Review: Russh (July/August 2008)

Ugly post below. Pretty post here. Please show Erica Bartle some love! =)


July/August 2008

My first impression of Russh was via a work friend who brought Issue 8 into the retail shop and tried to indoctrinate me into what I immediately considered a magazine that was a wee bit too left of field for me with its offerings of retro styling, slightly-above-average writing, and overt brand of fashion photography. Looking back now, I’ve begun to realise that “overt” and “retro” were just excuses I made for my own misgivings in the same strand of “I-don’t-understand-this-magazine’s-purpose- and-therefore-I-am-above-it”. My first seriously purchased issue was number 18 with my newfound curiosity peaking as I partook in my New Year’s Resolution of “read magazines you wouldn’t normally read”. That issue was bought solely via the musical headlines “I’m With The Band: Famous Groupies” and “Best Ever Mix Tapes” – and I digress my superficiality: the title presented in super shiny gold lamination.

So it was with similar anticipation that I opened another Russh issue emblazoned by the word “groupies” (no, this is not my aspired mode of getting into music journalism). In a particularly beautiful understated allure that the magazine is famed for: black and white imagery dominates alongside muted colours in the “Pinch The Look” sections, where muted greys and pale blues are touted as shades to sport this season. But perhaps I’ve spoken too soon, because lo, behold: sequined and shimmery pants make a comeback in true 80s fashion (pun intended?) alongside black lace numbers in “Racy, Lacy”. A few doilies are thrown in for good measure via a white accessories driven shoot, which continues to cement Russh’s distinct drive for fashion reverb.

I often forget that models, beauty artists, and designers are indeed human beings, what with their often immaculate bone structure and facial features – plus the fact that they seem to occupy a whole other world to the average magazine reader means that I find any insights into their personalities a little unnecessary. This is what I found with cover star Hanna Soukupova’s interview talking about her personal style, favourite beauty products, place to shop. I can understand why those aspiring to be in the fashion industry being interested in what cues to take – which to me, is the purpose such interviews serve. Russh takes this opportunity to discover the person behind the face, which is all well and truly good, but the end results often bore the bejeesus out of me.

The cover story on haute couture house Gucci has editor Natalie Shukar speaking to creative director Frida Giannini about rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on the brand as well as the timely muses that inspire the designs and imagery. It’s an interesting take on the traditional fashion profile, despite the feature’s ordinary Q&A style. I was excited to see many of my favourite musicians featured in the music playlist of the fashion powerhouse, which only goes to show how well music seems to act as a social leveller – at least between the financially-challenged uni student and a luxury brand.

Knitwear is given an airing as the needles come out and nanny-fashion is suddenly made fashionable again via questionable takes on stockings. Rodarte takes knitwear to a whole new level of a muted sexuality with interesting takes on the “knitted dress”. Shapes are challenged via Sandra Backland’s rendition of a very complicated sheep fleece, but then again, perhaps I’m just not well-versed in the style stakes.

Fashion features continue as writer extraordinaire Fiona Killackey delves into the introverted mind of Josh Goot, while Fashion Week continues to ebb through the magazine sphere via Carli Philips profiles up-and-coming Australian label Arnsdorf, where the designs seem to echo Josh Goot’s simple, understated style with a much greater emphasis on neutrals. Russh’s editors have their own slice of the fun with their own impressions of the week. It’s interesting comparing Russh’s coverage of Fashion Week alongside other mags. We all know that Russh has a tendency to be caught in a perpetual cycle of retro-loving – clearly evident in their selection of highlights where lace and pastels seem to dominate in comparison to the other glossies.

That said, the mag has definitely improved their articles since the first few issues I picked up. There is a more sass and greater insight into the topics they cover. Lesley Arfin is a refreshing voice in her advice upon arriving in New York – “Eat at your favourite place, Make out, Embrace jet lag” – while Nicole Haddow goes cold turkey on her email, Facebook, and mobile for a week with refreshing results.

Killackey (nope, definitely no bias here) ponders the evolution of beauty alongside images of Charlotte Gainsborough (one of my favourite beauties – I think her slightly larger nose gives her character), ordinary girl Chloe Sevigny, and an interesting contrast of Sofia Coppola alongside Kirsten Dunst. Indeed: what is considered beauty? And what role does the media play in perpetuating such views? In any case, academic Paula Hamsforth offers some insight into the changing image-driven industry: “You only need to think back to the 1960s and the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement to see how far we’ve come. Today we have models of all skin colours and we’re embracing that which differs from the traditional Anglo-Saxon idea of beauty.”

Despite the improved articles, however, I find that one of the only reasons why I buy Russh is to look at the visuals – it is possible that I may be both superficial as well as fashion-illiterate. And I possess equal parts love and apathy over the publication’s use of token retro garbs of soft-lit photography, 1960s beauties via Britt Ekland and Anna Karina, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and psychedelic coloured clouds in the Josh Goot feature. Russh also has a perpetual preoccupation with sexuality and nudity in both its photography and advertisements. With previous issues I’ve always felt compelled to play “Spot the nipple” in the same vein as a game of “Where’s Waldo?”, particularly after this issue’s advertorial of Irina Lazareanu. That said, the mag drives a much healthier balance between contemporary imagery and that of decades gone by this month, something which I put down to the dominance of Fashion Week coverage.

I still consider Russh to be the cool kid I’m still yet to understand and at times, find a little pretentious. She occupies a world where I fluctuate between enviably wanting to be in, and being totally ignorant to it all. A lot of the time I put this down to the fact that we do not and cannot match or relate to each other as often as myself and other magazines seem to. I still love the way she looks and I’m always finding beautiful images and sparks of inspiration between her simple laid out pages, but ultimately I’m content to agree to disagree in her sartorial and lifestyle choices.

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