We recently got a chance to sit down with Vancouver's own editor at large at A MAGAZINE curated by, Blake Abbie. More often than not, the former editor of System Magazine prefers to remain elusive and keep his identity separate from his creative endeavors; we captured one of his rare loquacious moments. Blake was generous enough to give us the time for a long-form conversation, shedding light on the ever-changing landscape of fashion.
He offers his thoughts on the digital revolution's impact on the industry, consciously straying from the limelight, and of course, what he likes to wear. Read on for a rumination on both style and substance with one of the most intriguing minds in fashion today.
So what is one thing that most people do not know about you?
I mean, I think a lot of people don’t know that many things about me. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of really great projects, in fashion, but I’ve always been in the background.
I’ve been doing industry projects, doing System, A Magazine, Document, and I’ve never really been in the foreground. I think that I’ve been able to remain relatively anonymous in the industry.
Is that a choice?
It was conscious at the beginning. I didn’t particularly want to be a street style person, and right now, when you have the opportunity to go to shows, people tend to get dressed up. And that’s not who I am. I’m a guy from Vancouver; I like to be comfortable, I wear a lot of blacks. I just happen also to be interested in fashion.
Being in the background, in a way, contrasted with what I studied. I went to UBC to study music; I studied voice performance. I had grown up performing a lot, and I guess that’s one thing that probably people in the fashion industry or people generally don’t know. I studied opera singing. I studied classical music.
Contrasted with my education, I don’t want to say I struggled with being in the background in fashion, but I had to look at myself again and recalibrate my life and understand why I wanted to be in the background; why I wasn't performing. That’s kind of changing now with a new TV show opportunity that’s come up, though. So I guess this is a year of change.
On that note, how has music played a role in your job as an editor, and what were the translatable skills and similarities between music and fashion?
As an editor, of course, you bring your personal experience into what you do. Looking at people that I much admire like Tim Blanks — I grew up watching him — he grew up listening to bands, experiencing concerts and historically vital musical culture first hand. He’s so tapped into music and some way that always influences his writing; he can make myriad of interesting music references in his work.
Personally, music affects my references significantly. I look at a collection, and I see the baroque inspiration because I happened to have loved and sung a lot Bach; I understand these historical references through music instead of art. It’s just a different way of looking at how other sorts of cultural spaces can combine. I just happen to be coming from the music space.
And I guess I’ve also looked at music from a fashion perspective; I’ve been lucky to have interviewed Philip Glass and Paola Prestini these incredible musicians, classical musicians, as well as Missy Elliott—people who may not normally be connected to the fashion world.
For me fashion is creative, music is creative; fashion is collaborative, music is very collaborative; in that sense, they’re very similar in many different ways.
"Personally, music affects my references greatly. I look at a Dries collection, and I see the baroque inspiration because I happened to have loved and sung Bach; I understand these historical references through music instead of art"
With such an extensive resume what is your dream job?
Ha. That’s. That’s hard to say.
Maybe you’re at your dream job right now?
I’m fortunate with what I do. I’ve been able to do incredible things, I’ve edited magazines, and I’ve interviewed incredible people. Right now I work very closely with the designers curating every issue of A Magazine, which is an extreme privilege because many other editors don’t have the opportunity to do so.
And again I’m also free. I’m not tied down to an office. You know, I’m at large. I’m not stuck in one city. I can go anywhere, and my colleague Dan Thawley and I have a good relationship in that way.
Regarding a dream job, I just want to be able to tell stories. That is one thing that I realized when I was in music school, I want to convey emotion to affect people, both physically and mentally in some way.
I think I’ve been able to do that in writing and creating magazines differently. So, I want to continue on that path of creating stories. Looking at all things encompassed within creative direction, and seeing where that can lead. And, hopefully, to someday combine my cultural perspective with my performance side.
I’m lucky that my job is so nebulous and undefined; I have too many opportunities, too many possibilities.
"I just want to be able to tell stories. That is one thing that I realized when I was in music school. I want to convey emotion to affect people; both physically and mentally in some way."
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That’s a good thing to have though. What stories or projects in your portfolio are you most proud of?
This last issue of A Magazine was extremely-extremely fulfilling.
That was with Eckhaus Latta?
That was with Eckhaus Latta. It was my baby. Dan and I had gone back and forth about whom we would do after Alessandro’s issue, which was hugely successful. With the help of Gucci, it was kind of everywhere.
It’s like the biggest brand right now!
It happened to be precisely the right time. We had approached him just essentially right at when he started at Gucci. His collections were extremely well received, critically, but you never know what how that will translate commercially. They happened to do well.
So for us we were really lucky to do a great issue with him. But being more transient, I wasn’t working with Alessandro every day. But with Eckhaus Latta, Mike, Zoe and I were spending every day together.
Aesthetically, I relate very closely to their values. We are the same age; we appreciate the same things. Also, the brand itself is tiny. It’s Mike and Zoe. Maybe five people work on the brand in total. It’s just like Mike and Zoe who are working on the fashion and the art projects themselves.
They don’t have the resources or the infrastructure like Gucci does. I was holding their hands through this project; they had never done anything like this. And it’s a very different process for a designer to have an idea then to create a collection that lives on the body than to have an idea then to create a magazine, that is physical, that has a narrative, and is on paper.
It’s an incredible issue with incredible people. And just the ideas behind it right now struck a chord.
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What is a new brand or designer that has peaked your interest? You don’t have to say you loved but someone who you can get down with what they’re doing right now. Or anyone you’ve found, discovered, even an older brand.
Okay. It’s hard. I’ll start with one thing, and we’ll go from there. I think what Virgil Abloh is doing is very interesting in the context of where we are in 2018. What he’s been able to create out of a brand is interesting; how he's engineered an entire movement behind his brand is fascinating. It could only have happened in 2018. And for some reason, he’s been able to tap into that.
No other designer has been able to do that, to the extent that he has. But I don’t necessarily agree with what he does. 12-year kids want to buy his ‘luxury’ clothing. They go crazy over it.
What he’s done with Nike is just- It’s insane! The designers themselves are more of a brand than the actual clothes.
Well, that's what’s happened with fashion these days. It’s become the nucleus of culture. Everything revolves around it. Music revolves around it. Movies and film revolve around it. Art revolves around it.
Around fashion. Fashion is the one thing that can connect all of these different spaces. Early 90s film was maybe in that space, and prior to that, perhaps some music was. Both of them had tremendous potential to serve as a connector.
Fashion is one thing that every other industry is looking towards to understand or be a part of, irrespective of whether it's classified as luxury or streetwear.
"What’s happened with fashion these days, It’s become the nucleus of culture. Everything revolves around it. Music revolves around it. Movies and film revolve around it. Art revolves around it."
You pretty much answered my next question. I was like what direction can you see fashion heading in the next 5 years.
It’s going to get crazier. I would hope that designers will push back against the retailers and take more time to design collections. There’s just too much happening. It’s not sustainable for designers, design teams for production teams to be able to produce four collections a year, six collections a year, and do a collaboration here and collaboration there.
However, its what’s required right now to be able to fund a brand. I would hope that the pace slows down.
How has the role of social media played in operating a magazine?
I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly like to promote my stuff, but regarding making a magazine, you always have to think what it looks like digitally.
So, we were still concerned about how content goes between both print and digital, and preserving everything from the prints to first, sell copies and secondly, to protect the experience that one has in print. Because it’s not the same. At all.
System, in print, is a straightforward format, and a very simple aesthetic. For example, when it comes to the pages, we started with a whole bunch of colored pages in the initial issues. One story was featured on all blue pages, while others were on all pink pages.
We did a Balenciaga Nicholas Ghesquiere archive story in the first issue, and each page was a different color in the archive. It was all black and white pictures that Patrick Demarchelier shot.
Each picture was in black and White, and the border color was taken from the clothing the model was wearing. So we would consider that aesthetic when we put the magazine into social or digital spaces.
So you guys have the quotes on System?
