Jefferson Hack, the magazine editor that no one ever turned down

The founder of ‘Dazed’ is said to be the coolest man in England. He has made a living for 30 years by writing about alternative culture

Portrait of Jefferson Hack.
Portrait of Jefferson Hack.

Dazed & Confused began as a passing amusement of two young students from the London College of Communication. Rankin Waddell invited then-19-year-old Jefferson Hack to contribute photos to the university magazine. They met in the cafeteria, talked for hours about their vision of music, art and fashion, and decided to create a fanzine in which to express their concerns. It was 1991. “This is not a magazine,” stated the publication’s first cover. “This is not a conspiracy to force opinion into the subconscious of stylish young people. This is urban ideas for creative people. People who want to read something else.”

Hack’s persuasive power did the rest. The publication went on to feature a series of iconic moments: A young Björk shot by Nick Knight in 1995. Alexander McQueen interviewed by David Bowie, who began the exchange asking, “are you gay and do you take drugs?” A blank cover to comment on the tyranny of celebrity. Another by Damien Hirst against the ravages of globalization. Kate Moss’s second cover after her legendary photoshoot for The Face. (Hack met her during the interview, and they ended up having a daughter, Lila Grace).

No one ever has refused the editors’ requests for them to appear in Dazed. In 1993 the pair moved to a dilapidated office in Soho and threw parties to raise money for the quarterly magazine. Brands wanted to invest in the coolest periodical of the moment. Thirty-one years later, Dazed is part of Dazed Media, the publisher, now housed in a three-story building next to Somerset House, of which Hack is CEO. The company also publishes AnOther magazine and AnOther Man, and owns the video platform Nowness, co-created with the luxury giant LVMH and bought by Hack in 2017. If this publishing visionary is obsessed with anything, it is independence: “My role has really been in maintaining the conditions of independence and creating the right atmosphere to allow that energy for young talent to really thrive,” he says via Zoom from his home in east London. Despite running famous publications around the world, he continues to feature up-and-coming photographers, stylists and designers alongside more well-known ones. That independence has just earned him the British Fashion Council’s Special Recognition Award for Cultural Curation. He will receive the award during the annual gala at the Royal Albert Hall on December 5. “Dazed has always been more than a magazine or more than media. It’s a platform where young talent has come to make their dreams. It’s a kind of dream factory,” he says.

Q. You have been a privileged witness to the brutal change in fashion in this century with the emergence of social networks. For you, a faithful believer in print, it must have been complicated.

A. It’s the yin and yang. The positive is that I really feel that the technological revolution that we’ve lived through in the last 30 years has allowed a much more democratic and inclusive audience to participate in fashion. Technology, but not necessarily the social platforms, really allows people to become better informed about culture. The negative is that the algorithms of the social channels are so rigged and so flawed that they don’t really support creativity. They give the illusion of empowerment.

Q. And what is happening today? In 1990s London, it was easier to discover subcultures and authentic cultural expressions, but where do you find authenticity today?

A. On the street. It’s always on the street. We’ve been running this New Agenda at Dazed, which we called the National Geographic of Youth Culture. We are telling our journalists and our editors and fashion team to go to cities and places that they’ve never been before to find talent.

Q. Is the real thing outside of Europe?

A. Yes. We recently shot an amazing story in Senegal with this photographer, Malik Bowden, who went to Senegal and street-cast people. It’s all about this bootleg culture. It’s a whole culture of people making fashion from all kinds of materials that they source locally, and they kind of make their own version of couture. It’s really creative, and it’s really powerful. With that also comes music and other forms of creative expression like dance. We did a shoot for the cover of Dazed with this photographer called Tenzing from Nepal who is five years old. It is one of our favorite stories.

Q. The world is getting more and more complicated. We live in a world dominated by brands.

A. That’s why I really feel privileged to be at the helm of this organization. What we do stands out even more because there’s less and less cultural resistance to these very powerful forces that are controlling the narrative. We have a responsibility to our readers to do that. But most mass media and most organizations don’t strive to do that. They get caught in this speed of this hyper-acceleration, and they can’t get their head out of their navel.

Q. Do you see a future for magazines like yours?

A. You have to keep people dreaming. I remember as a young boy being, you know, having my mind completely brought alive by National Geographic magazines. The imagery and the storytelling was like a dream for me, as well as the pages of Interview magazine, when Ingrid Sischy was doing it. We’re not a newspaper. We are about rich, immersive storytelling. Fashion is cultural expression that’s about creating a dream, like bootleg fashion in Senegal made by kids on the street. That is their dream. The magazine has to reflect this moment in time, but the ones that will genuinely survive are the ones that really serve their audience. Print is still about total immersion. Nothing’s changed. Like Diana Vreeland [the legendary mid-century editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue] used to say, “The eye has to travel.”

Q. And what creatives excite you now?

A. There was the most recent YSL show in the desert. There are powerful, symbolic and totemic concepts that make you dream of the future, or of a better present. In the UK there’s some really amazing young talent coming through that I would like to spotlight, like Chet Lo, very strong designers like Martin Rose and Grace Bonner, who are a bit more established.

Q. Most of the latter are very political. Has that look finally returned to fashion? Why?

A. British fashion always has a political aspect to it. Youth culture and style is very linked to references which go right back to the old kings and queens. Right. Our colleges really train designers around narrative storytelling and force them to have deep references and have a political and social context for why they’re doing what they’re doing. That kind of education really comes through.

Q. If you and Rankin were students in 2022, would you have launched a print magazine as well, or would you have other plans?

A. It’s so interesting because we made exhibitions, we made underground parties, we hosted club nights, we made a TV series, we made a magazine, we made websites, we made documentaries. If we started over today, I’d probably want to just do that all over again.

Q. So do you think fashion is still a real cultural driver?

A. Absolutely. Society really feels it needs to label everything in order to understand it, and that is something that we have to constantly fight against. Real artists work without labels. We called the magazine Dazed because we don’t want to be labeled. I’m confused and it’s fine. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing what I want to do.

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