The colour purple

Art meets fashion meets social analysis in a trio of must-have magazines that have got the fashion establishment on the run. Alicia Drake penetrates the Purple Institute

For two flaming stars of the Paris media world, Olivier Zahm and Elein Fleiss are remarkably understated. Their London equivalent would be talking hard-faced hype with coke-congested nasal passages. But this is Paris, so Olivier is contemplative with a mouthful of nicotine teeth, while Elein sits opposite with a blunt-cut fringe and quiet self-assurance.

In a city not known for media innovation, Zahm and Fleiss have created an inspired triumvirate of pocket-size quarterly magazines called Purple Fashion, Purple Prose and Purple Fiction. "A vision of contemporary culture, rather than traditional theory or criticism," is how Zahm describes the Purple editorial policy, which covers poetry, photography, art, architecture, fashion, social trends, film - and, from November, erotica, too.

"Basically we are interested in everything that is pertinent to artists," says Zahm. So, that might mean a feature on the bio-degradable artwork of some obscure Austrian artist or an analysis of the social and ethnic implications of the Tommy Hilfiger brand. Earnest, urban and edgy, it is the ultimate example of the French cultural approach: caffeine-induced esoteric analysis, heart-felt intellectualising with a load of labels thrown in.

In fact, Zahm and Fleiss are fast attaining guru status here. Designer store Colette and two French fashion magazines have used them as consultants and trend forecaster Li Edelkoort has invited them to contribute to her seminal magazine, View On Colour.

In short, these two are the darlings of the modern fashion establishment - but the feeling is not always mutual. Mention the subject of the imported British designers working at the French couture houses and Zahm loses all sang-froid and starts comparing Alexander McQueen to a British football hooligan. "We liked McQueen when he was in London and he had a violence and an instinct. But now he comes across here and just turns out a trash parody of Paris luxe," protests Zahm. "Rather than overturn tradition or smash the Ming vase, he's completely reinforcing the system and its conservatism. The couture ladies get off on being served by this faux punk. He has become the King's fool," he finishes with a flourish.

It's not that Zahm is against foreign designers, far from it, he thinks Paris fashion survival relies on them - and he's right. "The avant-garde in Paris has always been international and that's what makes up the permanent revolution in France." But he's looking for a challenge to what he sees as the poodle-pushing, stagnant world of haute couture teamed with a real understanding of this city. "We want to be close to reality, to people's sentiments and what touches them inside. We don't find reality depressing. In fact, we find it very beautiful." "Reality", purple style, means pictures of trashy white men peeing, adolescent shoppers at Les Halles shopping mall, a red nipple dress, body parts and butterflies.

They met in 1989 when Zahm was writing as an art critic and Fleiss was organising exhibitions and already faxing around a monthly anonymous gossip sheet to the Paris contemporary art clique. The purple reign began in 1992 with the launch of Purple Prose, a contemporary art magazine which, says Fleiss, "is intended to speak to a new generation of artists that emerged in the early Nineties. They are no longer interested in fine-art theory, but more focused on everyday life, reality, and open to other art fields such as literature, fashion or cinema which interact with their art." They added Purple Fiction in 1995, but it was the launch of Purple Fashion later the same year that gave them a high profile. It may only have a meagre print run of 4,000 (increasing to 6,000 this October), but it's got credibility. Karl Lagerfeld keeps a copy on his desk, Helmut Lang advertises in it and American fashion magazines use it to talent-spot hot new photographers.

Determined to hang onto their editorial independence, they have created the Purple Institute as a separate commercial limb for the consultancy side and as a space for exhibitions, performance art and fashion shows. The money will fund their editorial, as they do not want to get caught up in the usual magazine ad/editorial abusive relationship. "We are not ready to make those concessions," begins Fleiss, then lightens up with, "or do stories on Versace's home-wear or Calvin Klein's house."

But just then the telephone rings at the Purple Institute and it's Comme des Garcons asking Zahm if he would like to model in the forthcoming menswear show, an honour that has absolutely nothing to do with your looks and everything to do with your perceived intellectual validity. Even Zahm can't keep the grin off his face.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas