At most fashion magazines, it takes the best photographers, racks of sample-size dresses, boatloads of shoes, a few stylists, and a gaggle of models to create the perfect photo shoot. It’ll take months—or, in the case of French cult magazine Egoiste, even years—to bring a concept to fruition.
But here’s a publication that turns that model on its head. Herself magazine, a fashion publication that’s entirely illustrated rather than using photographs, is flying off the shelves at newsstands and boutiques all over Europe. Its concept is straightforward: it features drawings of inspirational women from throughout history—all wearing next season’s hottest designs.
Kate Moss, in a black Prada fur coat, graces the cover of the debut issue, which focuses on portraits of famous women. Inside, there is Frida Kahlo in a pink Spring/Summer 2011 Lanvin dress, Marie Antoinette in a Mark Fast coat and De Grisogono jewels, Elizabeth I in Victoria Beckham—and the Greek goddess Athena in a series of this season’s coats, from a sleek orange Celine jacket to a Valentino fur.
Because there are no bookings, no fittings, no shoots, no paychecks, the focus of this magazine is squarely on the women and the creativity behind their clothes. “It's about creating a point of view of fashion that celebrates the beauty and the excitement of it,” says Lula, Herself’s enigmatic founder and illustrator. “We don't need to choose wearable pieces, and we don't need to celebrate the commercial value. We have the luxury of celebrating the creativity of fashion.”
Herself is the brainchild of Lula, who wishes to be identified only by her first name because she is “born and bred online.” Lula is a London-based illustrator who began her career as a womenswear designer—and eventually developed a blog, The Subject I Know Best, which has spawned a cult following within the last year. From there, the concept of the magazine was born.
There’s a Web feel to the magazine, too, as the women in its pages are at once historical heroines and 2-D avatars—standing for something powerful, yet still wide-eyed and feline as they stare out from between palm fronds in an imaginary jungle.
Illustrating the entire magazine allows Lula to “embrace the speed” of the fast-changing fashion world. “I'm very fascinated by speed,” she says. “Collections are becoming faster, and images are immediately available. [At most print publications] it takes ages for a celebrity to agree, for clothes to agree, for clothes to arrive. With illustration, you can express your imagination at the fullest.”
Inside the imaginative portrait issue, Lula depicts Diana Vreeland, Madonna, Donatella Versace, and even Botticelli’s Venus—all as the idealized modern woman. There are no egos to contend with, no publicists, no schedules, no shoots. Herself exists in a place above a space-time continuum, with current fashion serving as a connective tissue. There are also interviews—some of them made up, like an imagined conversation with Maria Callas, and others actual, such as a conversation with Vogue Nippon’s colorful editor, Anna Dello Russo.
Since the issue hit newsstands, there has been an overwhelming reaction. Selfridge’s sold out of the magazine and had to restock it, and several famous fans, such as the designer Stefano Gabbana, have tweeted about it.
About Herself’s next issue, due out in March 2012, Lula is hush-hush. “We're going to continue to have inspiring women wearing the latest fashion,” she says. “We’re going to talk to legendary women we find inspiring from any time or any space. We will keep celebrating the best of the season, and because we're so inspired by so many wonderful women, we'd like to give them a second life.”