Gearing up for the most hotly anticipated publishing event of the decade, END. sits down with Dan Flower - managing director of The Face - just days before relaunching the iconic magazine's first print edition in 15 years with the hallowed September Issue.
It's 9.30am on the 4th of September and Dan Flower is having a downright hectic month. A downright hectic year might be a little more apt, all things considered. In fact, having spent just a couple of hours with Dan at The Face HQ, I'd go so far as saying he probably can't remember the last time things weren't hectic. He's not complaining though, despite being tasked with something of the impossible: relaunching The Face after a 15-year hiatus and recontextualising a cornerstone of 80s and 90s youth culture for a new generation.
I say it's an impossible task, but not in the sense that it can't be done (because they've only gone and fucking done it!) but impossible in the sense that reviving an artefact with a ferocious legacy and a throng of OG doctrinaires waiting in the wings ready to criticise is not a task for just anyone, or one to be taken lightly. But Dan Flower is not just anyone and he's firmly aware of the responsibility he's signed on for. "When The Face first came out there just wasn't the choice that you see today. The Face then was the voice. It had such an important role to play and it’s almost become one of those things that has so much legacy you’re just not supposed to touch it," Dan says. "Bringing it back was about capturing the experience of The Face from the first time around and pairing it with the new things we can do now: moving image, digital content, audio. But ultimately The Face has always been about great writing, brilliant fashion, fantastic photography, and killer design." A hyper-distilled single-malt, matured in a barrel made up of mainstream pop-culture coverage; investigative deep-dives on fringe movements shaping the global zeitgeist; and world-class art direction which Dan enigmatically refers to as 'so Face' throughout our conversation.
Laying claim to an enviable publishing pedigree at an international level, Dan knows the magazine business better than most parents know their children, and his knowledge of the print space combined with the talent and cultural clout of the team he's built is the stuff of magazine legend. After shutting up shop in 2004, Dan is bringing the publication back under new ownership, not as a nostalgia-trip but as a forward-facing quarterly ready to inform and inspire a new generation. Adding a killer digital publishing platform to their arsenal, The Face 2.0 is here to break new ground and adapt to a new era without losing an ounce of the well deserved credibility the magazine built during its halcyon days in the 80s and 90s. So far so exciting, but delivering under the microscope of the entire publishing industry isn't all photoshoots and launch events. "Listen, my Mrs saw two mates separately in one day who said ‘I feel sorry for Dan, next week he’s bringing out the magazine that the entire world is waiting to score, clipboard and red pen in hand,’" Dan laughs. "Everyone is going to have an opinion. Everyone is going to know better. But that's fine, there's going to be a reaction and we wanted a little bit of controversy."
The Face has always been about great writing, brilliant fashion, fantastic photography, and killer design.
The question is why now? At first mention, 2004 might not seem like so long ago. Like many late 80s and early 90s babies, I tend to subconsciously split everything into two categories: pre and post-millennium. The Y2K buzz (read: anxious my tamagotchi might die) dissipated almost immediately and our generation bore witness to some pretty sobering world events in quick succession. We saw the kind of images and headlines that ground you in space and time, like a WhatsApp Pin dropped in your mind. We lived through moments that changed the course of history and fundamentally altered the context of our youth. But 15 years is nothing, right?
Wrong. 2004 was the year of the Motorola Razr. The year Janet Jackson inadvertently exposed her nipple on MTV. The year Gretchen Wieners tried and failed to make fetch happen. The year Green Day released their comeback rock opera, American Idiot: a sardonic indictment of the war-hungry establishment. To me these feel like echoes from a very different time; a series of pop culture reminders that in today's world 15 years can mean so much more than the days and weeks it's made of. In 2004 we were asking Jeeves questions on flip phones using WAP. Nowadays a nipple on TV might elicit a raised eyebrow or a couple OFCOM complaints at most. Lindsay Lohan has morphed from the girl next door into the ASBO-neighbour you write to the council about, and, to many, it feels like the sentiment behind American Idiot has never, ever been more exacting.
2004 was the year we lost The Face, and with all that's happened in between, there's never been a better time for it to come back to us.
"I think now the world is pretty much as fucked as it was when it first launched in the 80s. It was Thatcher’s Britain, the strikes, the far-Right was on the rise. There was a lot of furore and a lot for the left-leaning, creative industries to be upset about. The Face was a reaction to all that," Dan explains. "Politics now is pretty brutal everywhere. Young people are more engaged and active than they have been for a very long time. They’re aware and they're savvy, but their culture has been ill served in a way with the rise of Instagram and feed culture. A lot of brands are just out there to fill a feed and I think the Face always wanted to put its foot firmly on the ball and pause for a minute and encourage people to read and think about stuff. That excites us and we felt that now is a good time to revisit that and bring it back."
Dan is clear on one point though, The Face is not here to fix us. "I don’t want to be a fist banger or be out here shouting that we’re here to teach a new generation to read. That's silly. We want to challenge a bit of the culture that's cropped up that's just about filling a feed, but it is about balance."
