Jefferson Hack’s illustrious history has put him in somewhat of a unique cultural position. Dazed and Confused – the magazine he started in 1992, aged just 19 – continues to be a fiercely independent, outsider-supporting monthly that collides with fashion, photography, arts and culture.
In the 90s The Face, I.D. and Dazed delivered your youth report from the creative streets of London. They detailed what was happening in the minds of these developing, angsty young adults who firmly believed that everything was out there for the taking and everything was absolutely possible for any and everyone to achieve. The really amazing thing about Jefferson Hack and Dazed is that they have remained relevant; the philosophy and dogma he installed is bigger than him and now Dazed is the voice.
When we meet he grins and quickly acknowledges his place in popular culture, before giving a knowing laugh about the phenomenon whereby “everyone’s a photographer these days”. The implication is that his encouragement may have given more people an opportunity, but did we advance as a result? Whatever the answer, Hack's philosophy is nonetheless an empowering one. Ultimately the cream will still rise to the top, albeit with a few flaws.
Hack carries himself in a way that’s kind of hard to define; it has a lot to do with the cocky confidence that success at a young age brings and the experience maturation has tamed. He remains on message, with the magazine celebrating its 20th anniversary later this year – and you know just from looking at him there have been some good times, but it also speaks of hard work. He has the pallor of an Englishman who has spent just as many nights out as there have been deadlines to meet.
When he walked in the door the first thing I thought was: here we go, he’s going to do this entire thing with sunglasses on! But off they came and up close Hack is perfectly lanky and perfectly charming, with perfectly cool tailoring that wraps him with an idiosyncratic upturned lapel and collar. It also helps that he has the effeminate schoolboy looks of Tim Brooke Taylor from The Goodies, with just a quiet nod to the hedonistic protest and rebellion of early 90s Britain. It’s very cool if you can get away it.
Initially he talks in what must be repeated sound bites; about him, the magazine, the future, technology, the internet, his sites, art and culture. They are all fascinating, but they’ll all be regurgitated for the following day’s Fashion Festival Business Seminar, the reason he’s in Melbourne. It’s only when he goes off topic or allows a question to slip through that the real Hack starts to take shape.
He’s a lucky, smart and capable guy, but if there’s anything that becomes evident from meeting Jefferson Hack it's that timing and place are crucial for your spot in history. When he started the magazine there was no internet and there weren’t really mobile phones – not practical ones anyway. Yet it was a time of explosive new ideas and youth culture. The English dance scene was hitting its stride and establishing itself as the new underground, and therefore the new cool; this was the bedrock for the magazine and the essence of what would follow.
Hack is keen to share his insights into the magazine’s continued success and admits his role at Dazed is more as a mentor than as a directly involved creative director. What he has these days are tastemakers and cool hunters, responsible for both print and online content. Their mission: to source and curate from the multitude of resources and sites the things that have made, are making and will make a difference to the scene and beyond.
I wonder if this is a bit shallow; very little creation, just some cool kids sweeping the net for what other cool kids are blogging about? But Hack’s confidence in this process is reassuring. With a reach of 200 carefully chosen people to contribute their results, plus a staff of 60 in his London office, what we get is a carefully honed periodical that is very aware of what is being released and published.
But don’t think that the true creatives have been left behind. Industry giants like Nick Knight (British fashion photographer and director of SHOWstudio) are regular contributors and new talent is being used and uncovered with every issue. Dazed – and Hack's second title, Another – are full of personally generated content. Hack also boasts of the custom typefaces and commissioned design that furthers the originality and independent ethos of his business.
At the moment Hack is developing outposts in nations such as India and China, where he is setting up young people to talk about their countries with positive re-enforcement. Along with Diesel he commissioned a film about a co-educational skateboarding school in Afghanistan. Titled Skateistan it demonstrates that despite terrible hardships, setbacks and teenage moustaches, creative freedom and expression can and should find a way. It’s a beautifully shot film that shows how empowering people is a lot more effective than forcing change upon the helpless.
Hack ultimately proves his point, with casual aplomb, that technology is useless if it’s not doing something to help. By setting up these outposts he gets the latest news from developing countries about their culture and art – responses from the future, if you will. London is still very much the home but Hack is acutely aware that drawing from these outposts will become increasingly important. It’s a two-way street, but if he can encourage and empower the youth to do as he did, despite their seemingly impossible hardships to surmount, then he is doing his job.
He is very much at the top of his game but this time it’s all about using his influence for good, without going all Bono on us. The message is: someone still has to report on the cool and make sure the next generations are going to be able to do it too.