A Parting of the Ways at Visionaire
c.2014 New York Times News Service
Among those toying with the boundaries of fashion and art during the last 20 years, few stand out more than Stephen Gan, Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos. Roughly three times a year they released editions of Visionaire, a publication that was neither fashion magazine nor art object but something in between.
The 1998 light issue was designed by Tom Ford and Gucci and took the form of a sleek light box for viewing 24 slides by artists like Andreas Gursky and Sam Taylor-Wood. The 3,300 copies, which sold for $425 apiece, were snapped up by devotees.
A 1996 fashion issue featured 44 collaborations between designers and photographers, including Nan Goldin shooting Helmut Lang, that was packaged in a Louis Vuitton monogrammed portfolio designed expressly for Visionaire. The 2,500 editions sold out in three weeks, though a few can be bought today on Mr Porter for $6,600.
The company grew: First came V, a Warholesque six-times-a-year fashion magazine. After that, a men’s offshoot, VMan. In 2012, CR Fashion Book, the thick-as-a-brick twice-a-year style manual from Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of French Vogue, made its debut.
So it was something of a surprise when, earlier this summer, the three longtime partners abruptly parted ways.
Without any official announcement, Kaliardos, 48, and Dean, 45, packed up their belongings while Gan, 48, was out of town and moved out of their Mercer Street offices, which had served as a kind of a circuslike clubhouse for avant-garde designers and fashionistas.
Staff members at V were left in the dark, which fueled intense speculation in the insular downtown fashion bubble. Would this be the end for Visionaire? What did this mean for the company’s other fashion titles? Were the former best friends now sworn enemies?
The story spilled into The New York Post’s Page Six, which ran a report on Aug. 1 saying, “One casualty of their portfolio, which includes V magazine, VMan and Visionaire, could be former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld’s 2-year-old CR Fashion Book.”
The Post also suggested that V might fold and go digital.
All three said that none of that was true, and that the publications would continue. But the breakup has clearly been painful.
Is Gan still close to his two former besties?
“Not at the moment, no,” he said in a recent interview at his office shortly before he took off for a vacation in St.-Tropez with Karl Lagerfeld.
In a separate interview, Kaliardos said: “We love Stephen. He’ll always be family.”
James Kaliardos and Stephen Gan became friends in the mid-80s when they were club kids attending Parsons School of Design, living in a dorm on Union Square. Dean was in high school and earned money for college walking the runways for Jean Paul Gaultier and Maison Martin Margiela.
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At night, the boys painted their faces metallic orange, slipped into ripped stockings and headed to Area, where Andy Warhol would take pictures of them.
“They wore more makeup than I did,” Dean said.
After graduation Gan went to work as a fashion editor at Details magazine, where James Truman became editor after it was purchased by Condé Nast.
“He was the most talented editor there, but the kind of stories he was interested in were 180 degrees from what we were doing,” Truman said.
Kaliardos was also seeking a creative outlet. So was Dean, who was by then enrolled at Barnard College.
Sitting with Dean in a $950-a-month apartment Gan and Kaliardos shared back then, the three hatched an idea for a fashion magazine in which art would take precedence over commerce.
“The idea was to do something more free,” Kaliardos said.
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Issue 1 of Visionaire came out in 1991 and was sold exclusively at Rizzoli bookstores. Gan photographed the red rose on the cover. Inside were runway photographs by The New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, a Q&A with the team behind Pierre et Gilles and illustrations by Ruben Toledo of couture-clad insects.
The issue, which cost $10, was not even stapled, and a mere 1,000 copies were released. But photographers like Steven Klein, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel took notice and soon began contributing.
“They were very creative and spirited with what they gave us,” Kaliardos said.
Dean added, “Because they knew we would actually run it.”
Issue 3, titled Erotica, featured nude watercolors of Kaliardos and Dean, as well as a close-up photo of a man’s posterior by Meisel. Issue 15 was a campy recasting of Cinderella, complete with the drag queen Lady Bunny as the fairy godmother and a muscle-bound prince lying on the royal bed in his skivvies, with a crown on his head.
