Remi Paringaux, co-founder of creative agency Meri Media and Post, the first iPad only fashion magazine, discusses photography, issues with advertisers and the future of fashion and print media in an increasingly digital world.
Materialist: What kind of imagery inspires your art direction?
Paringaux: The images that I love are those of Nick Knight or Solve Sundsbo. My ultimate hero is Erwin Blumenfeld, a photographer from the 1930s or 1940s who did stuff with his camera, way before photoshop, that just blows your mind. I like images that stage a whole scene and make you dream by tricking the lights.
Materialist: Are you thinking of an art photographer like Jeff Wall?
Paringaux: I love Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. But even in Nick Knight’s images there’s this fantasy world all around them. You can look at them for hours and just imagine all the different things going on within.
Materialist: Your first job as art director was at Dazed & Confused. What is it about the first cover you created there that’s emblematic for you?
Paringaux: It is my first cover but it’s also my favorite. Mariano Vivanco shot it. We had to sit down and have this guy painted completely in white and then completely in black; it’s good to have that level of art direction. The idea comes from Batman’s Two-Face. The team gave me the framed print when I left. They knew it was my favorite.
Materialist: Do you think all creative people are inherently collectors like yourself?
Paringaux: I guess it helps people feel a bit nostalgic every now and again. It’s good to have a flashback. I don’t collect things in the way people collect stamps or old coins because that’s much more like archiving. Everything I collect has sentimental value: it’s a journey through my past. And they just look cool.
Materialist: Do you collect anything that doesn’t look cool?
Paringaux: I collect a bunch of magazines, for instance, this independent publication called, Ocean Paddler: it is an open water kayak magazine. And it’s the geekiest thing but I love it because it’s such a focused publication.
Materialist: It’s interesting that you created Post, the first iPad only fashion magazine, but that you also collect print media.
Paringaux: I’m completely a print media person. That’s where I started my career and I still do print occasionally. You can’t really collect digital media. It just doesn’t have the same physicality.
Materialist: What do you think of the future of print media for fashion? Do you think people are going to follow suit with what you’ve done with Post? Is print going to die out or it just going to have to become really special?
Paringaux: Print is always going to exist but it’s going to have to fight harder for its existence. Bi-annuals will still be printed because bi-annuals are like books. What I think will disappear are the throwaway things like weekly magazines. And for them, doing a transition into digital media would open so many more doors and revenue streams from new affiliates to a wider distribution network. Everyone who has created iPad magazines so far that are just a slightly enhanced version of the print have failed miserably. It’s about embracing new technology and not doing so halfheartedly. Yet there are things that will remain in print because the physicality of a print magazine gives it its purpose. Think of an in flight magazine. That could never be digitalized.
Materialist: Did you hear that Quantas is implementing iPads on the backs of all their airplane seats?
Paringaux: The designer for Quantas is Marc Newsom. He’s a huge Apple fan and his best friend is Jonathan Ive, the head designer of Apple. They must have been plotting something.
Materialist: With this rapid proliferation of the iPad, do you think magazines will still be around in a few years?
Paringaux: It’s such a big topic and it’s obviously not like I have the answer. I hope they’ll still be around. I really do. I’m a big magazine freak. I collect so many print magazines. In my office I have ten times what I have here at home.
Materialist: Do you actually go back and refer back to the physical object of the magazine?
Paringaux: Weirdly enough, not really. It’s almost like a bulimia and I just want all the magazines. But I do occasionally. I started out collecting magazines of my time. A lot of Dazed & Confused and a lot of AnOther magazine. But recently I started collecting magazines from the past. I bought all the old, original Interview magazines. And I discovered this magazine while I was in LA last summer – It’s called West and it’s the weekend supplement of the Los Angeles Times. I’ve never seen such incredible covers. They’re all illustrated with a The New Yorker vibe: really good stuff. The problem is that once you start collecting those, it’s a weekly magazine, so there are thousands of them.
Materialist: What are your thoughts on the publication as a piece of art, like Six by Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garcons?
Paringaux: In a way it was always intended to be a piece of art. It was so outside the box and there is no text. It was not trying to sell anything or include any celebrities. When Kawakubo worked on Six it was the early 1990s. That started the whole biannual thing. It’s all about that full page of fashion photography. And you can disassemble the publication so they’re almost like posters.
Materialist: What kind of media criticism inspires you?
Paringaux: There’s this one magazine that I would love to collect because it was so attached to a critical movement and a revolution, not only in media but in society. The guys who started May 68 in France had this magazine called The International Situationist Movement. It’s a movement that changed society forever. They basically perverted media by transforming it and flipping it on its head by doing things called, ‘detournements’ where they took a cover of a magazine and painted over it or cut it up and reshaped it to create an alternative meaning to what it was actually supposed to say. So with these existing political images they were essentially creating the opposite. There was a beautiful exhibition at The Centre Pompidou in Paris about ten years ago and I saw the International Situationist Movement magazines there under glass. There were only a couple of hundred copies printed and they had every single issue – I think it was only eight – just the dream. But already that sense of aesthetic and that sense of continuity was a great thing. Media in general is such a massive topic. It’s everywhere.
Materialist: In terms of fashion media specifically, is there a position for fashion criticism in print media?
Paringaux: We celebrate independent publications and self funded magazines because they don’t have advertisers. I’ve always thought it was really important to try and self-publish and be as free as possible of commercial obligations. If you look at mainstream magazines they have a very strict agenda. They can’t talk about anything other than the advertisers who actually buy serious advertising in the title. If not, advertisers complain. Not only in fashion but in every single print and television media industry. It’s absolutely the way things function now. You cannot have an objective opinion. If you hated the Prada collection then you’re not allowed to say so. There are only a few journalists in the world that can get away with dissing a collection.
