Vienna, not just a place associated with the architectural hotspot of Schönbrunn Palace and the famed Lippizaner stallions. It’s also a city filled with stories, culture and creativity. Thus goes the motto of C/O Vienna the annual German-English printed magazine of over 300 pages, with an online publication updated weekly. Founded in 2009 by art critic and editor-in-chief, Antje Mayer-Salvi, it sees texts, books, films and concepts circle around the key pillars of modern times – be it fashion, culture, architecture, design and societal issues drawing from business and media.
With art directors Manuela Neuner and Christoph Schörkhuber – from the Vienna-based creative studio seite zwei – leading the design and aesthetic of the magazine, the outcome is a playful collection of mixed media, interview-led and photographic stories that shed light on the people that surround them. It was launched in 2016 during a somewhat rocky media landscape. “At the time, many cool magazines were folding, others were becoming increasingly commercial as a result of financial pressure, mutating into little more than advertising brochures,” Antje tells It’s Nice That. “I never knew what magazine to buy at the airport; most had content so thin that you could read it in ten minutes, and the rest consisted of beauty and fashion advertisements. I’d usually end up reading Asterix & Obelix on the plane.”
Combatting this, C/O Vienna is now on its second printed issue – the first themed as The Private Issue and launched in September 2018, and the latter The Beauty Issue, launched in September of this year. As a place to share life’s “many good stories”, the team looks towards “pressing issues, inventions, scientific discoveries, fantastic thinkers, artists and creative minds who really make a difference” as its focus point. “Who says that a magazine always has to look the same? Why does an art magazine have to only show art, a science magazine have to only write about science? Why does a magazine always have to include a fashion section, travel tips, a recipe from a celebrity chef, and an editor’s choice page?” A backlash against traditional forms of media, indeed, the team hopes to challenge these questions in order change the landscape for the better. This is further achieved through interchangeable design and the flexibility that the digital era now provides.
As a homage to the “endangered species” of print magazines, the team decided upon a direction that took things a little more rebelliously. “We dared to take a very intuitive and artistic approach that was guided entirely by the content, which left us with complete visual freedom,” says Antje. Achieved through the curation, C/O Vienna commissions an artist for each story – with illustrations rarely in accompaniment. “That may be a quite elaborate way to go about it, but we think that’s what a magazine should offer – just as a magazine shouldn’t merely be a picture book, as many are, but should also contain long, beautiful stories to read,” she continues.
Alongside this, the graphic design is perceived as secondary to the content. The latest issue features a pink and violet cover and a “beautiful, melancholy and innocent-looking afghan” illicitly depicting how this issue “plays ironically with the topic of beauty,” says Manuela. A satirical take on beauty magazines, each story has been designed to reflect the theme and shares narratives from the likes of fragrance artist Sissel Tolaas, artist Peter Kogler and contributions from photographers Bela Borsodi and Immo Klink. “For us as designers, the content is the top priority in this magazine, and we look for a visual narrative to graphically enhance what the editors and writers come up with,” says Christoph. An example of this can be seen in Sissel’s feature, where the team researched chewing gum packaging as an inspiration, then “sensually” topping the whole thing with a scented film that, aptly, smells of chewing gum. Christoph adds: “After each article, we make a graphic tabula rasa and start over.”
As a whole, C/O Vienna’s design aesthetic and captivating content found within is explicitly deliberate – an ironic twist on traditional magazines and one that executed with complete charm.
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