Fantastic Man Magazine and Its Influence on Men’s Fashion


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Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom, Fantastic Man’s two spotlight-shy Dutch founders.

Credit
Thomas Lohr

Stefano Tonchi, the editor of W Magazine, called it “very influential in redefining men’s identity in the last decade.”

Francesco Vezzoli, the provocative artist and caricaturist, said that the publication “wanted to change our perception of masculinity in a serious, groundbreaking way.”

The writer Glenn O’Brien once called it “one of the most remarkable magazines of this era.”

The fact that Fantastic Man has a worldwide circulation of only 85,000 and a self-selective readership of worldly men who pride themselves as culture connoisseurs only reinforces its outsize influence.

This European-based fashion magazine, which publishes twice a year, continues to be a much-imitated scripture of men’s style, even as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. And that’s largely thanks to its two spotlight-shy Dutch founders, Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers, who ushered in a genre of fashion magazines that emphasized everyday men and intellectuals, over celebrities and waifish models.

Not bad for soft-spoken editors who started with a playfully perverse pink-colored gay zine.

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Fantastic Man magazine (from left) spring and summer 2013; spring and summer 2015; autumn and winter 2010.

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Right, Patricia Wall/The New York Times

On a recent trip to New York for a party in Bushwick, Brooklyn, that he was co-hosting, Mr. van Bennekom toasted his 45th birthday with Michael Bullock, Fantastic Man’s American director of advertising, and Mr. Bullock’s boyfriend, the artist Paul Kopkau, at the B Bar on the Bowery. (Mr. Jonkers stayed behind in Amsterdam.)

Dressed in a red polo shirt by Cos, with a single silver hoop earring, Mr. van Bennekom came across like a boyish fashion professor, making lofty pronouncements one moment and off-the-cuff jokes the next.

Taking a sip of beer, Mr. van Bennekom made it clear that he was antsy about letting the magazine become another fashion cliché. “I think there is a shift towards a cleaner, looser aesthetic right now in men’s wear,” he said, in explaining why Fantastic Man has undergone a subtle redesign.

The current issue, No. 21, which has the 30-year-old Irish designer Jonathan Anderson on the cover, has a more relaxed, cleaner look that may go unnoticed to the casual page flipper, but its new sans-serif font, scrapbooklike use of blank pages, vertical masthead and yellow paper stock that divides the magazine into sections are something of a small revolution for devotees.

“I wouldn’t say we were bored with it, but I want it to be a magazine that changes,” Mr. van Bennekom said.

The remodeling of men’s-wear clichés has been part of Fantastic Man’s mission from its start. The pair met in Amsterdam in 1997, when Mr. van Bennekom, a graphic design graduate, started a critically acclaimed title called Re-Magazine that would tackle a single topic in each issue, such as boredom or a Berlin woman named Claudia.

Mr. Jonkers, a former culture critic for De Volkskrant, a left-leaning Dutch newspaper, interviewed Mr. van Bennekom for an article, and the two found that they shared a similar publishing vision. Mr. Jonkers ended up hiring Mr. van Bennekom as a graphic designer for a lifestyle magazine called Blvd.

“From a distance, you could say Jop is visual and I am textual, but in reality it’s not that distinctive,” said Mr. Jonkers, the son of a preacher living in the Dutch countryside, whose dry, critical eye is reflected somewhat in his Continental prep manner of dress.

But it wasn’t until 2001 with the start-up of Butt, an iPad-size zine dedicated to gay sex culture, that their subversive intelligence began to attract global notice. With its Pepto-Bismol-colored pages and playfully droll profiles of unconventional men like John Waters, the fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm and the occasional inked-up janitor who happened to be a gay exhibitionist, Butt became a must-read for indie-minded gay men who appreciated a slap on the rear end to normative notions of male sexuality.

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Butt magazine, autumn-winter 2011 issue.

“We started the magazine because there wasn’t an organized form of gay counterculture like there is now,” Mr. van Bennekom said. “I think Butt created its own gay culture.”

The men that Butt featured in various states of undress were also notably older than the men featured in conventional gay magazines. “When we started, we hated this fetishization of youth that only appeals to eight stylists in the world,” Mr. Jonkers said.

