Is it about art? Fashion? Is it actually about paper? I’m not entirely sure how I should go about answering these questions, as Paper magazine is something like a mix of all three. Let’s go with this: a magazine that captures the art in fashion … on paper.
This month’s issue happens to include a delightful feature that depicts Paper’s ideals quite accurately, and only comes once a year: “Beautiful People.” But please—don’t confuse this with what Cosmopolitan or Maxim might call their “Beautiful People” feature. Each of the 55 artists, fashion designers, DJs, musicians, transsexuals, and others are certainly beautiful in their own way, but were by no means selected based on their physical appearance. Many of them are New York City locals, while others are known in deed, but not in face.
Take Fatima Robinson, for instance, the woman who Paper claims to be “probably responsible for all the dance moves you know.” They might be right, at least for America’s youngest generations; ever seen an iPod commerical? The “Fergalicious” music video? Robinson is the one responsible for all of Apple’s infectious freestyling and Fergie’s gyrations, but oddly enough, hasn’t yet made it as a household name. This is undoubtedly why Paper chose her as a “beautiful person”—incredibly talented, influential, and underrated.
Most of the other 55 Paper picks are not as internationally well-known as Fatima Robinson, but nonetheless leave their mark somewhere on the world. Take note of Angel Chang, a 28 year-old in the fashion world who makes “tech-advanced designs with experimental fabric”; “nu-disco” producer and DJ Jacques Renault; vintner/mother/art collector Jennifer Rubell. Who are these people and why am I not familiar with their work?
Paper’s choice of “Beautiful People” is more than just a statement against the superficial nature of conventional “Beautiful People” lists. Nearly every person impressed and enlightened me with their off-beat passions and creativity. (Chris Evans, actor from Not Another Teen Movie and Fantastic Four? Not so much.)
This feature immediately drew my attention away from the typically fashion-and-makeup-obsessed articles that so often are the center of magazines in this genre. It delves into those people who are interesting, individual, and working to make a difference—which, by creating this list, Paper leads us to believe is synonymous with “beautiful.” Grammatically incorrect, but definitely not a bad thing; we could use a little more misplacing of synonyms if it means putting aside our materialism and superficiality.
Skip a few pages back to the “Opinion” section, home of the world-weary and pissed-off. Comprised of four different columns, “Opinion” covers everything from nightlife to fashion week to death row. Perhaps “covers” isn’t the best word—these contributors rather erratically leap from one topic to the next, barely linking them together, as if spending more than a short paragraph on any particular subject would slow down Paper’s fast pace.
Thankfully, this attention-deficit style does not give way to bad writing. The language is clever, quick, and assertive; think Gilmore Girls with more bite. Take Ann Magnuson, writer of “L.A. Woman,” on music promotion: “Reentering the icy waters of the promosexual salmon spawn was about as appealing as a root canal.” Glenn O’Brien, “Pop-Ed,” on people calling in favors: “Basta! Lay off! Have you tried the concierge button on your Mercedes?”
Clearly, there’s a lot of whining going on. So why should anyone want to read it? Perhaps for the same reason we love to read personal blogs, watch videos on YouTube, and steal our sisters’ journals—it’s pure, un(der)edited, spontaneous writing. It’s the utter lack of inhibition and a sense of “thou shalt not” that draws us to these previously forbidden—but now celebrated—pieces of personal artwork.
If only Paper would let its “Opinion” section shine out a little more—besides the lovely feature on French singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, there is no article longer than a page in the entire magazine. True, it is a fashion magazine and, I will give Paper credit, there is some very good photography and a great deal of short pieces on up-and-coming designers. But is it too much to ask for a little more substance?
It is unfortunate that Paper’s authors compromise themselves through their brevity; even as a complete stranger to high fashion, I found many of the brief articles (articlettes?) to be begging for length. They are dense with detail, sometimes too much so. It would bulk up the magazine, and give fashion-ignorant people like me a better view of Paper’s wonderful selection of obscure and eccentric bits of culture.
While it’s not the most fleshed-out magazine, Paper certainly has the potential to be one. Its short takes on designers Sophia Kokosalaki and Isabel Toledo are well-researched, and again, focus on their oft-underappreciated genius. The “Beautiful People” issue left me with a good first impression; let’s hope that this doesn’t fade with time.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.