James Brown: Shame about 'The Face': a great magazine stifled by its past

It will be sad for everyone if the original style bible gets the chop
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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago a mate emailed me from his bunker in the Pyrenees with some degree of urgency: "The Face is for sale, get some of yr rich mates/VC to give u the money and we'll turn it around ... with some smart people at the helm we could revive it no problemo ... international brand."

As I said, mad. But I was amazed by his passion for The Face. Surely, through his eyes, it would be considered a seed-bed for the purchase of irrelevant fashions and junk as predetermined by an ever-increasingly sophisticated capitalist state. No, he was a reader in the 1980s and he'd hate to see it go. The leak from Emap that The Face might be for the chop has inspired quite a response from journalists. I guess if the readers had responded likewise we wouldn't be writing and reading this now.

And therein lies the problem for The Face, which has always been a magazine loved by its industry more than by the wider public. By its very nature - a style bible - it was aimed at the early adopters, those who wanted to know what was going on at the cutting-edge.

But that stance stopped it from ever reaching a mass audience like Heat, FHM or Viz. If it had done so, its natural fall-back figure after 20 years would have been significantly higher than than the 20,000-odd it sells now. A few years ago it was announced that The Beano was to close. The media went ballistic, sales grew and the day was saved. Sadly for The Face, the outcry about the possible closure has been reserved for the media pages, not the front pages.

I have never been a big reader, and was rarely a contributor. I preferred Nick Logan's Arena. But it concerns me to see magazines of this stature in such a predicament. For those of us not obsessed with Italian style or the 1980s buffalo stance - wearing shin-pads outside your socks, a kilt, and a newspaper headline on your forehead - The Face's archetypal roll-in culture was perhaps best summed up by a letter it printed at the time it was threatened with closure during the Jason Donovan libel trial. It went something like this: "Most of what you print is a load of rubbish but I still respect your right to publish it. Here's a tenner for your fighting fund."

There are few genuine signature magazines in the UK. Tyler Brulee's Wallpaper* was one, my Loaded another, Glenda Bailey's Marie Claire a third. Logan's Face and Arena were two that influenced all those others. Because it has long since stirred the passions of a small army of style obsessives, and the many wannabe writers that graduated from its audience, it has for ever been saddled with - perhaps cursed by - a holier-than-though attitude.

The Face is best on good music. In the early 1990s it put Sinead O'Connor and The Stone Roses on the cover. It was six months later than the weekly rock press, but it looked 100 times better. Until recently, The Face looked immaculate. It also rocked when it made fun of itself. It reported on teenage girls in Liverpool wearing winceyette pyjamas out in the street - a classic bit of mad reporting about a genuine and weird trend.

Founder Logan feels sad about the situation. "It's had its tough times. The first 18 months were torture," he says from his Portugal hideaway. "When I had cancer and came back from that, the sales weren't great. Then we had the Jason Donovan lawsuit.

"You know it's a great brand name. I hope there's a way they can sort it out. One of things levelled at it is that magazines such as Dazed and Confused have nibbled away at it. But have they really? The luxury those magazines have is they never publish an ABC figure. I didn't want it to be a parish magazine or a vanity project. I wanted it to fight its corner and have an edge on the shelves at WH Smith's.

"I don't think the problems have been created by the current team. There were things during my time that weren't ideal. Whenever I've looked at it recently, the editor seems to be doing a pretty good job."

James Brown is the founder of 'Loaded' magazine