i-D magazine: Identity parade

A quarter of a century ago, a fashion magazine like no other was distributed around London from the boot of a Cadillac. It wasn't about glossy ads or posh clothes. 'i-D' was, and still is, all about attitude. Cat Callender meets its makers
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But then Jones has always had the ability to see something poetic in what others perceive to be imperfect. It's 25 years since he launched i-D in 1980. Possessed by a raw, visceral energy, the first issue consisted of 40 pages that held a mirror up to the British subculture and street style of the time. It was clamped together with three staples and cost 50p. However the launch wasn't a huge success. The newsagents complained about the staples - it seems people were piercing their fingers and dripping blood over the other magazines on the shelves. In total, 50 copies were sold.

Today i-D is an internationally renowned publication, selling 67,000 copies a month in the UK - not that Jones has ever interested himself in anything as banal as sales figures. Still, this is no mean feat given that in the current climate i-D represents something of an endangered species (its rival underground glossies - Sleazenation, Blitz, The Face - have all been forced to fold). Hardly surprising when you consider that in the years since i-D started, fashion has gone mainstream and the underground is now something the High Street aspires to. There's no doubt that in order to survive, Jones has had to court the big brands. But while i-D now documents high fashion too, it's still laced with the same rebellious spirit as was present in its early issues.

"i-D was essentially an exercise in social documentation, a catalogue of photographs of real people wearing real clothes," explains Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine and former editor of i-D (and no relation). "Above all else, i-D has always been about people." The antithesis of the haughty, out-of-step publications of the time, i-D represented instead an all-embracing invitation to its readers to come as you are. And in so doing so, it democratised fashion.

"The idea was to break down the pigeon-holing of identity and fashion; to go beyond the façade of fashion so you could play it as a game. So you could have more fun with the codes of fashion," explains Terry Jones, who introduced the "straight up" - shots of people photographed on the street, in clubs, in bars. Part pin-up, part mug shot, the straight up was inspired by the work of Irving Penn and f August Sander and was used to record the burgeoning street-style scene. "It was the idea that anybody could be a model, it was just having the confidence of your own style."

Until then, fashion photography had illustrated narratives and themes so removed from the experience of actually wearing clothes as to be alienating. "What i-D was saying is: you are valid how you are," says Nick Knight, one of the industry's leading photographers and a longtime i-D collaborator. "You don't have to wear this watch or that item of clothing to be valid." Thanks to this empowering message, the magazine coined a new currency that revolved around creativity and self-expression - not money - making these the ultimate fashion status symbols. It's part of the reason why Terry Jones, to this day, refuses to print prices alongside the garments shown in his magazine.

Although for the first few years, each issue involved a three-month gestation period, Jones was adamant that the magazine would still act as a sign of the times. The only way to do this was to harness an air of immediacy. "It was just a 'fuck it, let's get it out there', raw, innocent form of communication that was not at all precious," says Knight. The magazine's house style evolved into a chaotic mix of wonky type-writer text, photo-collage, stencilling, scrawls, ticker-tape headlines, wild graphics and pictorial fashion vox pops. It's what Jones termed "instant design" or "controlled chaos". "I wanted to get back the physical side of design where it was made with a sense of urgency and the idea that it was made just before you picked it up and read it," he explains. "Conceptually I wanted it to reflect that moment in time. And by using hand skills, we could do that."

This lo-fi methodology was born out of necessity as much as ideology. While i-D now has a full-time staff and offices in Shoreditch, east London, back then a procession of moonlighters would put the magazine together in Jones's West Hampstead home and take turns distributing the magazine out of the back of a Cadillac or van. "It was shambolic when it first started," says Knight, who recalls that anything left lying around the house for long enough - passports, taxi receipts, holiday snaps - would end up in the magazine. "I remember once they reproduced my placement Xeroxes rather than my actual prints."

Still, such production values never affected i-D's role as an image-maker, with cover portraits that propelled some of the biggest stars of the period: Sade, Madonna, Grace Jones - all of whom winked for i-D, just like the masthead. In the same way that the magazine identified the talent of the future, it also acted as a launch pad for many of the big-name photographers working today - Wolfgang Tillmans, Mario Testino, Terry Richardson and Craig McDean to name but a few.

"What I'm amazed at is the stuff that no f one was interested in in 1980. Street fashion is what everyone's interested now," says a bemused Terry Jones. Indeed not only do entire Japanese magazines now dedicate themselves to "street trends" but the verité "As Seen" pages in Vogue prove that Jones may have left 27 years ago, but his influence has more than returned.

"i-D has also clearly influenced a whole wave of photography," says Knight. "It really set the tone for the neo-realist, grunge photography that followed and allowed David Sims, Corinne Day and Juergen Teller to do what they do." The magazine's situationist-style art direction has had more than its fair share of imitators over the years. "We used to stick white pieces of paper on to the photos for the captions," recalls Robin Derrick, who started out at i-D and is now Vogue's creative director. "Sometimes the captions wouldn't fit, and they'd overrun. I remember once seeing a Levi's ad. They'd copied that design mistake and purposely designed their captions to run over. I thought we'd just done the captions wonky but Terry probably knew all along what he was doing."

Jones turned 60 this year (he's a granddaddy too), but he hasn't lost his guerrilla touch, according to Knight. "He still has a sense of anarchy. The times I've heard stories from the art department - 'We had it all looking right and then Terry came along and knocked it all down and we've got to start over again ...'" It seems the same renegade spirit that drove Jones to spice up an oven shoot (when he was working for Good Housekeeping way back when) by placing a live chicken on a hotplate, lies behind his recent decision to split all the eight-page fashion stories for the September 2005 issue and run them instead as single portrait shots. All Jones will say on the subject is: "My principle is that ideas are our currency. Ideas, if they are fresh, aren't fully understood."

With 300 issues under his belt, Jones is anything but jaded. Dressed in his low-key uniform of jeans, Converse trainers and workwear jacket (now bought in Antwerp, not Denny's in Soho), I put it to him that he's the epitome of cool. "I don't really understand the principle of cool. Cool is probably the reverse of what I do," he says. "What I've always tried to do is produce something that has an energy, that has a life of its own. Whereas if you make something cool it has a dead quality." Which just wouldn't be i-D, would it now?

i-Dentity - An Exhibition Celebrating 25 Years of 'i-D' Magazine is at the Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1, 020-7407 8664, until 3 December. At 6.30pm on Tuesday, Terry Jones will be giving at talk there, admission £12 (£9 concessions). Take this magazine along and get in for £7 (£5 concessions)