Materialist: Who do you think they are?
Paringaux: Suzy Menkes doesn’t censor herself. But her newspaper, The International Herald Tribune, doesn’t run on fashion advertising so she’s much freer. Magazine journalists cannot say anything because they live off of advertising. When Tom Ford was on the cover of French Vogue’s December/January issue no 913 with him curating it, there were no Louis Vuitton, Gucci or Yves Saint Laurent products featured. Tom Ford is a rogue guy. He’s my hero because he doesn’t play by the rules. He was at Gucci Group and then went out on his own to build his namesake brand that’s worth a fortune by now. But these big advertisers want to see their product on the editorial pages. In public relations they go through magazines and count the number of times their product appears throughout an issue. And if it doesn’t appear more than 10, 15, 20 times… They’ll cut advertisements the next month. They’ll punish you for not including their products.
Materialist: Why did you choose to create a fashion publication in particular?
Paringjaux: It’s what I know how to do. But Post is more than a fashion publication. It’s an art magazine. It’s not about showing the clothes because I’ve never been a garment person. What I’ve always been interested in is the image of things and the story behind them. A lot of people look at what we do and they’re confused. It touches upon many media outlets and disciplines. But the people who look at it and get it really respect it. For us it’s a front of shop thing. At the end of the day we’re a creative agency, we’re not publishers. I use fashion as a vehicle to show my ideas, concepts and aesthetics. But I could be shooting still lives of flowers. I could be shooting architecture.
Materialist: Do you find that fashion is sexier than those other fields?
Paringaux: Arguably architecture is very sexy. If I knew how to make a building express my aesthetic I would love to do that. But right now the media that I know how to maneuver is fashion imagery so I use that to express myself. The stuff we do in Post is not sexy in any way. It’s actually pretty cold and experimental. It doesn’t put the model or the clothes for that matter on a pedestal. If anything I cut them up, distort them and change the colors. I allow myself a lot of freedom.
Materialist: How do the developments in new media function in terms of retaining an audience?
Paringaux: Each media has its own way of retaining people’s attention. When MTV came out in 1981 they used to ‘cut, cut, cut’ much more like a film. A film used to cut an average of every seven seconds. MTV brought it down to cutting every two or three seconds and then cut to something else. This stroboscopic editing threw your retina and challenged your brain to keep you excited. Now with touch screen media the way to retain people’s attention is to have a finger on the screen. Where it becomes even more powerful is when you allow the user, through the medium of touch, to modify the content so they’re not just swiping pages, they’re actually affecting the shape of something. Post Gravity was so successful because you could change the state of the girl on the cover. And that’s where most magazines fail because touching the screen to swipe the page is not good enough. The new issue is called Post Performance because on every page, in every advertisement and in every editorial, we try to involve the user on a proactive journey of affecting the content.
Materialist: Is reading on a touch screen also more interactive because you don’t have the extra element of separation in the form of the mouse?
Paringaux: For me, what it boils down to is the addition of another sense. When you look at a print magazine, you’re only stimulated visually. If you watch TV you’re stimulated visually and through your hearing. When you’re interacting on an iPhone or an iPad, you’re touching something and modifying the content. It’s audio, visual and tactile. If you have three of your five senses involved in an experience, you’re going to be pretty captivated. Touch was never involved previously and is now involved in the whole reading experience so you’re completely consumed. If three of your five senses are involved, that media owns you. It’s short of the iPad putting something in your mouth. You can’t really get more immersive than that.
Materialist: How does this new technological medium work with existing codes to create a fully immersive experience?
Paringaux: Television derived from the medium of cinema and it had to reinvent it’s own code. Now shooting something for TV and shooting something for cinema is completely distinct. In the beginning TV just reused a list of codes from the cinema until it managed to stand on its own two feet and create tailored content for that media. Today with touch screen media we’re using a lot of codes and queues from other media. Print is obviously a huge influence. Online is obviously a huge influence. And the way people edit their videos for iPads is very close to what MTV would do or what television would do. It’s about evolving things in a very empirical way with one layer on top of another. When enough devices are out there, it will become its own language with its own sets of codes, it’s own way of editing, and its own way of writing for it.
Materialist: How do you apply these codes to Post?
Paringaux: With Post we explore and breakdown the codes. It’s basically a ‘tableau au hazard’ where we try not to copy other existing medias but rather create something tailored for the device. (Theorist) Marshall McLuhan said ‘We shape our tools and in turn our tools shape us.’ The best analogy is that humans created the car and the car created the suburb. So in a way humans, or Apple, created the iPad and it’s going to become its own category. It’s just going to take a while.
Materialist: Is touch screen media going to become increasingly about audio with the invention of Siri?
Paringaux: I’ve got big theories about Siri. For me Siri is the way for Apple to absolutely penetrate your lifestyle. With Siri you don’t even need your iPhone in your hand. You can just walk around your house empty handed and talk to Siri. People always criticize the mouse because the mouse is such an alien thing to access information with. The iPhone is pretty alien as but talking to an iPhone is the most intuitive thing. The most primary way of interacting is through your voice. Siri doesn’t work very well at the moment but I think if they manage to nail it it’s going to be nuts. There are speculations that Apple is going to do a television this year. It’s huge because that’s about penetrating your home, not only through your home office, but your living room and your bedroom. That’s a pretty big deal.
Materialist: What are your plans for the upcoming issue?
Paringaux: It’s going to be a really dark issue like Blade Runner, which for me in terms of aesthetic, is everything that I love. It’s going to be dark, dystopian and full of doom and gloom.