London-based Italian photographers Paolo Zerbini and Ivan Ruberto launched Bellissimo in 2019, a magazine that Zerbini says is “a photographic project to elevate everyday situations and everyday characters that are actually outstanding for a reason or another. These people catch our eyes – they are the protagonists of our photographic project.”
Zerbini and Ruberto call themselves “dear friends”, and their chemistry is all apparent as we talk over Zoom about the digital zine that they’ve created as part of SELF PUBLISHED, our project launched with Calvin Klein celebrating independent publishing.
They describe Bellissimo as being about photography first and foremost, translated into an editorial form. Magazine obsessives, they reference constantly – the first issue of Bellissimo was inspired by luxury travel magazines, the second was a send up of fashion publications. “You could see Bellissimo as a tribute band,” says Zerbini. “And once we understand the kind of music that we're gonna play for that evening, all of the different good tracks of that era will come popping up.”
For SELF PUBLISHED they drew on the vibrant energy of teen mags, their chaotic colour schemes and cheesy language. “We are obsessed with magazines from the past and we do a lot of research,” says Ruberto. “For this, we wanted to pay tribute to 90s teen magazines. In Italy, we have a really cool one. We decided to use a kind of editorial language that at least in Italy was really, really famous and really, really popular. Throughout the years it became a little bit naff, a bit cheesy, but we love it. We made sure it has the fun sides that we will always want to portray in our project. And that was provided by the photo novel containing this almost ridiculous story between teenagers.”
Here, we talk about the creative journey of making this one-off digital zine, the casting process, and their reaction to magazines becoming so serious.
Paolo Zerbini: “There are two covers that I would like to discuss, the front cover and the back cover. The front cover is as close as we could get to the 90s teen zine. We wanted to give that little bit of playfulness that there was in those magazines – everything is in your face, the fonts are in your face, the title is in your face, there's lots of information, lots of fonts, lots of colours. Those magazines were really made for capturing the attention of a teenager.
We chose that model because he has a look similar to 90s boy bands. It was really nice to work with him, as it was his first shoot. We explained to him what we wanted it and he just went into character. The little touch with his little key chain in his mouth! We love these random titles thrown in the middle and something to hint at what's inside. The custom made logos as well, that was also part of the image of those times.
And for the back cover, we decided to go a little bit more like iconic. We thought it was a nice contrast to the front. We wanted it to be more considered, but still have the message of Bellissimo, which as a character is never fake, they're just real, full of self-confidence. We chose this dear friend of ours, a musician called Tom Falle. It was just just amazing. Everything about him is amazing.”
WHY BELLISSIMO NEEDS TO BE FUN
Paolo Zerbini: “Bellissimo came as a counter-movement to what we were seeing a couple of years ago. We were noticing a lot of kind of conceptual shoots in magazine and there was a lot of seriousness around. We really thought that there was a bit missing, and that bit missing we really enjoyed doing.
So guided with that, we thought why not focusing on making a magazine or something that looks like a magazine, but where the main characters, the protagonists, are real people. Real people who we feel look fun and interesting and who don’t really care about following the rules or they don’t really look into main trends or whatever. It came from that urge. And that really, I think, was where we started thinking we just have to do this.”
THE COMIC STRIP
Ivan Ruberto: “We did a little bit of research on the comic strips, knowing we had to come up with a storyline. And we found that they don't have a beginning and don't have an end. But they don't even have a middle part to be honest! They're just cheesy phrases, chucked in the mix. They don’t really follow the common sense rule. And once we did the research we said ‘oh great’, we can do whatever we want, we can have a broad storyline.
Once we saw the characters it began, and we made the storyline up as we were going along, laughing like crazy as well. We acted out the storyline for the characters to get them into character. So there was me and Paolo confronting each other, and so the people just went into character. It was really funny.
A fortunate event was that the one of our models brought a friend with her, her housemate. She wasn't even supposed to be on the shoot, but we met and we thought ‘she’s perfect’. The way she was dressed and how she was. She ended up being the main character because she had the really strong facial expressions that we wanted, kind of overacting the situation.”
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Ivan Ruberto: “This project was a dream come true. When me and Paolo started Bellissimo we had big plans for the future. This collaboration say came quite quickly in our journey. We always wanted to collaborate with brands or with a magazine to translate what Bellissimo is into something more tailored.
Bellissimo has a set of static rules that keeps it together. Our belief is that these rules can be applied to a multitude of brands and realities. So when Dazed and Calvin Klein approached us it was extremely exciting to be able to prove that to ourselves and to a client that wasn't just our readers. We photographed a lot of older people in the previous two, so we thought it was a great opportunity to focus on youth and to involve them in the Bellissimo aesthetic. We’re very pleased it worked the way did.”
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