It’s been 15 years since The Face published what everyone thought would be its final issue. A lot has changed in both the media world and wider society since then, whether it’s the fallout from the rise of digital or the changing state of politics that has resulted in Donald Trump becoming President and – how could we forget – Brexit.
In the midst of these turbulent times, The Face 2.0 has just completed the final stage of its hotly anticipated relaunch. Following an Insta-focused campaign in March and a shiny new website in April, the team behind the relaunch have just dropped the first issue of what will now be a quarterly print edition.
Given the hallowed reputation of The Face’s original iteration and its makers, which included the likes of Neville Brody, its new perpertrators must surely be feeling the heat? Not really, says the mag’s Art Director Alex O’Brien, as he gives CR a first look at the issue at The Face HQ in Spitalfields.
“I find it quite irrelevant the pressure that gets put on it,” he adds. “People have amalgamated about 12 different iterations of The Face over the last 20 years into this one thing that you couldn’t touch…. I met a couple of the old art directors and they were like ‘just go have fun, go do whatever you want, just don’t make it boring’.”
As with the design of the website, O’Brien collaborated with Munich-based studio Bureau Borsche, headed up by Design Director Mirko Borsche, largely to avoid making yet another mag in the London bubble. “I think it’s very easy to build a magazine amongst yourselves and gas yourselves up, and everyone’s like ‘what the fuck are they doing over there?’. So it’s quite nice to send it to someone not even in London, just somewhere completely different like Munich, different sensibility, different age range,” he says.
Working together largely via email and Dropbox, O’Brien and Borsche’s initial approach was rooted more in what they wouldn’t change, rather than what they would. “The main focus on the design for us was to keep the tone of The Face as we remember it from the 90s without trying to imitate what the magazine design was in those days,” says Borsche. “We tried to keep the feeling of that epic magazine we knew … but we worked on something that is suited to 2020, a magazine which doesn’t feel like nothing has changed in the last 20 years, something which is more contemporary and works as a basis for future experiments.”
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While the initial relaunch saw the team play around with multiple logo designs, for example, in the end they returned to the mag’s extensive visual archive and settled on its iconic red banner for the cover. Readers from first time around may well recognise some of the original typefaces too, which have been rebuilt and adapted to be more versatile. In the end, whether things changed or not, according to O’Brien, was largely down to aesthetic. “There was a lot of back and forth, lots of designer waffle, and the end result every time was ‘does it look good?’,” he says.
Pulled together largely over the last two months, the end result is a hefty, 316-page tome that not only reincarnates a hallowed part of magazine history, but also the long-extinct beast that is the general interest mag. Or what Editor Stuart Brumfitt describes in his opening letter as a ‘no-brow bounty of film stars, sports stars, sex, drugs, pop and politics’.
Its first four cover stars – Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, Rosalía and Tyler, the Creator – all originate from the world of pop but have been selected to represent the “multihypenate” world we now live in, says O’Brien, compared to the early days of The Face when just being an iconic actor or a musician was enough.
Delve inside, and the content is wide-ranging and often pleasantly surprising. A feature on the return of cult series Top Boy (now executive produced by Drake and backed by streaming giant Netflix), for instance, happily sits alongside an on-set story with the newest family to hit the cobbles of Coronation Street.
There is also a ten-page guest edit from photographer and TV presenter Chris Packham that will delight those of us who grew up watching The Really Wild Show, along with a festival poster-inspired graphic titled Rebellion Extinction, where the lineup comprises a list of every animal that has gone extinct since the mag folded in 2004.
Some of the creative talent used for the first issue does err on the side of fashion mag convention, with Juergen Teller and Collier Schorr chosen to shoot covers, but inside there are also plenty of shout outs and collabs with younger talent including Frank Le Bon and Benjamin Hampson.
O’Brien and the rest of the team hope to continue surprising readers when it comes to the difficult second album and beyond. Much like the original mag, the design of each issue won’t be tied to a single studio, designer, or design process. “I’d hate to think that we’d lock in the grid and the typeface from issue one and be like ‘that’s it’, I think the readers deserve better,” he says.
The main challenge that The Face 2.0 faces is that it not only has to compete with its peers such as Dazed and i-D, which have managed to hang onto their pop culture roots long after its original demise, but also – as the mag’s biographer Paul Gorman wrote at the time of its relaunch – the hoards of indie mags which have been making their mark on more niche subject areas.
While the mag’s distinctive red banner will get it so far with its former fans and curious newcomers, ensuring that it continues to stand out on both the newstands and social platforms like Instagram will require an approach that does justice to the imaginative content it is clearly capable of creating within its pages. Can The Face adapt quickly enough to survive longer than the animals it lists on its Rebellion Extinction poster? We’ll all have to wait and see.