You’re definitely a champion of outsider artists and underground artists. What’s the number-one thing you look for in an emerging artist that makes you want to be their champion?
I look for excellence. I have a really high bar. I mean, I am picky. No mediocrity! I hate mediocrity of any kind. And I think originality is really important. I just don’t want to devote any ink or any page or any space to anything that’s below excellent. And I guess it’s according to me [laughs]. I’m the one that you have to impress, but I’m not an expert on everything. But our expertise at Paper is finding experts. The trick is finding great people who also have that high bar, who can weed through all the shit to find the jewels. We’re like truffle hunters. We’re sniffing around to find the best movie or the best artist. We just want to find the amazing stuff.
So, for example, what’s some great art that you’re into right now?
I love Tauba Auerbach. I think she’s the best artist in America. I was an early supporter of the Beautiful Losers school of work in L.A., like Barry McGee and Chris Johanson. I collect African photography too; I have a big art collection. I also love the work at Creative Growth, which is this amazing art program in Oakland for mentally disabled people.
That was one of my favorite Paper fashion spreads, when you had Creative Growth artists do illustrations of runway looks.
Yeah, that was a couple of years ago! That’s one of my favorite pieces too. It’s a good example of what I like to do—to integrate art and culture into fashion.
As the editor of a small independent print magazine with such a rich history, in a time when print is dying, how have you been able to reinvent the form and keep it current?
You know, I’m old in years, but I have a very young brain. Everyone who works for Paper is young. We have a lot of kids who are interested and curious—“Paper People,” we call them—and they are the next generation.
Paper has always been small, and it was always hard to sell ads. We always had the philosophy that we’d rather have a hundred somebodies than a thousand nobodies. We had to sell our ads based on why our readers are valuable people—our readers are explorers and connecters, and they like to share what they’ve found. I would always have to explain to big brands why they should advertise for us. They would say, “Why should I advertise if you have such a poor circulation?” I would say that these are the people who, if they fall in love with your brand, they’ll tell people about it.
As the media industry and the print industry changed, companies stopped wanting to take out as many ads. They wanted to start marketing in a different way. So Paper started a marketing company called ExtraExtra, and we kind of reinvented our whole company in the past five or ten years. We extended our digital arm, too, and now our company is not really a publishing company—it’s more of a PR company. I do trend reporting, which enables me to do the magazine, which is my real passion, but we only do it eight times a year. There’s not enough advertising to support [more than that]. But that allows us to do our passion. We’re independent, so we can just sort of make up the rules as we go along.
So you’re a magazine editor and you also do brand consulting, but you’re also sort of a culture curator.
I definitely feel like a curator. I love to curate! Did you come to my Super(Duper)Market?
No, unfortunately, but when I read about it I thought, She’s curating food?! She can do everything! I know you’ve curated art exhibits, but you’re really expanding the definition of what it means to be a curator, by dealing with food and other culture beyond just art.
I just love culture! I also think food is like this cultural movement. I see it in the same way I used to see hip-hop and skating. These kids are all making artisinal things, and it represents a huge shift in consumerism that’s going to hit all of America in like 10 years. This young generation are buying differently and shopping differently. They care if [a product is] ethical or not. They also care about that if they buy a car or if they buy jeans. It’s a huge cultural shift, and food represents that sort of shift. Food is the original social networking.
Your opinion is extremely refreshing, because I think sometimes there can be a sort of elitism in the magazine industry, where people will look down on a lot of social media and bloggers who find a successful voice outside of the industry itself.
I love that the internet democratized everything. I hate corporate culture, and I think that corporate culture is no longer valid in the 21st century. Big companies have to learn a new way of existing that is more nimble and honest. You can’t exist as a company that has a big giant wall around you. You have to share. Companies come to us to understand how to survive in this age. I feel like the leaner you are, the stronger the work is.
Paper is a viral magazine, I am a viral person, but when I was young it was done with fliers and magazines. Now it’s Twitter and blogs, and I love it. I think the digital age is so exciting. I love that kids are using technology in a positive way and not a negative way.
I think young people are so much more authentic than ever before. All the technology that people were afraid of, I think it’s a good thing. ♦
(Interview conducted by Hazel.)