Lunch with the FT

August 8, 2014 4:30 pm

Lunch with the FT: Jefferson Hack

Over hot broth and cold quiche, the co-founder of ‘alternative style bible’ Dazed & Confused talks about his digital empire – and being inspired by Playboy

Anyone can eat at Rochelle Canteen but you have to find it first. I arrive early at the right address in Shoreditch, east London, and there are hipsters everywhere but no sign of a restaurant. Entry, it turns out, is via a buzzer on a locked door that opens on to the grounds of a school converted into studios popular with the art, media and fashion set. Rochelle Canteen itself turns out to be in the school’s former bike shed.

Jefferson Hack has been described as “the coolest man in Britain”, so it’s no surprise he’s eaten here many times before – nor that a twentysomething in tortoiseshell glasses is flicking through the latest issue of Dazed & Confused, the “alternative style bible” that Hack founded in 1992 with photographer Rankin. As Hack later tells me: “This place is a mainstay of the scene.”

Dazed & Confused offers an achingly trendy mix of reports from unlikely places. There is the inside track on “Turkey’s transgender activists” or the Libyans squatting in Gaddafi’s former compound. While celebrities such as Beyoncé and Scarlett Johansson occasionally feature on its cover, there’s more coverage than is possibly healthy about matters such as the comparative virtues of various “underground” scenes around the world.

Illustration of Jefferson Hack by James Ferguson©James Ferguson

Dazed & Confused is also proud of its reputation as the place to spot Next Big Things in art, literature and fashion. Hack is still the magazine’s guiding tastemaker, although he gave up running it day-to-day in 1999. As editorial director and publisher of Dazed Group, he has two other magazines focused on luxury fashion and last year launched Dazed Vision to make editorial and branded films for dazeddigital.com, which attracted 1.7m unique visitors in June, more than UK Esquire (500,000 on average) but less than UK Vogue (2.1m).

Hack is the epitome of a modern media entrepreneur, skilled at blurring boundaries between readers, commercial sponsors and journalists. In 2012 he founded his own advertising agency, MAD, and a key part of Dazed’s business model is Dazed White Label, a commercial arm launched last year to make creative content for brands that want their own media to reflect the confident design and imagery of Hack’s magazines. Clients include Armani, Chanel, Nike, Swarovski and Dunhill.

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Lunch with the FT

But if his name and work still aren’t familiar to you, then you’ll probably just know him as the man who has a daughter with model Kate Moss.

On the principle that a menu always reads better with an aperitif, I ask for a drinks list. Bad news: the restaurant doesn’t sell alcohol, though guests can bring their own. Any hopes of a boozy lunch are dashed when Hack strolls over empty-handed.

Tall, with a floppy fringe, Hack is known as a dapper dresser. Today he wears skinny jeans, a blazer and layers arranged just-so, a grey long-sleeved T-shirt under a short-sleeved black one with white graffiti emblazoned across it. If he said he was 30, you probably wouldn’t doubt him. (He’s 43.)

“Sorry to disappoint you but I can’t go on 24-hour benders any more,” he says when I suggest we go out to pick up a bottle before ordering our food. He no longer has much time for the hedonistic life extolled in his magazine. “When we launched Dazed it was at the height of ecstasy culture, of club culture and the underground. Now I’m a lot more chilled.”

. . .

Hack isn’t happy with our seats at a communal table in the middle of the room. It’s nothing he can’t fix, he says, calling over the maître d’. One air-kiss later we are led to a more sheltered spot in the corner. The restaurant is fully booked but we are given a four-person table to ourselves.

Once settled in, Hack wastes no time before setting out his counterculture credentials. His conversation, never less than engaging, frequently verges on hyperbole. Dazed & Confused “broke all the rules from day one”, he says. Starting out, he was “anti-everything”, a “radical influenced by style from the street”. He didn’t give a “fuck about the mainstream” or “two shits for the establishment”.

I can’t go on 24-hour benders any more. I used to party all the time, now I’m a lot more chilled

To keep the magazine afloat, he had to be “resourceful”, he says. “We signed a deal with Columbia Records to put out a series of compilation albums under the Dazed name. We knew they’d never see the light of day but took the advance anyway. “The record label dropped us when we didn’t deliver the first album. Otherwise, there were absolutely no repercussions – we got to keep the advance. Amazing. But I’m in a different place these days, I’m less gangster now than I was then.”

