At Work With: Lula and Thorbjorn, Herself
We start the week in the company of Lula and Thorbjørn Ankerstjerne, co-founders of Herself magazine. One of the most curious titles to cross the magCulture desk for some time, Herself is an illustrated feast of fashion that is the very definition of how a magazine can create its own, unique view of the world. They launched the magazine in 2011, and we join them as they start work on their seventh issue.
Where are you today?
Physically, at our desks. They face each other. But we can't see each other because of our big Mac screens. Psychologically... we are also at our desks. Ready to dive in the content that will make the pages of our next issue.
What can you see from the window?
Roofs and trees of East London. From his position Thorbjørn gets to see the sunset. I don’t but from mine I can look through three windows and a deeper horizon. I also see part of one of our libraries. At the top of it there is a fruit cardboard box that I got from a food market: I begged the fruit vendor for the whole stock but I could only get one. Apparently a Spanish apple brand shares my name.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Mornings are great!
Mornings are happening!
Mornings are promising!
Mornings have a whole day ahead of them.
Though, we worship the quietness of the evenings. Evenings are sort of sacred. We get so much done during the day that we try to leave evenings completely empty and filling them with recreation, relaxing, reconnection. Nearer to deadlines we tend to work evenings too and it feels very claustrophobic. We don’t work like troubled artists who talk to the night's owls and spirits and then meet the sun at dawn. We don't find inspiration in the dark. We wake up, meditate, work out, drink green juice, and write lists.
What’s your favourite illustrated magazine this morning – other than yours?
Well, there is really no other illustrated magazine out there! There are magazines with fantastic illustrations, but no other entirely illustrated, back to back, 224 pages, six issues. Right? Plus: a little confession, we don’t look as much at illustrations as you’d think. We love animation, or illustrators that create characters. The Disney or Pixar girls are phenomenal, Manga are enchanting. We like Darcel, The Unknown Hipster, or Penelope Joliquer.
You see, very different styles, but it is the narrative that gets our attention. When looking at magazines (as in...well, a magazine...with pictures!), and we look at quite a few, what gets us is the narrative. There are very few publications with strong sense of perspective, with a rhythm, a plot, and those who have it are such a joy to discover, read, collect, wait up for.
Herself has a unique, almost disturbing aesthetic. Tell us about that aesthetic and the distinct world you've created for the magazine.
First of all there is no abstraction. Never. It’s all drawn by one hand, as if the hand was a camera. It’s not meant to be looked at as done by an “illustrator”, it’s a fashion publication that happens to be illustrated. This incredible format allows us to transcend limits of time and space: we feature icons from the past along contemporary taste makers and opinion leaders. We meet Frida Kahlo and Cate Blanchett with equal enthusiasm, with equal access, and in our world, they have equal relevance.
This is how we have conquered (the heart of) the industry, brands and readers: we celebrate the current fashion without distorting the products, just the world surrounding them. There are always fantasy element and reality elements.
Did we really style monkeys in Jaipur with Cartier's brooches and mini taffeta turbans? Did we really meet Sailor Moon in Tokyo? Yes. Is it the real Cate Blanchett on the cover? Is it a real interview with her? Do we really go to fashion shows? Is it a real Dolce & Gabbana coat? Yes!
Again, we care about a narrative; about the questions breaking or making it, and the answer... is always yes.
You don’t use photography in Herself. Do you think the domination of photography in contemporary magazines is a misdirection?
We don't use photography but the clothes and accessories are extremely digital: textures and sparkles are respected so each piece is totally recognisable. There is no doubt for a second that that Prada bag is that Prada bag, not an interpretation of it. The settings, context, text... all the rest is an interpretation!
Magazines started off as being illustrated, then photography came along and the most magnificent imagery has been created through decades. It's just hard to compete with the history of fashion photography and create something totally new. I know it's rather cliché to say but our eyes are so saturated with images, they are not craving anymore. That's how Herself started, a craving for something, good or bad, just not immediately available. We always say we didn’t go back to illustration, but that we went forward to it. Photography will never be a misdirection, but photographers just need to work very hard to keep oriented.
The magazine is one of the most 100% woman-only mags out there – I didn’t see a single man in the latest issue. Is there space for a male equivalent?
We feature women of great strength, a trait typically associated with men. Under a girly, womanly look, we are hunting for excitement and relevance: again, hunting is a typically masculine denomination. We don't gossip, lurk, spy, compete, or compare: vices commonly related to a female scenario. The magazine is 100% women with 200% empowerment of their self, which I find a very modern concept of femininity, beauty and charm. Fragility is only in soft fabrics of the dresses, thin heels, precious jewellery, long hair, long eyelashes, at the core... our women are rocks.
There has been a guy appear, in issue two and it's Prince Charming, Cinderella's husband. Cinderella is one of the most ancient, important icons out there. If a few decades ago she might have looked like a woman passively waiting, the way I see her today it's simply a woman with integrity, faith, patience and true believe in the forces of the universe, which I find very motivational. He appears as her handsome date, they are very equal in their relationship. In issue two also Prince Philip appears, a little cameo, next to Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Just because he is so handsome.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
To draw a line on each point of our to-do list by Friday. We are not victims of our lists, it excites us very much to conquer them, point by point. Things on the list become a map, traced by a path that eventually becomes our work.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
We least look forward to Thursday. We'll wake up and say...is it May...already? How can it already be May?!
What will you be doing after this chat?
We have started issue seven and are discussing its themes, logistics, meanings, contributors, icons. It is still "early days", or, wait, no, not really. But today, we have to put it on hold because we are preparing an all illustrated catalogue of AmfAR’s annual Fashion Show. It is curated by Carine Roitfeld for the Cannes Film Festival and has to go to print this Friday.
So, after this chat, we simply... get to work.