What ‘The Face’ Mag’s 1995 “Most Influential Figures in Fashion” List Teaches Us About Style Today

Highsnobiety, along with many other media publications covering style, music and sneakers, are indebted to the path paved by 1980 UK counter-culture bible The Face. But, what was The Face exactly? And why do people get so nostalgic about it?

The Face was a magazine launched in 1980 by former NME staff writer Nick Logan. The young editor wanted to create a magazine that reacted to the burgeoning youth culture of London at the crest of the ’80s: the New Romantics, the punks and the ravers.

It’s challenging to imagine a world where youth media isn’t ubiquitous, but under pre-internet conditions there was a greater sense of distance between the culture and its fanbase. The Face sought to bridge this gap, and it did so with aplomb. The monthly publication grew into a cult tome, featuring cover stars like David Bowie, Kate Moss and Kurt Cobain. The magazine’s impact led to books documenting its legacy, numerous Facebook groups demanding its return, and it’s even been added to The Design Museum’s permanent collection.

We surfaced an issue from August ’95, a “fashion special” nonetheless, and we can learn quite a lot about what has and hasn’t changed in fashion and media in the last 22 years. In his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “time is a flat circle”, meaning, in short, that we exist in an eternally recurring time loop. It’s an uncomfortable concept, but dusting around the tombs of pop culture to look at cultural artifacts like The Face highlights the cyclical nature of fashion, repeating trends and the infinitely revolving doors of power and influence.

In between articles such as “What Happened To The Indie Kid?” (spoiler alert from the future: they’re now Soundcloud rappers!), and a piece about the popularity of sportswear (all trends are either coming or going), there’s a list of the top 100 most influential figures in fashion. We took a dive in and pulled out some of the most interesting candidates.

So let’s begin with a name you know.

Peter Pabon / Highsnobiety.com

At number 92 is founder of Supreme, James Jebbia. The Face described him as “From helming the Stüssy shop to running things with his own Union line, Jebbia is the man with a finger in every downtown NYC fashion pie.”

Well, what was happening with James Jebbia and Supreme in 1995? Just one year after the brand’s conception, 1995 was a significant year on the Supreme timeline. Larry Clark’s seminal coming-of-age movie KIDS was released to general moral outrage due to all the scenes of young teenagers fucking and the extras had been street-cast from the original Supreme store on Lafayette Street. When we consider that Supreme is one of the most influential and coveted brands in the world – across streetwear and high fashion – the foresight here is commendable, and a testament to the ability of The Face not just to tap into the zeitgeist (in the UK and internationally), but to accurately predict it.

For pioneering a business model in which every fashion brand could learn from, and creating one of the most iconic streetwear labels of all time, in today’s list of 100 most influential figures we would surely rank James Jebbia somewhere near the very top.

Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan / Getty

Speaking of iconic brands, let’s talk about the swoosh. At No. 4 is co-founder and chairman emeritus of Nike, Phil Knight. Here’s what The Face said about him in 1995: “So Jordan’s back and not quite what he was, but that hasn’t stopped the man who co-founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1966 from leading his team Nike to further triumphs. Is he now having nightmares about adidas though?”

Amusingly, yes he is and probably always will be. As The Face‘s commentary shows, the interminable beef between Nike and adidas has been embedded in cultural memory for the best part of 20 years. For all his contributions to sneaker culture and the general awe-inspiring reach of Nike as one of the most well-known brands across the globe, we think this ranking is as applicable today as it was 20 years ago. However, we’d probably through adidas up there too.

Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan / Getty

Ranking at no. 58, it’s the OG proprietor of streetwear, Shawn Stussy, and again, shout-out to editorial staff at The Face for recognizing streetwear at its most nascent stage. In 1995, Stüssy had been open for 15 years and had already laid its foundations as a bastion of streetwear that bled hip-hop, punk, skateboarding, New York City and Tokyo into a patchwork of subculture. Here’s what The Face was saying: “Stüssy’s wisely keeping a low profile while the skate wear wave peaks. But even when the tide has come in and out, you know he’ll still be keeping his head above water”.

Just one year after this issue of the The Face was published, Shawn Stussy would actually step down from his brand. He seems to have no regrets though. Speaking to Acclaim Magazine a few years later, he reflects on his decision: “with [Stüssy’s success] came a lot of responsibility and twenty-hour work days and all the money in the world. But if you don’t have time to go spend it, what good does it do?” These are some wise words from a very different era of business that many people will fail to apply to our work-work-work-until-you-die mindset. To see what Shawn got up to after leaving Stüssy, check out our detailed biography of the man here.