Exactly, so we would have the quotes. And then, it took us a long time to figure out what digital would be. And only after I left, did they finally launch the website- we had been working on the website for a long time at System.
Then at A Mag, We’re working on redeveloping it right now. Right now there’s a blog, and then there’s the archive of all the old issues of the magazine so you can go through and click through the magazine archive. That’s what we want. We want people to be able to access the publication.
I was in a shop yesterday. Stranger. The owner asked me where he could get the Yohji issue. That's why we have a website with archives, because there are people who want to read these things, and we really want to be able to have access.
Oh so you guys actually have full interviews on the website.
The whole magazine is there. Except for Eckhaus Latta. It’ll be up when the next issue is out.
I don’t like reading magazines off a screen.
I mean that’s the thing. With A Magazine online we have double spreads of the magazine up, so you get more of the ‘magazine’ experience, as you can see two pages at once. I don’t think anyone’s hit it on the mark yet. You know like you look at Vogue, and you look at W and other commercial titles, and for them, digital and social is about driving and clicks for revenue.
For an independent publication, it’s not necessarily the case.
Does it become a site where its clickbait titles? Because it depends if you guys want to read a magazine, do you regularly publish new content? Another mag, for example, will have their magazine but also have their main website which is like not like system or A Mag - they continuously have content coming out.
It’s also different in their approach to what type of publication they are. System and A Magazine I guess are more similar, as they are magazines about the industry for people who have a keen interest in fashion. A can be picked up by everyone - for example, an artist can pick up and have an experience guided by the fashion space.
However, with System, you need to be a bit more in tune with fashion to appreciate what the publication is.
When I did Document, I guess it was veering more towards the commercial type of content. In that area, you can do have a section of the website dedicated to stories about more current events or new releases. There's a space for that kind of content. Whereas in contrast, there’s not really any space for this, nor does it make sense on Systems or A Magazine’s websites.
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With print and brick and mortar stores with the digital becoming such a huge role in both our industries what do you believe still makes people go out and buy print in a physical store?
It’s not the same experience. I mean you know you pick up a copy you feel the weight of it. It’s a book. These publications we are making are books. These are things to collect. These are things to put in your library, which archive a specific moment in time.
Flipping through a magazine from start to the end is a tactile experience; there’s nothing like that on digital. Digital you can go through wormholes. But with a magazine, you think about the narrative, you think about what comes first, what comes next. In a way, you’re being led down a path.
Pictures also don’t look the same on digital. It’s laid out differently. Digital is not a bad thing, but think when you’re doing a long -orm piece, there’s no way it can live on digital. No one can read twenty-five thousand words on a screen. You can’t.
So do you still go shopping in retail stores?
Yeah, I got System from you guys! I’m concerned about fit; if something doesn’t fit properly I don’t want to buy it, and I don’t want to wear it. And you can only determine that in person. Getting something shipped to you is not the same.
When you go to a store, garments are curated for a particular person, in a specific way. That experience of being subject to one particular way of curation may show you different things that you might not have seen before.
What did you buy this week?
Yesterday I bought a pair of Prada chukka boots, the furry ones!
What’s the best party you’ve been to?
I go to parties, but I’m not a huge partier. In most recent memory the best party was during Paris Fashion Week in September at the Chloé Maison. Natacha had just shown her first collection that day, and they had launched her new perfume.
Kelela was performing. I've listened to her singles and her first EP a lot in the last few years. But, I'd never seen her live. So, I’m singing along with her, and at the end of her set she sings Rewind, and she comes down, looking directly at me. She starts singing at me, and I start singing at her.
At the end of her verse, she stops singing she looks at me and says “I love you.” She pushes me, and knocks me back, and then walks back on stage. That was amazing.
"These publications we are making are books. These are things to collect. These are things to put in your library, which archive a specific moment in time. "
Follow Blake on Instagram
Text: Aaron Gray
Interview: Clayton Chan & Kai De Torres - Hironobu
Art Direction: Jenny Choi
Photographer: Kai De Torres - Hironobu
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