Cast your eye over the fashion section and you may feel it to be overbearing and exclusionary. Have hope. The Protagonist Magazine simultaneously slips under the radar as an unassuming and yet astounding product of fashion and culture. In its third issue it explores the aesthetic of reflections, lending itself an (if possible) romantic Jekyll and Hyde duality.
There is no photographic fodder to please your eyes; every image is like a brushstroke. The portrait it paints is full of colour and texture, cumbersome under its under its patterns and folds of luxuriant silk. When so many fashion magazines look forward, The Protagonist looks back to explore the origins of our current fixations. It does it well and with seamless glamour.
The Protagonist weaves an unexpected mix of tales from Edward Linley Stambourne, the first artist of the 1880s to use photographs as visual aids to his illustrations, to ballet dancer Nicol Edmunds. You can gaze at the sublime outfits from Khosla Jani or pick through the patterned dresses of Zhandra Rhodes at The Rainbow Penthouse, whilst stopping to chat with statuesque actress Gemma O’Brien. The soundtrack is provided by the smooth tones of James Tormй and Aubrey Logan, resurrecting the romance of 1940s and 50s jazz. The writing is consistently insightful and tender, intuitive and honest. In its clarity and sound-footedness, it is almost academic. It cooks up curiosity and serves you something different on every page.
'The writing is consistently insightful and tender, intuitive and honest. In its clarity and sound-footedness, it is almost academic'.
From first flick through I associated immediately with Cabana in its eclectic flamboyance, the photography deeply patterned and richly coloured with atmospheric use of shadow. This gives it a fantastical element. Amidst the opulence of golden and shimmering hues are corners of darkness, where vacant eyes look through you. The best images are left on the covers, with an average of four to choose from each issue. The spines are different colours, depending on your chosen issue, so you can pick and mix the colours of the spines you’ll see sprawling along your wall once shelved. Within, the paper is thick and heavy, almost sweet smelling as if aged.
It sustains a sense of storytelling throughout, but these tales are at their most powerful in the art features. Sagalit Landau’s ethereal artwork Salt Bride tells the tale of Leah, the leading lady of the play The Dybbuk, who typifies the lovelorn bride. The description of a softly wavering dress, nudged by the waters of the Dead Sea, before it becomes crystalline, leaves a poignant image. Natasa Kekanovic’s ink drawings run like streams into fluid forms of faces and flowers, and Hannah Blackman-Kurz’s illustrations explore motherhood and belonging, via the mythology of the mandrake root. A brief portrayal of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his sumptuous classicist paintings is enough to make you sigh.
All of this and in its own precise style. From working in Magalleria it is now easy to spot a fashion mag that seems to falter in its own field, drawn to too many photographers or cluttered with too many diverse styles. The Protagonist, from its outset, has had a specific image which has continued with the consistency of a professional print. When modern fashion seems to be full of bare space and clean lines, this magazine is like stepping into an eccentric’s manor. It’s florals with sophistication, it’s colours without kitsch; it’s unmistakably The Protagonist Magazine, a hero/heroine of its time.