Face to Face

The Face was, for its 24-year lifespan, the seminal style/culture magazine, against which all others were – and still are – measured. Incalculably influential, it launched the careers of  a huge number of today's image makers, designers, stylists and writers. Author Paul Gorman's new book The Story of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture is a long-overdue record of the iconic publication and Wylde sent Pippa Brooks to discover how it came about and what Gorman's own style signifiers are.

p. 280 (above left) Vol. 2, no. 68, May 1994.jpg

Wylde: Was The Story of The Face intimidating to attempt?

Paul Gorman: Not really. I’m used to producing ‘big’ books – The Look covered six decades from the post-WW2 period to the new millennium, In Their Own Write was 130,000 words, the Barney Bubbles book has 600+ images – but doing those taught me I had to handle the subject with care, particularly because people in the know have their favourite era – or even issue – of this magazine, which many have said changed their lives. So it was a delicate job, which is why it took me five years. First I divided it into two sections of seven chapters each, covering the Eighties and Nineties, and then drilled down into the key events, from the launch and particular issues such as "Hard Times" to the Jason Donovan libel case, which threatened to close it all down.

p. 101 (above) No. 45, January 1984.jpg

What was the first magazine you ever bought?

I was a Captain Scarlet fanatic as a child and remember avidly seeking out and keeping the comics produced by the Gerry Anderson empire. I was also in love with Lady Penelope and Marina, the mermaid who swam to her own theme tune at the end of every episode of Stingray. The first grown-up magazine I bought was issue 33 of Frendz in September 1972 at my local newsagent in Hendon, north London. Frendz was the last outpost of the underground press and that issue changed my life. It had post-psychedelic design, Nick Kent reviewing David Bowie and Roxy Music at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, where my mother had danced in her youth, and which I started going to the following year, and a spread on the London Rock 'n' Roll Festival at Wembley Stadium, where the MC5 and Gary Glitter played alongside Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. The son of the neighbouring family played in the Teddy-Boy band Flying Saucers; I remember quizzing him about it as he washed his Ford Consul of a Sunday.

p. 225 (top right) 'Ruder than the Rest', vol1 2, no. 30, March 1991.jpg

What is the worst magazine ever conceived?

How To Spend It. The FT Weekend is the only physical newspaper I buy – I subscribe online to the New York Times and Washington Post – and it is a must-read for anyone interested in culture, but How To Spend It – even though it has good writers and photographers – expresses materialistic ugliness.

p. 206-207 'The Daisy Age' in the special issue, 'The 3rd Summer of Love', vol.2 no.22, July 1990.jpg

Who’s your best friend?

Caz Facey. She knows why.

p. 237 (top right) 'Love Sees No Colour', vol. 2, no. 44, May 1992.jpg

The Face in the Eighties or The Face in the Nineties?

Nineties, for me, even though I’m in the age group which mostly plumps for the previous decade. The key factor is Sheryl Garrett, who took over the editorship in 1990 and enacted what she once described as “the revenge of the suburbs” – this was egalitarian, inclusive, pro-tolerance and diversity, predicated on dirty realism and provincial pride. It was anti matte-black gadget and so-called Soho “cool”.

p. 320 (left) Vol. 3, no. 15, April 1998.jpg

Have you ever asked a question you regretted in an interview?

Many, many. I must have conducted 10,000 interviews in my career (I started on trade journals in 1978). I told the Spice Girls I was wearing lime green Y-Fronts and they demanded to see them. What was I thinking? Sporty also noticed my tape had stopped working and I bullshitted that it was OK but at least I got some quotes before the cassette battery went flat. 

p. 237 (bottom right) 'Love Sees No Colour', vol. 2, no. 44, May 1992.jpg

Favourite TV show?

The Gong Show. Chuck Barris died this year didn’t he? They still don’t know whether he was a spy or not. Definitely a maniac. Also Alpha House – only ran for two series and impossible to bring back in the age of Trump but in many ways it showed how the seeds of the current mess were sewn. Also, it is funny in the extreme. 

p. 236 (below) 'Love Sees No Colour', vol. 2, no. 44, May 1992.jpg

Most iconic Face covergirl?

Alex Arts by Anthony Gordon in front of the Great Marlborough Street newsstand, issue 100, September 1988. I’m working on recreating the newsstand as an installation of an exhibition I’m organising about independent magazines in London next summer.

Most iconic Face coverboy?

George O’Dowd, the "Love Sees No Colour" issue, May 1992.

330-331 'Sarf Coastin', vol.3, no.11, December 1997.jpg

Who is your hero?

I don’t have heroes. There are people I admire but I’m not a fan, as it were. In terms of wordsmiths; Anthony Burgess does it for me. 

What was your first gig?

Frank Sinatra and The Count Basie Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, May 1970

p. 69 (below) 'The Work Ethic', no 23.jpg

First record bought with your own money?

John, I’m Only Dancing, David Bowie, 1972. 

p. 280 (below left) 'Looking for a New England', vol. 2, no.68.jpg

What is your favourite recreational drug?

Rita the dog.

Should fashion and politics mix?

Always. Else, what’s the point?

p. 225 (bottom right) 'Ruder than the Rest', vol1 2, no. 30, March 1991..jpg

New Romantics or Buffalo?

Buffalo all the way. Love the heathenism of it.

p. 50 (left) 'The Cult with No Name', no 7, November 1980.jpg

Do you have a role model or did you, as a child?

PJ Proby, who wore a ponytail and split his trousers onstage deliberately to get the audience going. He was the first American I heard talk and I was in love with his exoticism. Since my second name is Justin I insisted – aged 6 – that thereafter, I wanted to be known as PJ Gorman. Everyone ignored me.


What’s your signature dish?

Normandy fish pie a la Annie Bell and John Pawson


Favourite writer of fiction?

PG Wodehouse


Favourite journalist?

Christopher Hitchens (RIP)


Do you collect anything?

Books, magazines, shoes

p. 269 (below) 'Grrr!', vol.2, no.60, September 1993.jpg


Most treasured possession?

My dear old Dad’s army service record.


Are you a feminist?

It’s the only way to be. Women Of The World Take Over, as Ivor Cutler wrote. 

p. 321 (above) Vol.3, no.18, July 1998.jpg

What’s the best club you’ve ever been to?

Venus Bar, Dean Street


What is your next book about?

Malcolm McLaren – who else?!

The Story of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture by Paul Gorman is published by Thames and Hudson

352 pgs

Published: 9 November 2017