The Good Eye: Are You There God? It's Me, Vagina
One zine grows up, and Austin's mags burst into bloom
I almost didn't recognize her. She showed up on my doorstep wearing something splashy and floral and unabashedly feminine. Unafraid of appearing frivolous, she seemed to dare me not to take her seriously, decked out in her cascade of blooming Technicolor. In a word, she was working it.
I'm talking, of course, about the publication formerly known as Vagina : : The Zine, which has recently taken its first step toward mature magazinity with a cover-to-cover makeover. Vagina, that humble little rag (if you'll forgive the pun); that powerful organ (whoops) of the feminine voice; that lovingly tended lady-garden (oh well) of opinions, interviews, verse, and prose, has outgrown its hand-stapled origins and now flaunts its first professional print job, complete with full color format and contributor pages. Girl, you'll be a woman soon.
Editor Hillary-Anne Crosby calls her adolescent brainchild a "maga*zine." Crosby and I discussed Vagina's three-year evolution as well as our own love-hate relationship with magazines in her stylish-on-a-shoestring apartment in Eastside Commons, that way station for the recently graduated and wistfully underemployed. Crosby's dwelling is decorated with frilly aprons, bicycle racks, dried flowers, piles and piles of shoes, vintage copies of Anna Karenina, which she has read every year since she was 14, and a giant placard bearing a stanza from the 16th century Italian poem "Mad Orlando."
One reason Crosby wants to keep Vagina quarterly is to avoid the pressures she associates with monthly women's magazines. "With 12 issues, you have to keep it fresh, so there's a lot of pressure to keep changing, as a reader. 'Last year we said stripes are in; we can't have stripes again this May.' And readers are like, 'Shoot, I still have my striped bathing suit from last year! They said we were over chevron, but my closet is full of chevron!'"
Crosby used to subscribe to Women's Health, but canceled after a cover model counseled readers to eat naked in order to shame themselves out of "bad" foods like fried chicken. This body-shaming bullshit is precisely what Crosby hates most about women's magazines, and why Vagina – not quite a fashion magazine and not quite a literary journal, but often resembling a hybrid of the two – focuses on capturing the way women live now, rather than telling them how they should live. Feminist publishing guru Jane Pratt made a similar distinction in her introduction to the WORN Archive, the fabulous fashion anthology from Toronto press Drawn & Quarterly with which I am currently obsessed. Pratt dubbed it "inspirational, not aspirational."
It's not just Vagina that's inspiring me this spring, though. Just as fall is the perfect time to celebrate fat deckle-edged hardbacks with marbled frontispieces, spring is the perfect time to celebrate ephemera. And the print revival in Austin has resulted in some truly indispensable ephemera. That may seem oxymoronic, but where content is more fleeting, form can take center stage. From the decadent 19th century Yellow Book to modernist "little magazines" to The Believer, flagrant literary fetishism has always thrived in the periodical format.
The one-off Cafe Armageddon publication Cynosure, created by the Chronicle's own Wayne Alan Brenner (and with illustrations by our Creative Director Jason Stout), perfectly exemplifies this print paradox. Adorned with vials of dirt, envelopes of hair, hidden messages, and coffee rings real enough to buckle the page, Cynosure is a masterpiece of the momentary monumental, the enduring evanescent.
Delighted by the bouquet of fresh Austin mags currently winning out over unread New Yorkers on my coffee table, I was inspired to take these brightly bound beauties outside for a high-fashion editorial shoot. I'm not saying these gorgeous unglossies aren't beautiful on the inside, too. From the Roxane Gay interview in fields to the comix in Foxing Quarterly to Sheila Heti's meditation on brain plasticity in the Austin Review, these mags have minds that matter. But sometimes you want to forget about their brains and just go ahead and objectify them. And since they're already objects, you can do it guilt-free.
This week's online photo gallery features Hillary-Anne Crosby's style diary and a high-drama fashion shoot starring Austin's little magazines. Don't miss it: austinchronicle.com/photos
Austin Fashion Week continues apace. For daily recommendations and highlights, be sure to follow the Chronicle's style blog "Chronique" this week and next. austinchronicle.com/chronique