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The fearless women’s mag that played by none of the rules

Everything you need to know about Nova magazine, the ground-breaking feminist publication that launched in the 60s and boldly challenged the status quo

From opinion pieces that discussed sex, the pill and abortion to features covering religious and political theory, Nova was the outspoken feminist fashion magazine that challenged and defined women’s publishing in the late 60s and early 70s. Founded by Harry Fieldhouse in 1965 – a period in which women were commonly expected to be occupying their minds with crochet patterns, cross-stitching, cooking and baking – Nova ran 5,000 word articles by Christopher Booker, Susan Sontag and Irma Kurtz and photography by Helmut Newton and Don McCullin, with looks headed up by fashion editor Molly Parkin. Running with the tagline “The new kind of magazine for a new kind of woman”, Nova set itself apart from its contemporaries by creating a magazine for an audience that was not only interested in fashion, but one that was also politically, socially and sexually aware. Here’s how Nova shook things up.

IT WAS FOR THE ‘THINKING FEMALE’

Nova was a platform that aggressively pushed a new, often esoteric way of thinking that challenged the mainstream. Said to be read mainly by the ‘AA Woman’ – translating in marketing terms to “above-average income and intelligence” – Fieldhouse and his editorial team set out to create a magazine for independent, savvy young women with a disposable income, women that would be treated as adults, not commodities, who wanted to fuel their minds and to challenge everything.

IT REBELLED AGAINST SOCIETAL NORMS

While it was arguably a feminist magazine, Nova’s team addressed the fact that not all intelligent, feminist women at the time wanted to dress like Jackie Kennedy, nor did they associate themselves with the cross-stitch-and-cook-to-please-your-husband crowd du jour. Instead, Nova’s notorious fashion editorials were heavily laden with menswear, utilitarian styles, sporting goods and military apparel, as luxury labels were reluctant to loan to the magazine.

In a particularly notable editorial titled Head for the Haberdashery: Re-Thinking Fashion, styled by Caroline Baker and shot by Hans Feurer, all looks were created from haberdashery supplies from a home furnishings store, including leg warmers fabricated from multi-coloured fringing that appeared on the cover. Meanwhile, an editorial called Every Tramp Should Have One saw a woman posing as a tramp on the streets of London wearing designer fur coats. It lost the magazine a string of influential advertisers.

IT EPITOMISED THE SOPHISTICATION OF LONDON

Work by heavyweight names – including photographers Terry Richardson and David Sims, and stylist Nancy Rohde – often appeared on the pages of Nova, along with early impressionistic work by Helmut Newton and fearless words penned by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag and Graham Greene. Inside Nova, you’d find innovative, stylised typography and monochrome pages that were revolutionary at the time. Beautifully designed and unlike any other magazines, Nova epitomised the sophistication of that London era. With content commissioned by the magazine’s fashion editors – Molly Parkin, followed by Catherine Baker – Nova was a significant emblem of the socio-political change that was taking place in society, while most women’s magazines stayed largely focused on housekeeping and ways to please your husband.

IT POSED QUESTIONS PEOPLE WERE TOO SCARED TO ASK

Nova was a firm believer that, to make a large-scale impact, you needed a shocking magazine cover. With the covers came big, often unexpected, headlines. Doing what few other magazines dared to do back then, Nova was ahead of its time in putting the issues people were often too scared to voice on a public stage. Provocative yet executed with authority, the covers were often shocking (one memorable issue featured a woman mummified in tinfoil being cryogenically frozen) and boasted cover lines such as:

If you want to stay alive FREEZE. £4,000 will keep you on ice” (addressing the then-new phenomenon of cryopreservation, see top image)

Where will the single mother live?

Mummy’s Divorced, Now I’ve Had An Uncle Mark, Uncle Simon, Uncle John, Uncle…”,

50 Years After The Vote. Only The Chains Have Changed

“Yes we’re living in sin. No we’re not getting married, Why? It’s out of date

If he does the dishes can you change the fuse?”

“Adultery, Rape, Eroticism, Extortion — Another Jolly Christmas Issue!”.

Meanwhile Nova put Amanda Lear – “the best stripper in Paris” – on the cover and in another issue Twiggy shaving her armpit graced the cover.

IT WAS RELAUNCHED IN 2000

Following its ten-year tenure and a 25-year hiatus after that, Nova was relaunched in 2000, only surviving a year. While none of the original team were present, the magazine stuck to the same themes. Taking an anti-celebrity approach, the magazine continued to focus on current women’s political issues, while fashion became the main focus, with contributions coming from the likes of Juergen Teller and Venetia Scott. Yet despite having some of the most influential stylists and photographers involved, the lack of controversial, outspoken writers meant that the reinvented version did not survive the recession, failing to compete with its contemporaries, and the original run of Nova was left to be a product of its time.

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