ONE OF THE INDIE FASHION MAG INDUSTRY’S MOST INFLUENTIAL EDITORS & CREATIVE DIRECTORS IS LUIS VENEGAS: AN INSPIRATION TO DIRTY, AND FATHER TO THREE ADMIRED (AND SUCCESSFUL) LIMITED EDITION PUBLICATIONS: EY! (ELECTRIC YOUTH), FANZINE 137 AND, OF COURSE, CANDY.
DIRTY CAUGHT UP WITH THE SPANISH-BORN CREATIVE DIRECTOR, WHO TALKED ABOUT HIS INTEREST IN THE TRANSGENDERED, WORKING WITH MUGLER AT THE AGE OF 17, AND WHY HE’LL NEVER STOP LOVING PRINT MAGAZINES.
TEXT Erick Ruales
PHOTOGRAPHS Courtesy of Luis Venegas
DIRTY: I WANTED TO START BY TALKING ABOUT THE NEW ISSUE OF CANDY!
LUIS VENEGAS: Have you seen it?
D: I HAVEN’T SEEN THE PHYSICAL ISSUE, HOWEVER I’VE SEEN A GOOD DEAL OF THE STORIES & WORK FROM THE ISSUE. AS YOU KNOW, TWO OF MY AGENCY’S PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOT FOR THE ISSUE, SO I THINK IT’S A GOOD PLACE TO START!
D: CANDY IS THE FIRST MAGAZINE TO DEAL WITH TRANSGENDER ISSUES AND SUBJECTS FROM A FASHION POINT OF VIEW, AND I’M DYING TO KNOW WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THIS PROJECT?
LV: Well, I remember this issue of Italian Vogue, it was the July 2008 issue, where the magazine cast only black models that issue, and it created a lot of buzz in the news & media, because people were saying it was groundbreaking, or it had never been done before, but I felt like that wasn’t true. Of course, it was important for black models, but it wasn’t new at all! It was new in the 70s when Beverly Johnson was on the cover of Vogue for the first time. So it started me thinking, “what would be as meaningful today as Beverly Johnson on the cover of Vogue 40 years ago?” Around the same time, I remember someone telling me about this woman, the CEO of Lancome, who’s name I can’t recall, who in fact was born a man.
LV: Exactly! This left an impression on me because people don’t usually associate transponders with positions of power, particularly in multinational companies. Unfortunately, they’re usually associated with prostitution or other negative things, and this was the opposite. I knew personally that there are so many transgender stories out there that all come back to the idea of making one’s dream’s come to life. So I felt like I had stumbled upon probably the best idea of my life — never before had a magazine completely celebrated all transgender persons, in particular from a fashion point of view. I didn’t want to make any political points, while I recognize that it’s important. I really just wanted to create what I refer to as the “Tranny Vogue”. I thought that just the fact that something like this would exist, that in itself would be the statement. I aim to talk about it in a natural, positive and glamorous way.
D: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE?
LV: I have to say I’m proud! Now trannies in fashion are sort of a trend, but when the first issue of Candy came out in October 2009, no one was doing it! That was way before Andrej Pejic (SP), that was way before Lea T, So I feel like somehow, from my little office, with my little idea, I started something of a trend! Maybe it was coincidental, but I know I did it first! Either way, I feel very proud that the idea came to me.
D: YOU MENTIONED HOW THE ISSUE OF ITALIAN VOGUE THAT USED ALL BLACK MODELS WAS SORT OF A TRIGGER THAT INSPIRED CANDY, AND THAT THERE WERE ALWAYS BLACK MODELS IN FASHION, AS FAR BACK AS THE 60s AND 70s, PARTICULARLY WITH DESIGNERS LIKE YVES SAINT LAURENT. IN THE SAME WAY, THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TRANSGENDER MUSES IN ART AND FASHION CULTURE. DID YOU HAVE ANY TRANSGENDER INSPIRATIONS GROWING UP?
LV: Yes, absolutely. I mean they have been inspiring people for ages! There is the legendary relationship between Amanda Lear and Salvador Dali, or Romi Haag, the German singer who was David Bowie’s muse and part time tranny lover. I remember as a child, when I was about 8 years old, I saw Boy George on t.v., and I remember my oldest sister came to me and said, “You know that girl on tv? That girl is a boy.” I couldn’t believe it — it was the first time that I remember mistaking someone’s gender based on appearance. I mean, I admire Amanda Lear the way I admire Grace Kelly. Then there are people like Divine, or Candy Darling, after whom I named my magazine.
D: DID YOU EVER HAVE A DESIRE TO BECOME THE OPPOSITE SEX?
LV: No. I thoroughly enjoy being a guy, a gay man, so I never had any wish of becoming a transgender woman. But I deeply admire their style and their strength.
D: AT THE SAME TIME, YOU DON’T NECESSARILY FEATURE TRANSGENDER PEOPLE ON THE COVER — YOU’VE NOW HAD TWO OSCAR-NOMINATED ACTORS ON THE COVER. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE THAT INTEREST FROM HOLLYWOOD HEAVY-HITTERS LIKE JAMES FRANCO & CHLOE SEVIGNEY, BOTH OF WHOM POSED FOR YOUR COVER DRESSED AS THE OPPOSITE GENDER?
