Catherine Redfern reviews the now defunct Nova magazine
Most magazines are the type of you read once and then chuck in the bin, perhaps ripping out a couple of interesting articles first to keep for posterity. Some magazines you keep, because it feels somehow wrong to throw them away. They look so good, it seems sacrilegious to even cut something out. Nova was one of the latter, for me. I had a real, love hate relationship with it. It entranced and infuriated me at the same time. Now, just one year after it launched, IPC have stopped producing it because “commercially [it] has not reached its targets.” I was planning to write a review of it for this website before I found out, so I decided to do it anyway, as a kind of retrospective look back, a ponder about what could have been.
I can’t say I’m devastated about Nova flopping, because I’m not. The more I read Nova over the past few months, the more it seemed to decline in quality since that first promising issue of June 2000.
Nova was launched – or should I say relaunched – in a flurry of publicity which included a tv ad campaign in which people threw eggs at each other. Taking the name of its highly respected, fashionable predecessor which ran from 1965-75, it seemed to proclaim straight away that it was different. Its front cover empty of chatter, its sleek lines, its interesting photography and intelligent articles, its ironic free giveaway t-shirts, made me intrigued and reminded me instantly of Frank, another ‘different’ magazine that folded a couple of years ago. I was definately interested; it seemed to have a refreshing attitude. For example, in the first issue, the editor Deborah Bee set a tongue-in-cheek ‘quiz’ asking, amongst other things:
Q. Women prefer magazines to newspapers because…
A. They’re easier to read in the bath
B. They tell you what to put in your bath
C. Yeah, right
Q. Feminism is…
A. Something to do with personal hygiene
B. For birds with hairy armpits
C. Why you won’t be like your mum
Q. Self-help quizzes in magazines make you want to…
A. Check into therapy
B. Find out even more about improving your self-esteem
If you answered mostly Cs, we were told, welcome to Nova.
That issue’s first article was on high street fashion and proclaimed ‘The designer rip off is so over.’ It sounded like a breath of fresh air, and I subscribed. The line-up was pretty good: photography by Jurgen Teller, Jane Fitz-Gerald editing the ‘Contagious’ section, and health and beauty director Jan Masters was probably the only person who could make me interested in sheer coverage foundation (and that’s saying something). Later prestigious contributors such as Natasha Walter and India Knight would join the fold. It had promise.
On the other hand, it had plenty of failings. Like most high fashion magazines, it gave off a vibe that could be cloyingly pretentious at times. The fashion was, well, achingly fashionable. This required the models to be of the worryingly stick-thin, blonde, suicidally depressed variety, wearing clothes that looked like they’d belong in a charity shop but cost thousands of pounds. The photography varied between interesting and innovative, and downright bad – blurred, dark, obscure. Nova also had a penchant for fashion shoots featuring rag dolls as models, folded origami to show the latest prints, cartoons or computer generated people, or even images spray-painted onto walls like graffitti. I could never decide whether this represented a healthy disrespect of the fashion industry and a sense of humour; or whether it was annoyingly affected. Ah well. At least it was different.
Months after it launched, Nova was relaunched by a new editor, Jeremy Langmead, and it seemed to lose something (such as most of the best contributors, for a start). It just got more frustrating. Maybe I changed. Maybe I just got bored. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations. Maybe I expected more from an ‘intelligent’ magazine, so the failings seemed bigger in comparison. In the end, we are talking about a product which doesn’t make any money from the cover price but gets all its money from its advertisers. Produced by a huge corporation, its purpose is to make money, not be truly radical. Maybe nothing will satisfy my desire for the perfect magazine.
So, I’d already cancelled my subscription when I found out that there’d be nothing left to subscribe to, and that the remaining issues I was owed would change to Marie Claire instead. Oh well. It makes me wonder whether that’s what I should have been buying all along.