The magazine also spawned a sea of pink imitators (like Hello Mr. or Horst) that to this day could probably take up their very own section of “deadpan gay men with dad bodies” at Barnes & Noble. And who could forget the beach towel sets sold at American Apparel that featured life-size images of naked hirsute gay men, including a porn star or two?

But it was starting to feel like a cliché, so in 2011, they stopped the print version of Butt to focus on and started Fantastic Man’s to reach a wider audience. (Or, as Mr. van Bennekom jokingly put it, “because we couldn’t feature straight guys in Butt.”)

Although its print run was just 20,000, Fantastic Man arrived with a splash. With its formal two-column layout and bookish engravers-gothic font, it looked more like a foreign policy review than a glossy fashion rag.

Its arch, knowing editorial voice was also refreshingly authentic and noncommercial. There were in-depth interviews with male celebrities like Ewan McGregor who did not necessarily have something to promote, probing conversations with fashion designers like Tomas Maier and grooming tips from men as diverse as Giorgio Armani and the writer Peter York.

The photography has stood out, too. Cover subjects have leaned toward mature, accomplished men like the actor Christoph Waltz, the tennis star Boris Becker, the author Bret Easton Ellis and the artist Jeremy Deller. Fashion spreads have featured real-life deliverymen. And many of the fashion editorials are in black and white, shot by photographers like Alasdair McLellan, Bruce Weber and Wolfgang Tillmans.

“They are trying to break the mold and find people who are incredibly interesting and not the 10 celebrities that are rotating on the same magazines because they have a new movie, ” said the photographer Inez van Lamsweerde, who along with her partner, Vinoodh Matadin, photographed Antony Hegarty, Stefano Pilati and others for the magazine. (The couple even appeared on the cover of issue No. 6 in 2007.)

Its timing could not have been better. The ascent of Fantastic Man dovetailed nicely with the emergence of the men’s wear industry as a cultural and economic force.

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The Gentlewoman magazine, spring and summer 2014 issue.

“I think Fantastic Man caused a shift in publishing and men’s wear,” said Mr. Anderson, the current cover man. “You can see their influence coinciding with the importance of men’s wear throughout the fashion business. They have given fresh perspective by discovering men that you genuinely want to know about.”

Its influence can also be seen in advertising (where brands like Dunhill now cast “real” men like the architect David Adjaye in their ad campaigns) and fashion blogs. Fantastic Man could also be said to have foreshadowed the boom in street-style blogs like The Sartorialist.

But perhaps its most notable influence can be seen on e-commerce sites, particularly Mr Porter, the luxury men’s wear retailer, which uses an identical engravers-gothic typeface and tongue-in-cheek formal tone. The similarities have not gone unnoticed.

“If Fantastic Man would throw itself off a cliff, would webshop Mr Porter follow?,” read a quip from Fantastic Man’s spring/summer 2013 issue. (A representative from Mr Porter declined to comment for this article.)

Imitation may partly be an impetus for why the two men behind Fantastic Man continue to expand their reach beyond the increasingly homogeneous world of “beards, tattoos, hats, glasses, suits and bow ties,” as Mr. van Bennekom likes to put it (and which he ironically has helped to create).

In 2010, they started a sister publication, The Gentlewoman, devoted to those members of the opposite sex who relate more to the philosophy of Phoebe Philo than the shoes and handbags she produces at Céline.

Commercial suitors have now also come knocking. The two men also publish Cos Magazine, a brainy staple-bound journal by the Swedish fashion label Cos (a boutique offshoot of H M), and, in partnership with Penguin Books, The Happy Reader, a magazine devoted to the pleasures of paperbacks.

And in October, Phaidon is scheduled to publish a survey of Fantastic Man. There is also the growing network of Club Butt, a Facebook-like digital community for the Butt demographic, as well as a fragrance with Byredo, a pair of Gentleman’s Jeans with Acne, and even a line of mesh underwear with the Swedish label the White Briefs.

Just don’t call Fantastic Man a lifestyle brand.

Speaking over the phone from Amsterdam, Mr. Jonkers weighed in. “One of the things that Jop and I don’t like is this concept of ‘lifestyle,’ ” he said. “From the beginning, we’ve tried to do the opposite and be mesmerized by people, not by things. We want to know the things we don’t know yet.”

Correction: June 19, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the date when the print version of Butt magazine was discontinued. It was 2011, not 2005.



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