Behind the scenes: Article magazine

by Steve Watson in May 2014
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If you’ve had your eye on the Stack Instagram feed recently you’ll see that the new issue of Article magazine arrived last week. The subscribers’ special edition really is a thing of beauty, with its exposed stitching on the spine, and die cut sleeve carefully revealing key details on the front and back covers.

In fact it’s such a lovely physical object that it can be difficult to look beyond the thing itself, but there’s a lot more going on here than a nice bit of print production. Eccentric and off-beat, it brings together an apparently unconnected series of stories and somehow manages to make them hang together as an editorial whole, so when I spoke to founder and creative director Kenny Ho, I began by asking him how his story list comes together.

Article magazine

There’s a very distinct eccentricity to Article, but how do you manage that? How do you know when a story is an Article story?
Lots of other publications cover the very serious aspect of British heritage, which is very important, but we’ve always wanted to do it with a bit of humour, and to do it in a way that’s not predictable. We want to take the reader on a journey, creating an element of surprise with each issue, so that in years to come when you have a shelf or two full of Article you get this feeling of humour as well as discovery. And we also want to convey a sense of nostalgia in the content – that’s something I personally find interesting, when I see something that reminds me of my childhood.

I wanted to ask you about that – there’s lots of reminiscence in this issue, with people looking back at things from their lives.
A big part of the British heritage trend is people’s memories of the past, whether that’s through their family life, or objects, or things that remind them of a certain place or time. It’s quite personal, and we try to mix the stories so the issue has an even tone to it. We want to create a personal narrative through the content, so the exploration of the subject becomes very heartfelt.

So let’s take the first story for example – journalist Samantha Lyster reminiscing about the role breakfast has played throughout her life. What made that stand out as the story you’d kick the issue off with?
Well this is our Spring issue, and what do you do when you first get up in the sunshine in the Spring? What do you really crave? Breakfast! Your breakfast starts the day, and this being our first issue of the year, we think that’s a good introduction for the first story of the magazine.

And how about the second story, which focuses on the architects who built their own holiday home in Wiltshire in the 50s? What leads you on from breakfasts to that story?
We never really think of the order of stories as a contrived thing. We think about the whole list of content we want to feature, and from that and the pagination and design we string the stories together.

Part of the theme this issue is the emergence of the staycation – people like to stay here now rather than going abroad, and that’s where the idea of country escape, country houses and design for living came into play; it has a sense of modernism but also of tradition. The house inspired us to think about people staying in Britain for their holidays, and that’s where the seaside feature came from too.

Article magazine

That’s really interesting – other magazines will explicitly name these themes, but this feels like it’s coming from a different place. I might be reading too much into this because I know you work in the fashion industry, but this feels more like how a fashion designer might work, with a series of ideas that function as the inspiration for a collection…
Yes – that’s very much the case. My background is in fashion and that’s how I operate. I think that’s why it feels left of field, but for us it still hangs together. I personally wasn’t trained in publishing, so my thinking is slightly outside the box, and that brings a sense of freshness to the publication. There’s a sense of unpredictability and surprise from one feature to another – it takes people on a little ride I think.

You mentioned earlier that this is a magazine about Britishness, but you yourself were not born British. What was it that made you want to engage with it as a topic?
Coming from a fashion background, there has been a very noticeable emergence of British brands making a statement globally, and British men dressing in a more noticeable way that shows off their Britishness. When my art director and I were planning the magazine we spoke to fashion brands and noticed there is a lot going on in terms of production that is now based back in this country, and then when we started talking to our writers, the whole thing just started rolling.

To make the whole magazine all about Britishness could seem limiting, but there’s so much happening here, from food to movies to music… it just feels right because there’s so much to explore. And there’s so much that people don’t know about that we want to share. The more we look into it the more we find – there’s never a shortage of material!

Article magazine

And how’s the magazine doing? Is it finding its audience?
Lots of people who know about Article become loyal readers, which is amazing. The challenge is getting people to know about it – we get lots of people, especially abroad, who discovered us in this issue, for example, and they say, “How did I not know about you?” And then they want to buy back issues of one and two, so we realise there’s an audience for us and we need to make sure those people know about us.

So are issues one and two still available?
Issue one is sold out now. I don’t have a single copy left in the warehouse – we’ve kept two boxes in the archive knowing this would happen, but they’re not for sale! There are a couple of boxes left of issue two, so let’s see who gets them…

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