We take look inside new magazine “Avaunt,” and catch up with its editor and polar region explorer, Ben Saunders.
A new biannual with a thing for adventure, “Avaunt” hits shelves this month with a globe-trotting debut issue. Led by an experienced team who you may recognize from the masthead of “PORT” magazine including its editor-in-chief Dan Crowe, the magazine also counts the remarkable Ben Saunders as its editor and co-publisher. An explorer with some incredible achievements under his belt, Saunders has completed the longest human-powered polar expedition in history and retraced Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova route — 1,795 miles on foot.
While offering perspective from the more extreme end of the scale, the magazine aims to strike a balance between these tests of human endeavor and more down-to-earth content. Keeping its scope as diverse as possible, “Avaunt” will cover new season collections under the guidance of “PORT’s” David Hellqvist, test drive the best in outdoor gear and display its favorite luxury accessories in still-life style. In this launch issue, stories of discovery come from the likes of Talking Heads‘ David Byrne, Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody, covering everything from the science of sound and ’70s skateboarding to grown-up tree houses and Amelia Earhart.
Taking a look through its pages and digging a little deeper, we sat down with Ben Saunders to talk about this latest project, past achievements and the importance of print.
Your career so far has been fascinating, to say the least. Could you tell us about your background?
I’ve been undertaking journeys in the polar regions for the last 14 years and in 2013 to 2014 I led the first-ever completion of the expedition that defeated Sir Ernest Shackleton and claimed the lives of Captain Scott and his men. My first big project was an unsupported North Pole attempt in 2001, traveling on foot from the north coast of Siberia with Pen Hadow. I was 23 years old and it was an extraordinarily steep eight-week learning curve. Before that, I had a brief military career, worked for John Ridgway (an ex-SAS officer who crossed the Atlantic in a rowing boat with Chay Blythe in 1966) and juggled a handful of part-time jobs as I tried to get the first expedition off the ground. Much of my childhood was in the West Country and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time outdoors as a kid — a factor that I suspect may have had a significant bearing on my career choices.
Have you always been interested in publishing?
I’ve always loved magazines. As a kid, my brother and I would go and visit my dad, and I used to love ploughing through his collection of “Reader’s Digest.” An uncle had a huge faded yellow shelf of “National Geographic” and I used to spend hours picking them out at random, reading them cover to cover, lying on the floor propped up on my elbows. As a teenager, I discovered titles like “GQ” and “Esquire.” Until that point, as a kid growing up in rural England who wore clothes my mum bought me, fashion and style were totally abstract concepts but part of me quickly latched on to the aspirational element to them; the fold-out Davidoff aftershave samples and the early ’90s Polo, Hackett and Dunhill ads. Magazines have always been both escapism and education to me, little doorways into parallel worlds that I never knew existed. I’m a closet design and typography geek, too, and when I bought Issue One of “PORT,” I knew these were the people I wanted to collaborate with. It was, and is, a magazine that exists on its own terms and I loved the way that “PORT” played with non-celebrity covers and sprawling, challenging long-form feature articles.
How would you describe “Avaunt?”
In some ways, it’s a selfish distillation of everything I’ve enjoyed and been inspired by. In others, it’s an adventure in itself. It’s my first attempt at bringing something to print, and for Dan Crowe and Matt Willey, it’s a chance to throw caution to the wind and really play around with what a magazine can offer. My initial idea was for a journal that documented genuinely pioneering expeditions, as a sort of response to the amount of made-for-TV pseudo adventure that we’re swamped with these days, but “Avaunt” has grown into something with a far broader, more eclectic sweep. I wanted it to be a beautiful, tactile physical object as well. Digital is a big part of what we’re doing, but that long shelf of decades’ worth of “National Geographic” magazines was a seminal memory for me. If I close my eyes now I can still recall the smell of some of the older copies as I opened them up, and you don’t get that on an iPad. So print — and making a beautiful thing that people will hopefully treasure — will always be at the heart of what we’re doing.
Who is the magazine aimed at?
Discerning, curious souls with a taste for adventure and an aesthetic appreciation for the beauty that exists both in nature and in the ways that we, humans, interact with, explore and document the world we inhabit. We never really had a target demographic in mind, but I had the perhaps impossible goal of creating something that might simultaneously be bought, enjoyed and respected by the sort of person who goes to Pitti Uomo and by the sort of person who goes potholing. I wonder if anyone’s done both?
How will fashion content be represented in the magazine?
Unashamedly. I’d argue that style has always gone hand-in-hand with adventure. The Earl of Carnarvon was wearing a Norton & Son’s suit when he opened Tutankhamun’s tomb, George Mallory died on Everest in a tailored tweed Norfolk jacket, Amelia Earheart launched her own clothing line in the ’30s and Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed Everest without oxygen for the first time in insulated down suits made by Fila. A lot of brands have their roots in the great outdoors, from Barbour to Nigel Cabourn, Moncler to Burberry (who sponsored Captain Scott). I’m also an inveterate kit geek, so we’ll be featuring cutting-edge outdoor clothing and equipment alongside boxfresh couture. Lastly, I hope we can shine a light on some more surprising style icons. The first that springs to mind is the legendary septuagenarian fell runner Joss Naylor, who would probably choke on his pint of bitter if he knew I was referring to him like this. He’s perhaps one of the least fashion-conscious, image-focused people on the planet, but paradoxically, he’s incredibly cool. I think style and coolness is the inevitable result of doing anything exceptionally well, so we’ll be doing our best to explore and celebrate that, too.
The magazine has a unique feel, focusing on adventure rather than just travel. Can you give us an idea of what to expect?
It’s going to be pretty eclectic and all hanging off our belief that there is adventure in everything: finding an extraordinary new author that shifts one’s perception of the world; learning a new language; even learning to juggle or make sushi, brings us a sense of the new. Whilst we will be running contributions from men and woman who have achieved great feats of endurance, we will also be working with writers, artists, thinkers and designers who work in vastly different fields to fashion what we think will be some extraordinarily exciting and compelling content.
Can you tell us about the team behind the new magazine?
The initial plan was hatched with the amazing Dan Crowe and Matt Willey, who are both vanguards of the publishing world. They founded “PORT” magazine together; Dan is still PORT’s editor-in-chief and Matt’s current day job is Art Director of “The New York Times” Magazine, so I feel privileged to have been able to piggyback off their vast talent and wisdom. Emily Bell has worked like a maniac to pull Issue One together, and we’ve had invaluable creative input from Jolyon Webber, Alex Hunting, Rebecca McClelland, Olie Arnold, Nick Rainsford and Ray Murphy.
With so many new journals launching, would you say things are looking positive for print?
I would! A big part of launching “Avaunt” has been creating a tangible, beautiful object and my belief is that printed magazines — especially those created with love and attention to detail –will always have special — and commercially marketable — qualities that digital formats will never be able to compete with.
How will the events and website tie in with the print journal?
We have worked as hard on the website as we have the magazine and we’ll offer digital membership where extra content is displayed alongside quality “Avaunt” content that will be openly accessible: podcasts, films and features. In addition to the magazine and website, we’re also launching an annual event, “Avaunt Live” in October this year. A two-evening ticketed gathering at The Royal Geographical Society will bring the magazine to life in some unique ways. It’s going to be great fun.