He’s just warming up when a waiter arrives to take our order. Hack suggests a jug of lemon and ginger. “It’s good for my immune system,” he says. The week before he had postponed our lunch citing food poisoning. Has he recovered? “Yeah, I’m over it,” he says. “I guess I’ve just really got a thing for ginger at the moment.” He orders chicken dumpling broth, followed by quiche Lorraine; I choose a leaf and anchovy salad and a main course of rabbit and pork faggots with mash.

Orders given, we tack back to the early days of Dazed & Confused. Hack met Rankin while they were students at the London College of Printing in the early 1990s. Hack, then 19, saw an advertisement from Rankin, a 23-year-old photographer, wanting to start a magazine. Anyone interested was to attend a meeting in the canteen the following week. Only Hack showed up, so he and Rankin went it alone.

“This is not a magazine,” the first issue proclaimed, unnervingly close to self-mockery. “This is not a conspiracy to force opinion into the subconscious of stylish young people. A synthetic leisure culture is developing – plastic people force fed on canned entertainment and designer food. Are you ready to be Dazed & Confused?”

Soon after Dazed launched, Time Out magazine described it as a “style mag staffed by youths who are prone to talking absolute shit.”

Hack concedes that he and Rankin used to be “arrogant and naive”. In the early days Rankin was the publishing and creative director and Hack the editor. The magazine featured a mix of out-there features and provocative fashion shoots, such as 1998’s “Fashion-Able” cover story, created by Alexander McQueen and photographer Nick Knight, featuring disabled models. Along with McQueen, early contributors included Damien Hirst, Jay Jopling, the Chapman brothers, Björk, Blur and Radiohead – back when they were all relative unknowns.

Rochelle Canteen


Greater Arnold Circus, London E2

Chicken, kale and dumpling broth £5.50

Leaf and anchovy salad £6.50

Quiche Lorraine £11.00

Rabbit and pork faggots £13.50

Jug of lemon and ginger £9.00

Latte £2.20

Cappuccino £2.40

Total (incl service) £57.00

Hack’s broth arrives trailing clouds of savoury steam. “This looks great, very substantial,” he says, spooning some into his mouth before continuing. “With the magazine we were connecting dots between all this amazing energy we saw out there. I was meeting the most creative people night after night. Brit pop, the YBAs – it was all happening in our back garden.”

Kate Moss was the cover star for the February 1999 issue. Rankin photographed her wearing black suspenders and stockings; Hack took care of the interview. According to legend, his first words to the supermodel were: “You smell of pee.” (Hack refuses to confirm this when I ask.) Later in the interview, he asked her: “There’s been a lot of different men mentioned in your life recently but no one permanent relationship. Is there no one out there good enough for you?” Soon after, Moss and he paired up; their daughter Lila Grace is now 12.

“Kate’s a wonderful mother,” Hack says, “but we’ve moved on and it wouldn’t be fair to speak about her in public.” Moss is now married to the musician Jamie Hince; Hack is dating Tatiana Cotliar, an Argentine model in her twenties.

Dazed & Confused, too, has moved on, from its black-and-white fanzine roots, and is now distributed in 41 countries, an international brand with offices in London and Korea. And, like almost every modern publisher, Hack faces the conundrum of how to make print and digital products work together. This February the print edition of Dazed & Confused was slashed from 12 issues a year to six, rebranded simply as Dazed and doubling the amount of content on its website.

“The next big revolution in media will be the moving image, which is no longer the domain of directors or massive studios. I want to be disruptive in that area,” says Hack. Dazed’s move into video at the end of last year was led by James Franco. The Hollywood actor and writer was the first of 52 individuals to contribute content to Dazed Digital’s “Visionaries” project. One of his videos is of naked humans in an art gallery covered in paint and pretending to be animals.

Those who criticise Hack’s ventures into advertising – who claim he is mainly interested in sponsored content streams – receive short shrift. “We don’t do branded content, we do content sponsored by brands,” he insists.

I press on, mentioning my surprise at the amount of “content sponsored by brands” in his magazines, much of it passed off as regular journalism. Take, for example, the October 2013 issue, in which six pages are given over to Hack’s collaboration with Tod’s, the luxury Italian shoemaker.

“It’s become a hot issue now as media organisations look for new revenue streams in light of dwindling print advertising,” he says. “But for us it’s nothing new. We’re skilled at this, we’ve being doing it for over 20 years. If there is a degree of transparency about the brand’s involvement, it’s win-win for everyone. Accept it and move on.”

