapes us that we crave the most.
DD: There's a few funny moments in the article - tell us about the Kanye West/Jonny Johnasson encounter...
Johan Wirfält: Basically Kanye West, the world’s most infamously egocentrical rap star and fashion fanatic, flew into Stockholm and the Acne HQ with the purpose of landing a collaboration – or even an internship – with the fashion house. None of that happened. Jonny Johansson gives a hilarious account of why not, which includes a fall-out over an assistant, weird-looking sneakers and ”bitches”...
DD: What's next for you and Rodeo?
Johan Wirfält: Editors will tell you that there’s always a moment when working on a magazine when you think that the whole issue will fall apart. Right now the AW issue feels really good – which, of course, should be slightly worrying, since it probably means the falling apart moment is yet to come. So personally, I’m bracing myself...
Rodeo is out now, get it HERE