The latest issue of Gym Class magazine has an eye-catching cover; with bold block capitals on a black background spelling out: “Nobody cares about your oh-so-cool, Kickstarted, tactile, minimalist unoriginal magazine.” It’s intended as a “call to action,” Gym Class editor Steven Gregor told MagCulture, “make magazines, and make them exceptional.”
But if there’s a certain level of ridicule aimed at the derivative new titles which appear with increasing frequency, then woe betide any indie magazine that makes too much of a success of itself either. I was lucky enough to be in Singapore last weekend to speak at The U Symposium, a two-day conference of indie magazine editors including Penny Martin of The Gentlewoman, Jop van Bennekom of Fantastic Man and Chris Ying of Lucky Peach. But there was no doubting who most people were there to see – Nathan Williams, the founder of Kinfolk, who was interviewed on stage by MagCulture ’s Jeremy Leslie.
Launched five years ago, Kinfolk – which is devoted to celebrating slow living – has become a phenomenon. But that has brought sniping from certain quarters, ranging from general grumbles you hear around the magazine world to The Kinspiracy blog, which flags up the crushing visual predictability of a certain type of Instagram user (based around those who post Kinfolk covers). Summer Allen, the LA-based blogger who started The Kinspiracy, explains that it’s a project “born not out of spite, but out of a fascination with the redundancy of almost identical subject matter.”
The same magazine, and the sense of reductive aesthetic conformism, was referenced by Marc Kremers in a piece we published on It’s Nice That. He wrote: “I think designers naturally just want to fit in, have a nice, cute life, do nice, cute things. Work hard, be nice to people. Read Kinfolk. Raw denim. Beards. Flat Whites. Nice fonts, nice illustrations, nice design. Go with the flow. Just good, tasteful things, experiences and activities. And before you know it, your life is an Instagram feed, literally indistinguishable to any other designer’s nice Instagram feed.”
But its impact can be felt across the media landscape. The British weekly women’s magazine Stylist posted an article recently called “From orange blossom pancakes to rhubarb chutney toast, the most beautiful breakfasts of Instagram.” The lineage from the Kinfolk kind of culture is clear. Similarly when illustrator Matt Blease was commissioned to create portraits of “Style Tribes” for The Sunday Times Style Magazine, Kinfolk Man was a recognisable stereotype, complete with sandals, vintage cardie and a tote bag full of (presumably organic) vegetables.
Chatting to Nathan he is aware of these kinds of criticisms. But I think maybe Kinfolk is a victim of its own success and the consistency of its brand identity. This backlash only really works because it is immediately obvious what a Kinfolk kind of image, or article, actually is. Did the magazine create the culture of visual conformity, or was it just perfectly placed to take advantage of it?
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