How we made the Face

‘We weren’t part of the fashion world. An intern turned up in a purple velvet Jean Paul Gaultier suit and was so disappointed he left after a week’

Nick Logan, founder and editor

I’d been editor of the NME for five years, but I was scarred by the experience of being the fulcrum between a maverick staff and a corporate structure. I began to think about a new idea – rock and pop music, with an underlying fashion element. Something that could sit in WH Smith as well as the ICA bookshop. Publisher Emap said to come back in six months, because they were launching a football weekly instead. I was peeved that the money they were making from one of my other ideas – Smash Hits – wasn’t being used for this. So I thought: could I possibly publish it myself? I had £3,500 of savings, and bought the paper: seven and a half tons of it from Finland. I remember thinking: will they just dump it at Harwich docks and I’ve got to get a van to go collect it? What have I done?

Nick Logan.
Nick Logan. Photograph: Kerstin Rodgers/The Observer

Colour photography was very poorly used in the weeklies. That’s why I made the magazine as large as I could, to give as much emphasis as possible to those images. I remember being shocked at 3am at the printers in Caerphilly when I got the first section in my hands. I thought: this is just so flimsy. Am I really asking people to pay 60p for this? I thought I really had blown it. But I printed 75,000 copies and sold 57,000 – it was helped by a printers’ strike keeping Melody Maker and the NME off the newsstands.

After that there was a slump, to a dangerously low level, and it was touch and go whether I could continue. Then the new romantics came along. It was what I had been looking for: kids going out, dressing up, enjoying themselves. And NME and Melody Maker were too sniffy to cover it.

I moved the office into a basement in Soho and would pick up ideas just looking around on the drive into work. My son was walking around in sportswear at the time – was that something just in my neighbourhood, or a story? Our writer Kevin Sampson confirmed that it was happening in Liverpool, too, so we went with it. That was the first piece on the casuals.

Writers loved the way the material was reproduced; photographers fell over themselves to come and work for us. Kate Moss did her first ever cover with us – she was the face of the Face, personifying modernity and youth. But we were less glamorous than people thought. A bunch of us went over to New York, and they were a bit shocked that I didn’t look like Boy George. I was wearing a Prince of Wales-checked Paul Smith suit, but they were expecting a load of freaks.

As a teenager I looked at pictures of the Rolling Stones and their Cuban-heeled boots and thought: where can I get them? With the Face, I tried to give that information out to someone in a remote village somewhere. Reach out and say: you’re not on your own.

Neville Brody, art director, 1981-86

I was living in a squat, in Covent Garden, in a state of fairly abject poverty. The roof had burned off in a fire, and during the winter there was three feet of snow in the toilet. There were National Front marches outside. We were under surveillance. It was a time of political upheaval, unrest and anger. But there was also so much creativity around.

Neville Brody.
Neville Brody. Photograph: Kerstin Rodgers/The Observer

My work tended to be quite experimental and extreme – I was influenced by punk, dadaism and William Burroughs. I met Nick and he said: “There’s no way I’m bringing you into Smash Hits.” He was right. After he’d started the Face, he gave me a four-page interview with Kraftwerk to work on. I came back with something constructivist-influenced, with angled type and graphics, not just text and headline. He said: “Yeah, come in and do that.”

The Face was a living laboratory where I could experiment and have it published. Our golden rule was to question everything. If a page element existed just as taste or style, it could be abandoned. Page numbers could be letters or shapes increasing in size. We could start the headline on the page before.

The office was in this cavernous basement with Nick’s desk in the corner. Half the carpet was wet from flooding. It was far from glamorous. We had an intern turn up in a purple velvet Jean Paul Gaultier suit – he stayed less than an week because he was so disappointed. We didn’t really engage with the fashion world. But we gave people like Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill, Nick Knight, Juergen Teller and Mario Testino the space to explore and build their reputations.

We had disasters and near misses every issue. We had two weeks to art direct everything, then a week to lay it out. It was pre-computer so everything was traced by hand. As you were finishing off a layout there’d be a bike messenger waiting to grab it and take it up to the printers. It certainly wasn’t a nine-to-five job. You had to be obsessed to make it work.

In 1986, after five years of intense experimentation, I realised I’d reached the end of an era. The new had become the normal. I always thought the Face should have closed at the end of the 80s. After a while something can become a comfort without being radical. There’s talk of it being revived, but I don’t see the point. It grew to express a specific moment. Why not let something bubble up authentically now, rather than try to emulate something that has already been and gone?


Interviews by Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snoad

The GuardianTramp

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