And how does corporate sponsorship fit with Dazed’s edgy ethos? “We can work with commercial partners but we are not owned by them,” he responds. “Dazed is independent. That makes a big difference.”

Has he ever been tempted to sell? “We’ve had offers but we have a responsibility to maintain the magazine’s independence. We don’t want to sell out like everyone else.”

. . .

Our table is cleared and with dispiriting haste the main courses arrive, the food prompting Hack to recall the “pretty bleak” lunch options in east London when he moved the magazine there from south London nearly two decades ago.

“There was nothing like this – good quality British food ... A soggy pie from the local petrol station was as good as it got,” he says, between mouthfuls of quiche. “I’ve always told people that my Mum does the best quiche Lorraine in the world,” he continues, “Let me put that to the test.”

Hack speaks in an estuary-meets-transatlantic accent; born in Montevideo, Uruguay, the son of a salesman for tobacco companies, he spent his childhood on the move. “My father was very entrepreneurial. He had that get-up-and-go, always taking Mum and me with him. There’s something about experiencing the world at a young age that makes you open-minded.”

By the time Hack set foot in Ramsgate, Kent, aged nine, the family had lived in South America, Singapore, Hong Kong and Belgium. The longest he had spent at any one school was two years. Was it difficult to fit in? His American accent didn’t help, he says. “I felt like an outsider and used to get picked on, that kind of thing.”

I choose not to be on social media because I don’t want my memories and ideas to be owned by anyone else

Arts and culture brought him to London. “My family is very small and they’re very loving but I was searching for an identity I couldn’t find at home. I always wanted to run off and join Andy Warhol’s Factory.”

At a nearby table, the twentysomething with the copy of Dazed & Confused is discreetly operating his iPhone’s reverse camera function to take a snap of Hack. It’s an old hustle, and one Hack is all too familiar with.

“People are obsessed with their digital footprint these days,” he says. “I choose not to be on Twitter or other social media platforms because I feel politically comprised by their privacy laws. I don’t want my memories and ideas to be owned by anyone else.”

Strange, I say, for someone with a multimedia business. “I have a certain issues with privacy laws after my relationship with Kate and the birth of my daughter. It was a painful time – all the intrusion from the media, the paparazzi, the phone tapping, but I can’t really go into it,” he says, before going into it. “The press had no trouble putting my daughter’s life at risk if they thought they could get a good photo or story out of it. I’ve seen them run red lights, do 360s in the road, park me in – all that shit.”

He forks the last mouthful of quiche into his mouth. “This has less egg but more bacon. I’m going to say this: this is as good as my Mum’s.”

We both order coffee and conversation turns to Playboy. The magazine was an “inspiration”, says Hack. It was “revolutionary” when it was first published in 1953 and “so well curated”. “Hugh [Hefner] took alternative thinking and pushed it into the mainstream. He commissioned some of the greatest writers, from [Vladimir] Nabokov to [Joseph] Heller. The magazine featured interviews with the biggest names in politics, arts, sports.”

And, of course, naked women. Hack doesn’t exalt Playboy’s emphasis on female nudity but defends Hefner for having promoted the less sexually uptight world in which we now live. “Hugh turned the sexual revolution into a way of life,” he says.

I ask Hack about his trip to the Playboy mansion with Kate Moss in the early 2000s but he doesn’t want to talk about it – nor about the room he visited in which John Lennon once stubbed a cigarette out on a Matisse, or Hefner’s million-dollar offer to Moss to do the cover of Playboy. (She declined on that occasion but appeared on the cover of this year’s 60th anniversary issue.)

But, ever the salesman, he reveals that Hefner told him he was a fan of Dazed. Hack returns the compliment, saying he admires the evolution of Playboy into a brand, with nightclubs, television and movie productions. “Hugh was the first to do this,” says Hack. “But, like Elvis, Playboy got fat and ended up tacky, a parody of itself.” Is that the fate every magazine publisher has to try to avoid? “I don’t have to worry about that just yet! Though I want to keep on going until I’m at least as old as Hugh [now 88].”

It’s a disconcerting image on which to end but there’s no time to change the subject. “How long have we been talking for? A couple of hours? Right, I better be off,” he says. “There are always people to see, magazines to put out, content to curate.”

John Sunyer is an FT Weekend journalist

Illustration by James Ferguson

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