LV: Well Candy is not only about transgender people, who have had sexual reassignments. It’s also about transvestites, androgynous types, and gender identity in general. So I always felt that I had to maintain some kind of equilibrium between pop culture and for me, it’s also sort of an irony, to use celebrities on the cover of my magazine, the same way they do on GQ or Vogue. Because they are powerful, it makes my magazine powerful. You know, many people who have never heard of Candy, learned about it because of that James Franco cover. It really helps the idea & the brand when a straight, well known celebrity endorses your cause and gets done up in drag! There is something powerful about that. It’s not that I won’t put a transgender man or woman on my cover – there is plenty of time for that!
D: HAVE YOU HAD ANY CELEBRITIES REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE BECAUSE OF THE CONTENT?
LV: Not really. I hope not anyway! I feel like everyone so far has been very receptive.
D: I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL WORK, AS A FREELANCE CREATIVE DIRECTOR. YOU STARTED OUT INTERNING WITH THIERRY MUGLER, WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE? WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
LV: A-MAZ-ING! I was studying fashion in Barcelona in 1996, and a friend of mine went to Mugler in search of a job because he was such a fan. It was honestly because of his desire to work there that I got in, because a week later after he got in, he called me in to do some work and I was like, “SURE!” I was 17 at the time, and it was the first time I got this very real experience of seeing a fashion house from the inside, with Mugler himself, who was already a legend by this time. One day it was like, “Oh Jerry Hall is coming in today!” and the next day someone else, and there I was meeting these people. I remember that was the first time I took a plane! I was 17 and working for Mugler, it was really amazing and fun and I will never forget it.
D: HOW DID YOUR EARLY EXPERIENCE IN FASHION INFLUENCE YOUR TRANSITION INTO A CREATIVE DIRECTOR & MAKE IT POSSIBLE TO WORK FOR PEOPLE LIKE CAROLINA HERRERA AND ULTIMATELY HELP BRANDS ESTABLISH A LOOK.
LV: It really happened naturally. I always loved magazines. For me they were a way to go and discover new things and new looks, things I didn’t even know existed. I grew up in the 80s when many avant garde magazines were coming out like The Face and Arena and i, but I was always drawn to the more establish titles like Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar when Fabien Baron was behind it. I still don’t feel like I can create the work that those people and brands have done, but they are a huge reference for me, people like Fabien Baron & Steven Gan.
D: YOU’RE ALSO AN EXTREMELY TALENTED PHOTO EDITOR AS WELL, WHICH I THINK IS HIGHLY VISIBLE IN YOUR MAGAZINE FANZINE137, WHICH SHINES THROUGH AS A CURATING PROJECT OF IMAGES THAT HAVE INSPIRED PEOPLE OVER THE YEARS. IT SEEMS TO BE AN EXERCISE IN ODD NUMBERS: TAKE THE TITLE ’137′, AS WELL AS THE ISSUE NUMBERS, ALSO ALL ODD NUMBERS. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THAT CONCEPT?
LV: I wanted to make a ‘zine’ that was very personal to me, that was about my dearest, most favorite things, my most important references and inspirations, and I try to use the most beautiful images that come to mind. I was born on March 13, 1979 — talk about odd numbers!
D: SO YOU’RE LIKE BEYONCE, YOU BELIEVE IN NUMEROLOGY?
LV: In a very personal way, yes. I mean, I’ve never read a book about it! I’m just drawn to it!
D: GROWING UP I WORKED IN A BOOKSTORE, AND SO I UNDERSTAND THE ATTRACTION TO MAGAZINES, AND THE TACTILE RELATIONSHIP WITH BOOKS, AS SOMETHING YOU PICK UP, YOU TOUCH, YOU SMELL. THE WAY THAT YOU DESIGNED FANZINE IN THE BEGINNING, IT WAS VERY MUCH A TACTILE EXPERIENCE: THE VIEWER HAD TO UNFOLD IT, IT SORT OF CAME TO LIFE AS THE IMAGES WERE REVEALED TO YOU —
LV: I’m thinking about doing that again for the next issue!
D: WELL NOW WE LIVE IN SUCH A DIGITAL WORLD, I MEAN YOU HAVE A VERY SUCCESSFUL PUBLISHING COMPANY, BUT A THIRD OF THE PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOUR WORK HAVE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN IT IN PERSON, THEY EXPERIENCE IT THROUGH THE INTERNET. HOW DO YOU BRIDGE THAT INTIMATE EXPERIENCE OF TOUCHING A BOOK WITH EXPERIENCING IT ONLINE?
LV: I think it’s impossible to make that comparison. You just can’t! The digital media is very relevant and in order to be successful your brand has to live in that environment, but in the end I want to make something that is personal. I grew up touching magazines, and books. I don’t want to criticize digital magazines because I am doing an interview for one (LAUGHS). What I do like about digital publishing is how quickly it can reach such a broad audience. It’s very fast. You can watch the new Chanel show as it’s happening. When I was growing up, you had to wait months to see the very first images of ANYTHING!