We’ve been noticing more and more articles about magazines filling up the pages of some of our favourite titles, and we were particularly excited to see that the brand new issue of Riposte includes a feature on the great, iconoclastic women’s magazine from the 60s, Nova. Riposte have let us share an extract of the piece on the magCulture journal as well as a few of the article’s spreads, which include a beautiful shoot by Catherine Losing and Sarah Parker featuring copies of the magazine.
Also inside the new issue: writer Sheila Heti discusses Jane Bowels, a glimpse at the UK’s National Wedding Show, interviews with make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench and artist Lakwena Maciver, and a spotlight on a woman who grew up on the Gaza Strip. It’s another issue that’s not to be missed, and I’m particularly taken by the sense of confidence and maturity that radiates from the newly deep blue cover.
For now—and until issue five’s release the first week of December (you can pre-order it on their site, and online orders come with a free print!)—here’s a peek at L. A. Ronayne’s excellent article on the unprecedented Nova.
The Nova Revolution 1965–75
Founded by Harry Fieldhouse in the mid 60s—that era of seismic social change one hears a lot about in folk music—Nova billed itself as ‘The new kind of magazine for a new kind of woman’. In marketing terms she was The AA Woman (above average income and intelligence), a dangerous new demographic for Mirror Group’s magazines division. But to Fieldhouse and team she was a stifled intellect who deserved to be treated like an adult, not some sort of frivolous human bunting.
Nova pulled no punches; it came brawling off the press with opinions about sex, abortion, race, religion and politics. [Bare in mind this was a time when Nova’s direct competitors such as Good Housekeeping thought ‘provocative’ meant serving spaghetti bolognese to one’s unassuming houseguests.] It was the anarchist in the newsstands and I am about to launch into full-on ululation about what made it so brilliant.
Nova was a shot in the publishing industry’s arm. Not only did the editors operate startlingly ahead of the curve, they also had impeccable taste. Over ten revolutionary years, they commissioned articles from the likes of Germaine Greer, Graham Greene, Susan Sontag, Roald Dahl and Katherine Anne Porter, as well as contributing their own strident works. One such visionary was Baroness Alma Birk, who served as associate editor from 1965 to 1969 and went onto be a Labour Party Life peer.
With front-page fodder such as “Adultery, Rape, Eroticism, Extortion—Another Jolly Christmas Issue!” (December, 1971) and “The Gospel According to a Homosexual Priest” (March, 1971) their content never shied away from heavy-hitting issues. In fact, it was often more akin to the stuff of student protest pamphlets. Each issue featured articles and essays on topics that wouldn’t seem out of place in The Economist or New Scientist today. There were in-depth investigations into cryogenics, the female orgasm, polygamy, equal pay and property developers. One piece looked at the racial tensions surrounding immigration that is as pertinent today as it was then.
Jeremy Leslie of magCulture summed it up like so: “The best magazines reflect and lead their time, and Nova did exactly that. It perfectly expressed that point in the late Sixties when consumerism and social liberation met each other. The magazine remains a touchstone for other publishers, but an attempted relaunch proved that however well thought of a project might be in the industry, a name means nothing unless the magazine delivers.”
Street style’s influence on the multi-billion dollar fashion industry is now so strong that the UN has had to lock forecasters into bunkers to figure out “what’s next” before another such cultural shift occurs. Well, the entire Topshopper Walking Dead Blogger epidemic can be firmly traced back to Nova, specifically to fashion editors Molly Parkin and Caroline Baker.
Parkin came from an art background and went on to be fashion editor at The Sunday Times. She also wrote a slew of erotic fiction and was banned from the BBC for swearing on air. Her flamboyant take on style was the foundation of Nova’s experimental fashion offering.
Baker then took the reigns in 1967. Described by fashion illustrator Richard Gray as, “the first of a new breed of culturally aware aesthetes we now call stylists”, she has brought a unique charm to fashion pages ever since (including Vogue, i-D and The Sunday Times Magazine). Mid-packing for a trip to Greece, she took time to talk to me about her Nova beginnings.
You can read the complete version of this piece in the fifth issue of Riposte, out next week. All images by Catherine Losing and Sarah Park for Riposte.