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The history of The Face

Words by Rob Conlon

“Nick is I would say the most important British magazine publishing figure of the late-20th century without a doubt.”

Writer Paul Gorman is talking in between sips of his pint in a bar in the Lace Market area of Nottingham’s city centre. The Nick he is referring to is Nick Logan, the editor of the NME during its 1970’s peak, the brains behind the launch of Smash Hits, and the pioneer of the youth culture zeitgeist The Face, which is the subject of Gorman’s upcoming book.

As a commentator on pop culture, Gorman is fascinated by visual identity. His previous work includes the biography of graphic designer Barney Bubbles, a book titled The Look: Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion, and a map, Punk London: In The City 1975-78, which documents the scene’s integral locations.

An avid collector of magazines since his youth, one title stands out among the rest to Gorman. Launched in 1980 by Logan, who used his savings of £3,500 to print 75,000 copies of the first issue, The Face was the first of its kind in Britain to chronicle not only the music of youth culture, but everything from fashion, film, drugs and clubbing.



Despite the fact the publication went on to inspire a host of imitators, there remains curiously little written about The Face’s impact.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book is that it seems to have no presence in the digital age,” Gorman says. “And so these other, much noisier magazines such as i-D and Dazed actually launched in The Face’s wake and, while they are much more present and at the forefront, this is the magazine that started it all.

“It was kind of Soho-centric and about these very cool people in the 80s, and then in the 90s, in the words of the great editor of the magazine, Sheryl Garratt, it was about ‘the revenge of the suburbs’. It was about inclusivity, not exclusivity.

“It was about graphic design during the 80s, mainly via the towering graphic designer Neville Brody, and then it was about photography in the 90s.”

When talking about The Face it’s impossible not to first mention its appearance, which in particular helped establish itself as so revolutionary. After working on a black and white newspaper at the NME, Logan was insistent on printing on the best quality, glossy paper, with full colour photography. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” he remarked in an interview with Test Pressing in 2012.



Thanks to Brody’s innovative work with typography and design, The Face spawned many an iconic front cover. But while it was the look and feel of the magazine which created the first impression on readers, the writing was equally significant.

“There’s this cover story called Hard Times from 1982,” Gorman says. “This is after the first wave of New Romantics and things were getting tougher. This was the third year of Thatcher’s regime. The Falklands had happened and things started to get very tough for people.

“(Writer) Robert Elms was talking to Nick about it and saying how there’s this really hard look that’s come in. Hard drugs were around; a lot of heroin came in, a lot of bathtub speed, and a lot of hardnuts around. And he wrote a story around that which is, ‘you gotta wake up, this is coming and we’re actually in the middle of something which is really fucking terrible’.

“Move nine years forward and Sheryl Garratt wrote a couple of pieces about the revenge of the suburbs. It was about how culture, post-acid house, was going out to the regions.

“It was about inclusivity. It wasn’t about being behind the red velvet rope. It was about being in a field with a bunch of people you didn’t know. It wasn’t about being all sneery. It was about a big sweaty hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“This was a snapshot of the culture, the change, and everything we kind of understood was going on. So the writing was as important, but I think because it looked so damn good it was an easy target for those who wanted to sneer.”

Garratt herself had travelled to Chicago while working as a freelancer to write one of the first features on what would become acid house.

“People stumble out of the main room dripping with sweat to drink the water provided in a tea urn, the only liquid available in the venue. Open the door and it’s like stepping into a furnace: 5am on a Thursday morning, and the place is still full of bodies jacking up and down, hands in the air, and all at a pace that makes the pogo seem like a slow waltz.” - Garratt writing in The Face, September 1986.


Three years earlier and Kevin Sampson had been documenting the burgeoning casual culture starting to emerge on the terraces of football stadiums.

“I maintain there are few finer moments in life than when you step into an alien city en masse, all dressed up ruthless, and watch those people stare.” - Sampson writing in The Face, July 1983.



Such was Logan and his team’s ability to keep their finger on the pulse and often be ahead of the curve, The Face has since become regarded as the internet before the internet existed.

But the impact of the internet has led to a homogenisation of culture in recent years. Young people no longer define themselves as one distinct thing or another: we no longer like just one type of music, watch just one genre of film, or dress in a self-imposed uniform.

Gorman describes his own sartorial style as “library mod”, but is more than happy to see the end of cultural tribalism.

“There was this hierarchy of coolness,” he says. “In Britain, particularly in England, there’s always a class system so it’s always hierarchical. I mean out of all of those clashes came a lot of good stuff, but I think we’ve moved on from that.

“I think popular culture is elsewhere now. It’s outside of fashion and music. It’s in protest and I think it’s in niche activities which kick against the pricks of consumer culture, which is very difficult to do these days, isn’t it?”

Rather fittingly, Gorman is in Nottingham to give a public talk at Raw Print, a monthly event in which founders and publishers of independent magazines speak about their experiences within the industry and their approach to creativity.

Highlighting Mushpit and The Gentlewoman as two of his favourite contemporary publications, he remains excited and enthused by magazines. Either consciously or not, both are part of a direct lineage from The Face, and its influence has only helped cement its status.

“I think The Face has it’s place in the great pantheon of great British publishing projects. In its field of youth culture and lifestyle it beats all covers, but it goes up against The Sunday Times Magazine of the early 60s, and it goes up against Rolling Stone of the 70s. It’s an era-defining publication.”

In April it was announced that plans are afoot to relaunch the era-defining publication. The title has been bought by dance magazine Mixmag and the suggestion is that The Face will be initially revived as a digital brand.

According to The Guardian, there is a possibility that a print iteration will return in the future, a notion which excites Gorman much more than a solely digital platform.


(Photo by Ivan Jones)

“Rather than digitally, I would do it as a niche physical magazine,” he says. “The independent publishing scene is exploding, akin to the vinyl revival and the interest in materiality and the hand-rendered.

“But it would very much depend on the quality of design, text and images and also whether the indie mag phenomenon turns out to be a flash in the pan. If there was one magazine which could rely on goodwill it would be The Face.”