Sisters who are aiming to blag their way to the top

What was the future for style mags after the demise of 'The Face'? Sally and Sarah Edwards, 31-year-old twins, may have found the answer with the highly-rated 'Blag'
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The Independent Online

At their central London base, stacked with 12-inch records and signed artwork, the sisters co-own, produce and edit Blag, a quarterly whose latest issue features exclusive interviews with the Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody and the multi-platinum rapper The Game as front-and-back cover stars. Inside, contributors include the Beastie Boys' Mike D. The magazine retails for a fairly hefty £4.95 and its opening pages declare: "If you want something done, DO IT YOURSELF." The style magazine format has faltered but Blag could help it to get its groove back.

"When The Face folded and then Sleaze magazine in 2004, Blag was looked at as a 'start-up' magazine, probably because so many media people were moving around," recalls Sarah, lounging in the twins' front room. "What happened was horrible, but maybe it flushed out a lack of inspiration - and gave readers a new attitude too."

Blag has generated some high-profile plaudits, from Freud Communications to Condé Nast's MD, Nicholas Coleridge. ("It manages to be highbrow, lowbrow, edgy and cultured all at the same time," says Coleridge.) With circulation cited as 31,500 (it isn't yet ABC-audited), it has proved a slow burn, rather than an overnight sensation. The Brody cover was two years in the making, clinched via text messages from a mutual friend.

In the beginning, Blag was the Edwards sisters' "old-school" fanzine, which they put together while studying at Lincolnshire College of Art in the early 1990s. "It started as an escape from coursework," says Sally. "But it was also to gear us up for coming to London, which seemed like this brilliant, scary challenge."

They moved to the capital in 1994, by which time the fledgling Blag had won a following at hip boutiques such as Sign of the Times. "I'd interview designers for my coursework, and then get them to carry the fanzine in their stores," says Sarah.

And the name stuck, too. "Blag is like a cross between having naivety and balls," Sally laughs. "We've seen different sides of the music and film industry, so that's what we cover."

Both sisters cut their teeth in music PR - Sarah initially for RCA, then at independent companies Press Counsel and Bad Moon; she still represents the hip-hop stalwarts Public Enemy. Both also had grown up on magazine subscriptions. "I loved the cheeky edge and artistry of American magazines like Details and Raygun. I couldn't get NME at all - how ironic is that?" says Sarah, referring to the fact that in 2000 she became hip-hop editor of NME.com, until the publication closed its specialist sites.

Sally worked in the radio/TV division of Alan James PR, and also as a PA to the American film producer Cary Woods and director Harmony Korine. "They really encouraged us to do our own publishing," she says. "But a big turning point for me was earlier, doing design work experience at i-D magazine, when Scott King was the art director. To have a visionary like that giving you their time was really inspiring. So I saved up enough money to put towards our first issue proper - a print run of 1,000 copies. We did one issue a year for the next three years."

Blag's glossy transition was designed with Yacht Associates; its 1995 debut, featuring the Wu-Tang Clan artist GZA, bemused advertisers ("People weren't used to seeing an 'urban' act and no writing or barcode on the cover"), but cemented its cult appeal and contacts, aided by cheeky endorsements. "We'd made up loads of T-shirts that just said 'BLAG' and gave them to bands," Sarah explains. "Suddenly they were being worn on Top of the Pops, on stage at Reading..."

In 1999, a coffee-table compendium brought Blag's combination of international interviews and sparky graphics to a broader audience. But it wasn't until early 2004 that Blag volume two became a sleek-looking quarterly, in a British Council-funded issue featuring Outkast's Andre 3000 and 50 Cent as dual cover stars. Sarah admits: "It has been sporadic. But we always did other things under the Blag name, whether it was DJ-ing or writing elsewhere. We're constantly getting emails from as far as LA, Buenos Aires and Tokyo; they love the fact that Blag looks so 'European', and everyone here thinks it looks American!"

Having appointed Christopher Lockwood (Wallpaper*, Dazed and Confused) as Blag's executive publisher, the women hold a maverick stance when it comes to distribution (including Borders, art shops, boutiques, music chains and online at www.blagmagazine.com, but rather pointedly sidestepping WH Smith) and advertising - or lack of. The magazine favours "sponsored integrated editorial", likened to film product placement; brands such as PlayStation, Olympus and Vaja have been stylishly incorporated into its layout. This blurs the line between editorial and ads, but Sally denies it's restrictive. "We haven't got a problem with conventional advertising, but this gives us more creative control, and looks cooler than some corporate pack shot."

Sarah and Sally still write, shoot and design the majority of Blag's content, tuned into emerging trends and seasoned advice. "The best lesson was being kicked up the arse by George Pitts, director of photography at Life magazine," says Sarah. "He asked me if our cover (a portrait of the rapper Redman gurning) was a fluke - that was the last thing I wanted people to think!

"We cover talents we admire, not just because they're successful. With The Game, I didn't want him to bang on about being a 'gangsta', and I got much more enjoyable insight - about his becoming a father, and finally having money. Or Adrien Brody talking about writing music. That sense of personality, it's the only thing that doesn't get dated."

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