The Dazed & Confused exhibition at Somerset House celebrating our 20 year anniversary looks back at pushing the boundaries of fashion since day one
Ever since Dazed & Confused released the early ‘Death of a Cover Star’ issue, featuring a cover with no model or celebrity, no designer clothing, barely any text and indeed not even an image, it was clear that the usual modes of fashion reportage and editorial were not going to be found in this magazine. Favouring fashion features of a much more innovative, inspirational and unusual nature from day one, Dazed & Confused has always leant towards a kaleidoscopic style and shoot aesthetic.
We didn’t know anything and that was absolutely the best way to start something because we were just completely free
For the very first fashion editor of the magazine, Katie Grand, the level of freedom the team experienced was a direct product of the independent nature of the publication, “…once you have tasted that kind of independence… Well, it is one thing working for Jefferson and Rankin when you are all vaguely the same age and you all go out together – there was so much freedom you kind of didn’t really know what to do with it – but the idea of answering properly to somebody… By that point it wasn’t something I think any of us could do.” Nicola Formichetti, who became fashion director of the magazine in 2007, cites this originality to ignorant bliss, “We didn’t know anything and that was absolutely the best way to start something because we were just completely free. We were not aware of anything to hold us back.”These anti-establishment and polemic preferences led to the magazine printing often controversial and alternative fashion photography, which frequently resulted in a backlash of critique from mainstream media. One particular shoot that produced such outrage was ‘Preservation Vamp’ styled by Katie Grand and photographed by Donna Trope. Featuring an image of a model licking a butcher’s knife, it was widely misinterpreted as a pastiche on violence, an inappropriate taboo-smasher, “What Dazed & Confused has done is disgusting. It’s this sort of thing which could encourage some of these horrible murders,” said April Ducksbury, former director of Models 1.
The Rizzoli-published book celebrating 20 years of the magazine presents snapshots of a history rich in experimental fashion imagery from the pages of Dazed
However, it wasn’t just the subversive shoots that garnered attention from the press, Dazed made headlines with poignant fashion stories that aimed to comment on and dispel social and political stereotypes made universal by increasingly insular fashion propaganda prescribed by the media, fashion houses and celebrity institution. Katy England’s shoot ‘Fashion-Able’ used disabled models to promote real people, real bodies and real beauty that sent out shockwaves in the fashion community. Shot by Nick Knight, Fashion-Able confronted what can be and should be considered beautiful in the face of the absurd notion of perfection. To this day, the shoot remains an incredibly important comment on force-fed prescriptions of ‘normality’. Katy Grand remembers the difficulties she faced organising the shoot, “People have never forgotten that shoot. It was definitely the hardest thing I’d ever done. Working as I did in fashion, coming from such a completely different place, one that might be perceived as superficial, I felt quite embarrassed. It involved a huge amount of time talking to different charities and organisations for casting and convincing them that we were seriously trying to show that everybody can be beautiful.”
At Dazed, fashion merged the line between art, style and beauty, often taking inspiration from paintings and art projects and collaborating with artists like Damien Hirst and designers such as Alexander McQueen, who served as Fashion Editor at Large for a time. Alister Mackie, Dazed’s first menswear specialist editor, recognises the interplay between art and fashion, and the move away from glossy conventionality, “It was always about style magazines in Britain at that point. It just seemed so old-fashioned to be interested in conventional fashion magazines. They were just about clothes, some ‘stuff ’. We did not just want to do clothes – we wanted to make character, make reference to art, make reference to music, make reference to… a life.”
The current fashion team - Karen Langley, Katie Shillingford and Robbie Spencer - continue Dazed’s legacy for the next generation of Young British Fashion People, each daring the other to push the boundaries of how fashion can be interpreted and shot
This compound of cultural materials, as well as attracting aggressive finger pointers and blame-placing critics, also captivated an audience of young like-minded individuals keen to replicate Dazed’s underground appeal, with many zines and established publications alike producing similar fashion shoots. Cathy Edwards, fashion director of Dazed & Confused from 2003 – 2007 remembers, “I would constantly see things copied from Dazed. It was all about patenting some kind of new and fabulous idea and getting it out quickly so that people knew it was yours.”
The current fashion team - Karen Langley, Katie Shillingford and Robbie Spencer - continue Dazed’s legacy for the next generation of Young British Fashion People, each daring the other to push the boundaries of how fashion can be interpreted and shot, fashion director Karen Langley says, “You can so easily talk yourself out of a good idea or worry about taking risks but, in the end, it’s all about going: ‘Oh, what the hell, let’s just do it.”
Making It Up As We Go Along – the Rizzoli-published book celebrating 20 years of the magazine – presents snapshots of a history rich in experimental fashion imagery from the pages of Dazed. Photographs by Rankin, Nick Knight, Horst Diekgerdes and Corinne Day are joined by shoots created by a new generation of fashion photographer such as Hedi Slimane, Richard Burbridge, Daniel Jackson and Josh Olins.
At the celebratory exhibition at Somerset House, fashion shoots are displayed encased in huge installation blocks, tumbling through the first three rooms in a chronological timeline of Dior, Chanel, McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Givenchy and other designers selected by the fashion teams of the last 20 years. Terry Richardson’s shoot First Blood, depicting models giving blood is presented alongside Phil Poytner’s Invisible feature, Horst Diekgerdes’ Uprising and Paulo Sutch’s Jubilee. The Fashion-Able shoot is projected on large screens in a separate space, shifting subtly from one image to the next in exalted formation, a fitting dedication to one of the most prolific fashion features of Dazed & Confused.