Launching a digital platform for the first time earlier this year, The Face has already segued into the new publishing paradigm of the dotcom era with ease. Translating the aforementioned killer design to the ever-ephemeral digital space is a mammoth task in itself, but one which the new Face team have approached with fervour. From their 'Hollyweird' series which tells fantastical true stories from behind the veil of celebrity in LA to incredible digital journalism pieces which synthesise serious subject matter with charming bits of why-the-hell-not nonsense (some personal favourites including Alexandra Jones' hard-hitting article on the blurring lines between casual hedonism and fully-fledged addiction and Ralph Jones' genuine lmao dissection of Anthony Hopkins twitter feed). "The Face didn’t have a website, the internet was really just taking off when it stopped so the website is what’s new for us really. The opportunity to liberate the brand using new tools in media through social and web content and audio has been great and we’ve done all that," Dan says. "It’s about a mix of content. There are a lot of things we could be doing as clickbait just to chase numbers but what we’ve achieved in a short space of time on the website has been fantastic. We’re doing a bit of all of it. We’re doing audio, we're doing deeper dives. It’s about the subject matter as well. We’ve got an audience who are very active, very identity aware, very environment aware and for that reason doing more in-depth pieces reflects what they want to see. Physical print is part of The Face experience. I’m biased because I love magazines. I love holding them and opening them up and smelling them. We love print."
Having assembled a team he describes as "a bit of a dream team," Dan has secured a future for The Face by combining commercial partnerships with a groundbreaking fusion of luxury and streetwear brands that reflect the world we're living in. "We’ve been very lucky for a first issue. We've had support from Gucci, Givenchy, Celine, Burberry, Versace, Prada, Saint Laurent but equally we've got Stussy, Palace, Supreme, Stone Island. That’s a mix I’m not sure you’ll see anywhere else in the market." Dan says as he flicks us through the issue. Selecting four cover stars which represent the multi-faceted face of youth culture today, the 314 page tome brought together by a team including Stuart Brumfitt, Danny Reed, Acyde, Margaret Zhang, Grace Wales Bonner, and Davy Reed to name but a handful, covers so much ground, but in that quintessential and irreverent 'so Face' flavour. "I'm really interested in the idea of creative councils; bringing people who perhaps might not have worked together to solve a creative question. That's where we're at right now, we have Benji B working with Virgil on the music for Vuitton, we have Kim Jones and Yoon Ambush working on jewellery. I wanted to build a creative council around this brand - to bring together the voices that reflect the energy of youth culture today." A progressive new approach for the magazine that has clearly paid off with stories ranging from the Drake-produced revival of grit-and-ready TV series Top Boy to a deep-dive on the effects of fame on the brain to a profile on the 18 year old multilingual Alyssa Carson who is on set to be one of the youngest people to attempt to colonise Mars. Cover stories from Rosalia and Dua Lipa shot by Jurgen Teller. Cover stories from Harry Styles as he reinvents himself as a global phenomenon with cosigns from Stevie Knicks, Elton John, and Liam Gallagher, and cover stories from the mercurial tastemaker Tyler, The Creator gracing the cover to remind us once again that he gives no fucks and just wants to have fun. "We've sort of had our cake and eaten it too for this issue. It's an offering I think is really special. One of my favourite stories is the Fashion Victim story Frank Lebon shot with Felicity Fuego [a fictionalised character played by Lindsey Wixson]. It's this sinister stalker story with killer fashion from Danny Reed. It's brilliant."
We've sort of had our cake and eaten it too for this issue. It's an offering I think is really special.
In the dreaded age of clickbait, 'like' farms, and corrosive misinformation, The Face returns to save us from the sensationalism. To emancipate us from the bitesize content of captions and contrarian headlines. Done with the 'lazy entitled millennial' rhetoric designed to dilute our voices by a generation who did us dirty, The Face arrives right on cue as the voice we desperately need. A voice that matches the inner depths and contradictions of a generation who grew up after the identity-defining era of subcultures gave way to the limitless self-curation of a world lived online. We are no longer just one thing. Youth culture today has never been more Breakfast Club. In the safe (but not too safe, where's the fun in that?) hands of Dan and his team, The Face is here to inspire; to hold up a mirror to our generation and reflect the best of us back with the unspoken affirmation that 'this is our tribe'. Expect cultural icons, irreverent trailblazers, real stories about real people, a reminder to be good and do good (thank your bus driver!), longform stories about courageous activists, the fashion stories we've been missing out on. Am I fanboying out right now? You're damn right I am. The Face is back, and it's quite literally the content we've all been waiting for.
On the penultimate track of Green Day's 2004 American Idiot, Billie Joe croons in his signature sprechgesang 'Summer has come and past/The innocent can never last/Wake me up when September ends' - the sorrowful lament of a disenfranchised generation. A serenade in E Minor about leadership who won't listen to their children or share in their vision for a better world. Everything changes, everything stays the same. 2004 was the year we lost The Face, but it's 2019 now. It's September. The Face is back. And I'm glad I'm awake.