“Over time, the term “bootlegging” has evolved beyond illegal copyright infringement and moonshine to describe, in essence, a creative act. In the ongoing UNLICENSED series, we turn to designers and artists who exploit this phenomenon to provide some insight into contemporary culture’s obsession with bootlegging. In this edition we focus on A March Issue, a full, front-to-back remake of British Vogue—with all models wearing white T-shirts and blue jeans—conceived out of its makers’ desire for “choice reduction” and “fashion detox.”
A collaborative graduation project between graphic designer Line Arngaard and fashion researcher Sonia Oet realized in spring 2018, it takes its title from the most important issue in the world of fashion magazines, the iconic September issue, showcasing the highlights and most important tendencies of the upcoming season. Flipping through A March Issue is both humorous and chilling at once. The seductive gazes, blowing hair, body poses, and editorial layouts feel hyper-familiar. However, in order for Arngaard and Oet to remake 372 pages of high-fashion editorial, rough decisions and humorous compromises to production value are made, and thereby the content is differentiated just enough to become its very own thing. The white T-shirts and blue jeans function as visual placeholders, the repetition becomes almost scientific and visualize the amount of fashion the industry produces. In understanding the amount this restricted medium of yesterday contains, the viewer catches a sense of current scope of choice options provided by a fashion industry running on digital platforms, no longer confined to publishing schedules, page counts, fashion weeks, and seasons. How much is left when the fashion is removed from fashion is fascinating—and perhaps reveals more than the clothes themselves.
The relationship between the project and the tendency of fashion appropriation and normcore tendencies by high-fashion brands like Vetements and Off-White (which it responds to in the first place) are taken to further extremes in the “Finale”—reinserting the project it into a fashion show context by having an endless stream of models walk down the catwalk at the annual Rietveld Fashion Show wearing white T-shirts and blue jeans. The project got selected for the prestigious national Lichting Fashion Show, which showcases the best upcoming Dutch fashion designers, and the white T-shirts and blue jeans were for sale in a pop-up shop during the graduation show—further blurring the lines between bootleg, critique, participation, and competition between remake and original. In a recent interview, I discuss the project with its creators.
MH (Marie Hoejlund)
How do you understand bootlegging today—on a broad level as well as how it’s related to your practice?
LA & SO (Line Arngaard & Sonia Oet)
Throughout the past year our understanding of the word bootlegging has changed a lot. Instead of seeing it as a lesser version or reproduction of an object or concept—a copy to be sold at a cheaper price—we have come to view it as a method of researching and getting to know an original.
The reason our understanding and use of the term has shifted was that we found ourselves becoming “bootleggers” in our own right. At precisely this time last year we were graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam—Line from Graphic Design and Sonia from Fashion. We had been working together to come up with a concept for a publication about the “white T-shirt and blue jeans” look as both an archetype of modern clothing and a method of choice reduction. At one of these sessions we had a Vogue magazine in our hands, and as a joke we started talking about how the magazine would change—what it would mean—if every model in every photo was wearing the same outfit. This passing thought accelerated into reality, and before long we were in the middle of bootlegging Vogue. Our prior relationship to the concept of the bootleg was completely changed by this project. We did not remake the magazine for any commercial reason but because we wanted to subvert its content—to simply take it apart, alter some elements, and put it back together. In this way we entered the world of the knockoff: the world of hijacking, copying, reinterpreting, re-making, translating, and appropriating.
Can you discuss a particular example of bootlegging in your practice? What did you bootleg? Why? What were the ideas behind the project? What was the process of putting it together? What were the implications? What did you hope to achieve?
LA & SO
A March Issue is the name of our bootlegged version of the March 2018 issue of British Vogue. It is a 372-page, cover-to-cover remake of the magazine, with every model in every photo wearing a white T-shirt and pair of blue jeans whilst mimicking the poses from the original magazine.
The idea of bootlegging the magazine came out of discussions we had been having about the pace of fashion, the stress it produces, and the urgency of taking a step away from it. We started by trying to understand why we felt a need to talk about “fashion detoxing” and “choice reduction” in the first place.
One factor that we could both easily relate to was the impact of mainstream fashion publications like Vogue. We both felt alienated by the portrayal of people and the one-sided approach to fashion that these kinds of magazines represent. We started wondering: what’s left if you take away the fashion from a fashion magazine?
In the beginning of the process, we went through the entire original Vogue, page by page, element by element, trying to understand the underlying structures, the poses, the typography, and the visual language. We had to get to know every detail of the magazine in order to then be able to flip it and find an alternative version. Once accustomed with the magazine, we started to define strategies for translating all these elements. For example, we planned to reshoot all the images with everyone wearing the same “default” outfit, distorting logos using Photoshop’s “Content-Aware” tool and covering up bags, shoes, and cosmetics with T-shirts.
We had the first photoshoot in mid-March 2018, and over the next few months we had photoshoots almost every day—right up until the beginning of June, when we had to send the magazine to print. It was a huge collaborative effort involving 22 dedicated photography students and hundreds of models.
The headlines and the cover for the magazine were made in collaboration with a classmate, graphic designer Robert Finkei, who applied a method he had developed for splitting up and reorganizing images to the typography of the magazine. For the magazine’s body text, programmer Bjørn Karmann helped us to develop a simple software application that could reorganize the existing text of the magazine alphabetically, so that the text on every page contains exactly the same words—in a different order.
After a whirlwind production process the magazine arrived back from the printer and we were somewhat surprised to see how much it was still a fashion magazine even without all the flashy garments. But maybe that’s the thing about bootlegs: by the time something has been changed just enough to feel different, it’s not a bootleg anymore.
What is the difference between bootlegging and appropriation? Bootlegging and copying?
LA & SO
It’s difficult to point out the exact differences between these terms. We think that all of them could be used to describe projects like A March Issue. One way to look at it would be that, in our case, the bootleg is the object—it’s the magazine you can hold next to its original in order to feel that the two are somehow the same but are also different. For us, copying and appropriating are the methods that were used in the process of making it. For example, every image in A March Issue is an appropriation of the original. We didn’t seek to make perfect 1:1 translations but instead sought to subvert the original and to offer a different perspective. Of course, the copying and appropriation of the images in the magazine was very much influenced by our surroundings: Who can model? Who can take the picture? Where can we do it? It’s probably the case that many bootlegs are born like this: making use of whatever is around at a given time and place. Still, it was important to us to constantly relate to the original Vogue by staying as close to the content, poses, and material choices as possible.
Can you talk about the relationship between bootlegging and irony?
LA & SO
One of our mentors during the project, graphic designer Bart de Baets, said to us: “When I tell people about this project I say that it’s like the most elaborate joke ever.” At the time this freaked us out a bit. Were we just executing a gigantic joke? Eventually, comments such as this made us realize that humor and irony are essential parts of the project and an effective way to question and challenge the original. We came to embrace it rather than discard it, and found that it was a useful tool for critical reflection.
How does bootlegging relate to the idea of ownership?
LA & SO
It seems like there are somehow two kinds of ownerships at stake when it comes to bootlegging: the original ownership and the ownership that comes with taking something that’s not yours and making it yours. What we experienced was that in making our “own” version we got to know the original better and thereby regained some power over it—over “the fashion bible.”