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Women’s History Museum zine Wet Satin Press
Women’s History Museum zineCourtesy of Wet Satin Press

Radical brand Women’s History Museum debut zine

The rule-breaking designers behind the NY label collaborate with Reba Maybury on an alternative to the stagnant press release

Both disenfranchised by stagnant press releases, boring fashion shows, and one-dimensional depictions of womanhood, London publisher-slash-dominatrix Reba Maybury and radical New York brand Women’s History Museum both strive to present an alternative view of the world we live in.

After kindling a transatlantic online friendship via Skype, and Maybury’s appearance in two of the label’s presentations, the women felt it important to encapsulate the essence of the brand beyond the confines of a physical, biannual presentation. Inviting those featured in the show to conjure up their own fantastical alter egos while dressed in Women’s History Museum garments, the three then subsequently interviewed each model to highlight their contribution and importance to the event — resulting in the black and white, cut and paste publication.

Disproving the notion that models should just be clothes hangers, the interviews are weaved amongst an abstract, alternative fairy tale-style introduction by Molly Edminster and other worldly, nymph-esque illustrations by artist Will Sheldon. In a post-Brexit world in which Donald Trump will soon be president, the publication is a testament to the importance of creating communities and corners of the world we can thrive in – no matter how fantastical they may seem. Now available at East London’s Donlon Books, we chatted to Maybury and Women’s History Museum’s Mattie Barringer and Amanda McGowan about humanising models, utopian objects of desire and the importance of documentation…

How did you three all meet one another?

Women’s History Museum: We met in college at NYU, we were both losers and didn’t know anybody – even though we were there for two years and didn’t have a single friend. NYU is a really crappy corporate school. We just started making stuff together and being friends, without a goal-oriented understanding of what we were going to do. Then, we started doing clothing together.

Reba Maybury: Amanda, Mattie and I actually met before on Skype, maybe about this time last year actually because I was running Sang Bleu and wanted to interview them. I just thought what they were doing was so amazing. Then I was in America early this year, and that’s when we met and they asked me to walk in the show. This summer I spent three months in NYC and lived with Amanda and Mattie as well.

Reba, how is modeling for Women’s History Museum different to the experience of modelling for other brands?

Reba Maybury: I’ve been to so many shows, and what I loved about Women’s History Museum’s was that so much of the rulebook doesn’t exist to them because neither of the girls studied fashion. When I modelled for them for the first time in the beginning of March at St. Mark’s Place, it was just incredible because it felt like more of a performance than a fashion show.

All the stereotypical things that happened in a fashion show disappeared. There was no frantic PR person or overly stressed make-up artist getting angry with everyone, or really sexlessly powerful fashion editors looking frigid on the front row. There was just none of that, and that really excited me. None of the models were ‘real’ models, it was pure anarchy – they could behave whichever way they wanted to.

When did you decide to collaborate on the zine together?

Women’s History Museum: Reba’s always urging us to have documentation like, ‘You need a historical record of the things that you’re doing.’ She’s kind of whipping us into shape with that stuff. We’re always just like ‘I don’t know, whatever,’ but we always wanted to have a tangible thing to go with our shows – like a kind of guide. Reba has more experience with doing printed work. It just seemed really natural to do it with her.

“Is there really anything worse in this world than a bad press release? So in a way I suppose this zine is like an alternative press release” – Reba Maybury

Reba Maybury: Is there really anything worse in this world than a bad press release? So in a way I suppose this zine is like an alternative press release. Also it was really important that we humanised the models in it, and all the photos are ones that Amanda and Matty took of their fittings. We sent every model a couple of questions and they answered them kind of as their alter ego. It’s about humanising the models, so they’re not just these disposable female objects.

Amanda and Mattie, how do you go about casting a Women’s History Museum show and why was it important to you to feature them in the zine?

Women’s History Museum: Everyone we use is more of a collaborator than a model. So to pretend that the people in the shows don’t have any significant role in the shows is doing a disservice to them. This publication is a more of a tangible artifact of that relationship, but also bringing in this idea of fantasy and character making which is really important in our use of clothing. It’s about trying on different personas. So we asked the models, after they had seen what they were going to wear, to come up with a persona that would be their act in the show, so to speak. We also asked our friend Molly to do the introduction, she’s an amazing writer, and we just wanted something like an alternative to a press release. The portion that Molly wrote in the beginning was also sent out as the invitation – and it’s just kind of this like absurd thing that makes people think, ‘What is even going to happen at this show?’

Will Sheldon also created illustration for the zine, why was it important to have him involved?

Women’s History Museum: Because I feel like his illustrations have similar vibe to the clothing in the creatures he draws. I think women are really into his work because it’s they’re almost like fashion illustrations or personas that are relatable to women.  

Reba Maybury: That’s what's really interesting about Will’s work, it’s kind of created this world which is genderless, sexless, raceless and it’s just pure fantasy, but it’s very evocative and sensual and glamorous. Which is really fascinating that it’s coming from a straight white man. Quite radical.

Reba, how does the zine fit in with the rest of Wet Satin Press?

Reba Maybury: All the work of Wet Satin Press has this aim of creating a more progressive world for people to live in. Women’s History Museum to me is so progressive in how they are representing women and the sexuality of women. A lot of Wet Satin Press is about sexuality, but sexuality is something that controls so much of our lives. The work Women’s History Museum creates is completely distorted, women are so powerful – it’s just this very visionary utopian object of desire that they’re creating. That’s why I love them and that’s why I think Wet Satin Press makes sense to them.

What made you decide to not just keep the zine within the confines of the presentation and to stock it in Donlon Books?

Reba Maybury: If you think about the amount of fashion publications that are out there it’s like ‘Oh a nice book about Lee McQueen’, and ‘Let’s find a book about all the covers a magazine has done’, and it’s so elitist. We should be able to consume other fashion culture that isn’t just what mainstream publications deem okay. Fashion is so much more wide ranging than that, so I want Women’s History Museum to be out there more.