Earlier this year, Visionaire made all of its 50 issues for sale in a souped up Goyard trunk with a $50k price tag. To those who know the publication, Visionaire is distinguished as a creative platform for fashion’s bold-faced talents (Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel included) and such a fee for its highly collectible editions is in sync with the publication’s allure. In anticipation of JC Report’s cover curation of images from Visionaire (beginning with the current Visionaire 55 Surprise this week), we sat down with editor and co-founder Cecilia Dean to find out how this independent pub has kept ticking in the outer orbit of creativity since their debut in 1991.
JC Report: The next issue of Visionaire is a pop-up issue. It has a print identity with a web feel—how does the web influence the pop-up issue?
Cecilia Dean: I don’t think it’s influenced at all by the web. We [partners Stephen Gan and James Kaliardos] love the internet and we have a fun time with our website, but Visionaire is so much about the tactile experience that it’s very non-digital. What was so much fun with the pop-up issue is that we all love pop-up and we’ve been inspired by pop-ups for a longtime, but they’re always geared towards kids. We’ve never seen pop-ups with really serious artists so we decided to do our take on it. For this issue we had so many ideas as to how to represent it online because there’s a lot of movement going on. Until recently, we didn’t really consider how we were going to represent each issue online, but now it’s a point to consider and we had a lot of fun brainstorming how to shoot it.
JCR: More so than in the past?
CD: It started with the issue we did with Lacoste, where we printed artwork on shirts. We had to show the shirt on a person so it was like “Oh, we have to do a video” then “Oh, let’s do a fun strip tease” then “Oh, we need music” and it became this really fun music video that was unique to the site. With the pop-up issue we discussed its online presence from the get-go, whereas it was a last minute thing before.
JCR: How fun to have the creative process enhanced by all these other needs! It seems to add a whole other multi-dimensionality to the already strong offering.
CD: It does add a whole other dimension to it. If you think about it, it’s like you can shoot it in a thousand different ways. It’s just another way of representing yourself. Visionaire is printed matter, tactile, physical, while the website has always been secondary. For the first time, the website is important as a different kind of experience—it’s the way we communicate the experience online if you don’t have the issue in front of you.
JCR: There’s always been a certain level of intrigue surrounding the content that’s produced in Visionaire, so to drop the veil and see behind the scenes would be compelling footage.
CD: We haven’t really done behind the scenes. A lot of people have brought it up to us—like a reality show on the making of an issue—but we’re very hesitant about that.
JCR: You want to hold onto the mystery of how it all happens? Is that part of the thinking?
CD: I don’t think visually it’s as exciting as people think it is. But I also know that the most mundane things are fascinating.
JCR: How did you choose “Surprise” as this coming issue’s theme?
CD: Pop-ups are a surprise. You open this book and the thing pops up at you. We wanted to do an issue of pop-ups and we started talking to Krug, but champagne is often for a special occasion, something that you’re celebrating. The whole idea of a surprise party made sense. It’s not like we sit around and think about it and figure it out. All the pieces are out there and when they magically come together then the issue happens. In this case, it was like “it’s a surprise, it’s a pop-up, it’s champagne!”—even the whole popping of the cork is very pop-up. It was just one of those things that we didn’t have to ask why, it all just made sense.
JCR: After 17 years one may think that there are these grand plans. It can still happen organically, then?
CD: It has to happen organically. That’s the only way it could happen. It’s such a labor of the moment because different things are speaking to you at different times. We usually have about 10 issues in development at any given time.
CD: Yes, ideas, packaging, sourcing, production. You might talk about an issue and decide to wait and then three years later decide that it’s the right moment. Sometimes you start talking to a company and they suggest something that inspires work on a particular issue, or they bring a whole new element to it. All the pieces are out there and something comes along and it all comes together.
JCR: How has the vision of Visionaire changed over the years?
CD: When we started in ’91, it was a truly different time. We had no clue about the economy, the recession or big magazine closings, we just knew that we had a lot of friends who did a lot of personal work that was never shown. Independent publishing certainly wasn’t as prolific as it is now, so a lot of artists had incredible work that was never published unless they published their own book. Now there are so many magazines and so much independent publishing and the industry is much freer and you can publish a lot more stuff. Our idea to be a forum for artististic expression has changed a little bit because there are a lot of places for them to express themselves now. I think it’s changed in that we’re offering fun opportunities to work in a different way. For our scent issue a few years ago, I had to ask Mario Sorrenti about the concept of cold, how he envisioned it and what it smells like. You’ve got to think completely different—what does the subject in an artist’s photograph smell like? I don’t think people in that issue would normally have been offered the opportunity to work with one of the best noses in the industry on making a smell that represented their photograph. We’re offering challenges for people.
JCR: And while there are a lot more magazines, Visionaire is still recognized as a place that challenges and one that corrals high caliber talent for the reason you just mentioned.
CD: I deal with all the artists and every few months I’ll call someone up and I’m sure they’re thinking “What crazy idea does that Cecilia have now?”
JCR: But they want to hear it?
CD: Yes, they want to hear it. It’s a big challenge for us too. We’re working with artists who are incredibly busy—they have shoots back-to-back, they are making lots of money, they’re travelling non-stop. They have so many obligations, so I have to come up with something that’s going to tear them away. It has to be something so inspiring that they’re going to take time out of their schedule because it’s such an incredibly crazy and fun opportunity.
This interview was conducted by Jason Campbell.