Fashion luminaries were effusive in their praise. “It’s a far cry from the homogenization in other publications,” the designer Geoffrey Beene told Amy Spindler, who was then the fashion critic for The Times.
Paul Cavaco added: “In this world of magazines, where in the ’80s everything was demystified, from the models to the photographers, Stephen has, with his magazine, returned to the fantasy.”
While Visionaire titillated aesthetes, the three branched out to more commercial endeavors, like V (1999) and VMan (2003).
“I wanted to do a magazine that appealed to a broader audience,” said Gan, who serves as editor-in-chief. Instead of high-concept art books, V featured celebrities like Beyoncé, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez on the cover, often in risqué poses.
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Gan’s penchant for pushing the envelope helped fuel his ascent. He got lucrative work art-directing ad campaigns for Chanel and was hired as the creative director at Harper’s Bazaar under Glenda Bailey, a job he still holds.
More recently, in 2012, Gan spearheaded the launch of CR Fashion Book with Roitfeld. By this point, Dean and Kaliardos had detached from the commercial magazines, while Gan took less of an interest in Visionaire. And over time, distance between Gan and his partners grew, not just professionally, but socially.
Sometime around 2002 Dean began dating David Selig, a restaurateur who owned the Rice chain in New York and, now, Rockaway Taco in Queens. The two moved to Brooklyn, put a chicken coup in their backyard and fell in with a circle of art world fixtures like Maurizio Cattelan, Marina Abramovic and Klaus Biesenbach.
“Cecilia’s a catalyst between Red Hook and the Rockaways and the art world and the fashion world,” Biesenbach said.
Kaliardos, meanwhile, who is a highly respected makeup artist and who once dated the fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière, takes acting classes at Trinity Lutheran Church in Morningside Heights, where students analyze their dreams from a Jungian perspective and use symbols from them to inform their character work.
“It’s not about getting famous,” said his classmate, the writer Joan Buck.
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From time to time, the three would each help each other out, but with decreasing frequency. Two years ago, they began talking of a split.
“We just did it really slowly,” Kaliardos said.
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On a Monday afternoon this month at the V offices, the mood was anything but somber. Music from Katy Perry and Ariana Grande blasted, while Gan sat with one of his editors, Steven Chaiken, in a conference room and went through the latest mock-ups for V, VMan and CR.
There was a fashion spread with Miley Cyrus in a furry fuchsia Jeremy Scott jersey with a plastic palm tree between her legs. And another with the football player Colin Kaepernick, shirtless.
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Gan conceded that the split could have been handled better, if only to head off rumors.
“I’d compare it to three friends who started making music together in their garage,” Gan said. “It’s like a breakup.”
He stressed that there was no plan to fold any of the magazines. CR Fashion Book and V, he said, would each have nearly 160 pages of ads this September, approaching record levels.
“I think the best thing to say is that you just sort of grow up and gravitate toward a certain kind of music,” he said. “And if as a band, your friends say they want to do opera, let them do opera. Everyone should be able to create freely.”
Later that week and 40 blocks north, Dean and Kaliardos were sitting in a conference room at Creative Artists Agency, which is helping them with film projects.
As Dean told it, there was nothing terribly dramatic about their split from Gan; it was just a need to formalize things that had been the status quo for years.
“In order to make the companies flourish we need to focus on what is most interesting to us,” Dean said.
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As an example, she spoke of several Visionaire projects that blurred the line between art and fashion, including a series of paintings of the model Adriana Lima by Richard Phillips that were sold through Larry Gagosian. She also pointed to a series of T-shirts featuring works by Alex Katz and Yoko Ono that were sold at the Gap and Opening Ceremony, and did extremely well for them.
“For us that was a real eye opener,” she said.
Then Dean and Kaliardos offered a peek of the next issue of Visionaire, a collaboration with John Baldessari.
“Visionaire is strange,” Kaliardos said. “It’s a miracle that as a business model it’s actually made money because it’s such a quirky artistic endeavor. But these things can work. A typical magazine isn’t the only way to make it in publishing.”