We start the working week off with Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, editor-in-chief and publisher of critical fashion journal Vestoj. A favourite of ours for its smart essays, iconoclastic approach and clever editorial layout (it’s no easy task making a text-heavy journal stand out, yet this Paris-based title makes it look like a breeze). We catch up with Anja after the release of the ‘Masculinities’ themed issue seven.
Tell us about your journey to work.
My journey to work involved moving from my bed to my desk which is a 30 cm journey. I mostly work in pajamas but do shower and change into more respectable soft clothes if someone is coming over. What I listen to obviously depends on my mood.
Lately I am attempting to develop a more rigorous political conscience so today I’m listening to Adam Curtis, trying to memorise his opinions so I can pass them off as my own at some dinner party full of people just like myself. How to step out of that self-reinforced feedback loop is something I’m thinking about a lot at the moment. While listening/thinking I’m making breakfast which involves coffee and a sort of porridge consisting of Weetabix and various fruits, nuts and berries which I invented myself and which has become the height of my culinary expertise.
Describe the state of your desk.
My desk is very tidy. My computer faces my husband’s computer on a desk which he made and which started its life as a dinner table but then quickly mutated into our desk.
There are a few piles of books on it, most are about oral history which is another interest of mine. There are some bills on it too, though not many, and a hamburger phone that breaks all the time and causes fights between my husband and I (he has to repair it) but which was a childhood desire that I can’t give up. I can see the Eiffel Tower from my desk, though the tower in question is red and made from plexiglass.
Which magazine do you first remember?
My first magazine was called Hästson Bästsons Special and was made by me when I was about ten years old. The name is impossible to translate, it’s a rough play of (Swedish) words that hinted at my then-love of ponies (‘häst’) and also that I had, or at least pretended to have, a high opinion of myself (‘bäst’). I was mainly trying to be tongue-in-cheek I think; the magazine was a satirical take on classroom politics, though I’m saying that in retrospect obviously.
Which magazine matters to you the most today?
Fashion magazines inspire me a lot, because they give me something to work against. Because the main role of fashion magazines – and this would include all from your most mainstream titles to the ones that call themselves ‘independent’ – is to bolster consumption in general and the fashion industry in particular, most of what we’re served is thinly disguised propaganda.
Magazines that foster close ties with large corporations learn quickly that features highlighting complexities or potentially controversial topics are published at a financial sacrifice. Very few, if any, businesses would want to sponsor content that threatens ‘the buying mood.’ I think it’s fair to say that politics and ideology have been largely replaced by ‘lifestyle’ and consumption-as-entertainment is a great way to keep us from thinking too deeply about the role each of us play in maintaining the status quo.
For me education is the best way forward, and I hope that, in some small way, Vestoj can help create more critically aware, better educated, lovers of fashion.
Which critical thinker on fashion matters to you the most today?
I have no heroes. I think it’s important to question everything and everybody, including those considered to be the canon at any given time. Only when one understands the hidden motives and connections between press and business (in fashion publishing this is typically maintained by self-censorship due to the reliance on ad revenue and other commercial work that editors and publishers-as-creative-consultants tend to engage in) can you grasp how widespread the engineering of consent really is. Reading between the lines is very important.
Your themes often resist fashion industry stereotypes – you’ve had an issue on slowness, on failure, on shame, and now on masculinity. What draws you to these topics?
I like topics that feel a bit off-kilter, topics that one wouldn’t normally associate with fashion. I stick my finger in the air to try and feel which way the wind is blowing, then chose a topic based on that.
What did you learn about notions of masculinity that you didn’t know before through putting this issue together?
I learned that, despite the fact that men disproportionately occupy positions of power in our society, notions of masculinity aren’t necessarily something that men consciously or actively shape. The role women have in sustaining what we think of as ‘masculine’ should not be underestimated for instance, but ideals of manhood also often arise from conflicts of labour, race and class. The changing fashions for men is a great way to observe this forever changing palimpsest. Plus I learned that transvestites tend to dress like their mothers (at least according to Grayson Perry).
Pick a spread from the new issue and tell us what it says about your magazine.
This is an article about the importance of choice when it comes to clothing for homeless men on the streets of Paris, written by the social anthropologist Johannes Lenhard, with images by Camilo José Vergara who trained as a sociologist before becoming a photographer. I chose it because it’s a good example of the intersection between public and academic culture that I’m after – it’s thoroughly researched but approachable in tone, and, importantly, the subject isn’t usually written about in the context of ‘fashion.’
How has the design of issue seven – the way you’ve chosen to dress it – relate to the concepts you’ve explored?
I can’t take credit for work that is really down to Vestoj’s eminent art directors, Sara and Valerio Tamagnini of Studio Blanco.
What I can say though is that we always want the design and content to be in dialogue with one another, so a lot of our work is about talking through how to interpret a topic in both words and images. We used to redesign Vestoj every issue, but now we’re trying a more consistent approach. Rather than change the format, font, logo and everything else each time, a theme now comes through mainly in the choice of image makers – little quirks like a text shaped in the form of a necktie give a wink to the topic.
What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
I don’t get frustrated much. I do what I like, as and when I like it so I have virtually nothing to complain about. All the same, a conundrum I often think about is how to affect change in a fashion industry where intellectuals or outsiders aren’t paid much heed, and where even well-meaning insiders quickly fall into traps of self-censoring to secure the continued access and status that most of us crave because it’s flattering, but that we also need to do our work.
What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
This week is an eventful one for me. Later today I’ll give a talk at the Zeit conference in Berlin, on Tuesday I’m working with the Volksbühne to prepare a Vestoj storytelling event scheduled for later this year, and the latter half of the week will be taken up by scrambling around menswear fashion week. Oh, and on Friday we’re doing a Vestoj reading at 0FR in Paris where I’ll perform a poem I’ve written by lifting the best excerpts from press releases about men’s fashion.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Googling myself. Just kidding!