In truth, magazines age with their readers and each new generation creates its own new media. So what makes it so tempting to revive magazines that have been discontinued? First, the original must have been significant; otherwise, there would be no reason to mourn its loss. If a magazine was significant, it was keenly attuned to the spirit of its era. Zeitgeist, however, is non-transferable; the best to which one can aspire is to somehow breathe life into and reinterpret a modern variant of a stance from a bygone age.
So what does this mean for Die Dame? Is there a renewed longing for style and elegance in the face of the proletarianisation and neglect of the public realm? Perhaps so, but what is the use of enlisting an old brand, which bears no significance for all but a few, as a means of conveying this? What made Die Dame cheeky in the 1920s was its portrayal of an entirely new image of women (not “ladies”, mind you): with bobbed hair, androgynous, smoking, and emancipated. The Philistines were up in arms. After all, it had only been a few years since women were not even allowed to vote and were barred, for example, from academies of the arts. The artists viewed women merely as models and muses. In response to this situation, some artists founded independent schools of art. Gabriele Münter and Sonia Delaunay, for example, studied art at Wassily Kandinsky’s private academy.
There had hardly ever been such a huge break between tradition and avant-garde. The new Die Dame falls far behind in this regard. The visual metaphors in the new magazine are familiar: well-tempered and harmless, they will hurt no one.
So all that remains is the name, the term “Dame” [lady] as a link to the provocative magazine, which the lady Magda Goebbels found appallingly lacking in national sentiment. So what do we associate with the word today? What comes to my mind are the old lady or “alte Dame Juve” (Juventus Turin), the chess gambit known as the “Damengambit” (in which, as per the English name, the Dame in question is actually the partner of the king and therefore a queen) and the game known in the anglophone world as checkers or draughts. We welcome guests with the empty phrase “ladies and gentlemen” and actually mean “women” and not “ladies”. When it comes to dancing, we speak exclusively of ladies. Grace Kelly was the very model of a perfect lady; perhaps her daughter Caroline also rises to this standard. What a lady always embodies is elegance and a certain detachment and coolness. These qualities have a limited repertoire of emotions.
A cat moves elegantly – a dachshund does not. So elegance is, on the one hand, an outward appearance. Ultimately, however, it is really an inner disposition and a character trait. You can’t rent elegance from a costume shop. Elegant people influence others: the people around them try to maintain decorum and discipline and they accept the elegant person’s aloofness.
The models in the new Dame have the usual facial expression for high fashion and lifestyle magazines: cold, blank, evasive, stern, aloof, sad (wait: one is laughing, she is about two thirds of the way in, on page – err, I don’t see any page numbers, more about that later), blasé, and very vulnerable. When real people do turn up (the musician Balbina), they are described as follows: “She is the most astonishing singer we possess in Germany” – possess? – “distinctively cool and simultaneously vulnerable and tender, formalistically austere and yet intensely romantic”. Distinctively cool? The models are already. Most of the women or ladies in the magazine function as clothes horses. There is also a little bare skin as well as jewellery and handbags. We are also granted a peak inside the home of a gallery owner.
The most amusing part is the credits: “Dress: Vetements / underpants: & Other Stories / earrings, piercing, ring, and necklace: personal.” This is the usual thing in fashion features. Even if the tights cannot be seen in the photo, their provenance is dutifully noted: “Tights: Wolford.” However, the credit mania continues in stories about living artists or gallery owners. Here, it is even taken up a notch by naming the shops in which the posh pieces were bought: “A work by John Baldessari hangs on the living room wall. The table was designed by Carlo Scarpa; the 1950s-era red sofa is by Taichiro Nakai, purchased at Jochum & Rogers, Berlin.”
Next to the photo depicting a dancing Christian Boros clad in a sweaty shirt with even sweatier armpits, I imagine the following credit: “Shirt: H&M, deodorant: Lagerfeld Classic.” The photo appeared in the “men” issue of the independent society magazine Dummy.
Let us return to the page numbers, which are mostly absent from the page. If there is one thing I really can’t stand, it’s designers or creative directors, who aspire to give full voice to their creativity through matters as banal as the placement of page numbers. In their self-adoration, they have failed to grasp that they would do well to provide the reader a simple means of navigating the magazine. In short, anybody who takes the liberty of doing silly things like setting page numbers in the inner margin, as in the case of Die Dame, can be categorised as a design schmuck.
What about the design in general? Well, it’s the usual ascetic, gaunt layout with listless Zwingli typography – free of refinement and differentiation – design correctness at its best.
Where do they get this love of austere typography? Is it supposed to be a belated refreshing thunderstorm, as penance for the loony typographic playfulness of the early 1990s, when anybody could experiment with fonts on a computer screen? An aftershock, as it were, of David Carson’s anarchistic layout in the magazine Ray Gun. However, just a little while before, Neville Brody had already transferred his own typographic excesses to the sober Helvetica layout of Arena. Meanwhile, hundreds of similar purges have taken place. Anyone who still thinks that this is an avant-garde attitude is falling behind the times.
The most interesting photo series is by Thomas Ruff. He combined the fronts and backs of historical casting photos; the cover photo is also taken from this series. Regrettably, it is not the most suitable shot and less than ideal as a cover, because the real task should have been to deal with the transformation, the bridging of the space between 1911 and 2017, as a central theme. The yellowed cover photo merely points to the past.
Given the magazine’s self-imposed standard, one might have expected the team to come up with at least one new journalistic or visual category. Those who search for this, however, will do so in vain. In terms of form, the magazine sticks to well-trodden paths: see Numéro, Another, Hunger, 10 and so on.
Bazon Brock grants Margit Mayer a monologue interview on the topic of the lady. The spontaneity of the black-and-white photos of the two stands in heartening contrast to the dreary surroundings. The stylisation of Theresa May as the current prototype of a lady, however, is regrettable. Will she ever be caught browsing through the new magazine?
Christian Boros, the founder of the new Dame, pre-emptively defends artist Martin Eder against the obvious suspicion of kitschiness. Personally, I think that a century ago, Egon Schiele was already producing work that was more advanced and radical than these watered-down drawings of masturbating men.
All that remains is Christian Boros’ construal and interpretation of the magazine as “super analogue”. What does he mean by that? Was the paper made by hand? Did they mix their own ink? Was the repro work for the four-color printing process done using old super analogue cameras? We will never know, since Boros won’t even respond to my question about the (artisanally cast?) fonts. Odd.
Christian Boros (ed.)
Axel Springer Mediahouse, Berlin (DE)
288 pages, € 15