Brazil Photo Press/CON/Getty Images

At no.88, it’s, er, The New York Fire Department? OK, clearly The Face had a few wild ones in its shortlist and this must have been one of them. But still, this is insightful af. Apparently, much like today, workwear and the people who wear it were having their uniforms jacked by styleheads and fashion designers in 1995, too. The Face paid tribute to “the only emergency service capable of really coming up with the goods when the going gets hot: the fire jacket with reflective stripes that was ripped off by everyone from Phat Farm to DKNY”. Here’s 1995, back at it again with the 2017 trends.

Trending then and now, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the recent nu-workwear trend (utility jackets, mainstream enthusiasm for Carhartt, etc.) stems from the fact that significantly fewer people work jobs that actually require any physical labor and, maybe on some level, we feel the need to compensate for that. Is the 2017 man just kidding himself because he wears workwear and a reflective jacket but in reality just, kind of, sits at a desk all day? Anyway, props to The Face for recognizing the hard-working employees of New York’s fire department.

Quantel Paintbox

At the number one spot, deemed, above all else, to be the pioneering influence and dominating force of fashion of the mid-’90s was not even a person at all, not even Kate Moss (who was no.64 lol). It was Photoshop.

Well, not quite. Quantel Paintbox was a revolutionary piece of technology that can be thought of as a pre-cursor to all major Photoshop and creative suites that we use today. This archive clip of David Hockney tripping his nut using it for the first time nicely illustrates the impact of this innovation. The Face says “the hardware that revolutionized fashion photography by making the impossible attainable. Previously used in commercial advertising, it’s now being appropriated by the creative cutting edge to put subjects against imaginary back-grounds and retouch images to polished perfection. First seen at a magazine near you, this is the new virtual vision.”

Before we think about how jarring it is to read that creatives could be “appropriating” CGI software from advertising companies, let’s think about something Kendrick Lamar said on his double-platinum 2017 record DAMN., “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop / Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor”. It’s true, perhaps our overzealousness for photoshop did run amok following 1995 as it led to unrealistic standards set for airbrushing and a reliance on CGI graphics that probably contributed towards a tyranny of average-at-best superhero movies dominating the blockbuster circuit for the past 10 years.

Changes are being made though. In France, as of October 1, a new law dictates that all commercial images that have been photoshopped will have to bear a label to indicate to the viewer that they’re looking at a digitally manipulated image. Sigh, progress really does feel like a marathon and not a sprint sometimes, but we’ll take it.

A final big change to consider is the way we determine who or what is “influential” in 2017. Yes, the meaning of the word “influencer” may have been lost in the semantics of sponsored ads, gummy bear vitamins and Adrienne Ho, but really the people who genuinely influence fashion nowadays extends well beyond the borders of the CEOs at the top of the industry.

If Quantel Paintbox was the #1 influential “person” from 1995, could we say the equivalent to 2017 would be Instagram? While we can blame social media for many things, it can’t be ignored that with its induction into our daily lives, the gatekeepers of fashion are down, making this world less exclusive, more democratic and significantly easier for people from diverse backgrounds to make it big in the industry, at least compared to 1995.

RIP The Face, which was probably the most influential figure in fashion in itself. Check out the rest of the entries below, and you can pick up some vintage copies of The Face here.

01) Quantel Paintbox
02) Ralph Lauren
03) Miuccia Prada
04) Phil Knight
05) Helmut Lang
06) Calvin Klein
07) Rei Kawakubo
08) Giorgio Armani
09) Yves Saint Laurent
10) Dickson Poon
11) Dolce & Gabbana
12) Brian Godbold
13) Gianni Versace
14) Nick Knight
15) Paul Smith
16) Amber Valletta
17) Vivienne Westwood
18) Jean Touitou
19) Björk
20) Jean Paul Gaultier
21) Carine Roitfeld
22) Julien D’Ys
23) Mario Testino
24) Franca Sozzani
25) Tom Ford
26) Shalom Harlow
27) Karl Lagerfeld
28) Melanie Ward
29) Tommy Hilfiger
30) John Fairchild
31) Quentin Tarantino
32) Suzy Menkes
33) Fabien Barron
34) Juergen Teller
35) David Sims
36) The Italian VAT man
37) Liz Tilberis
38) Anna Wintour
39) John Galliano
40) Ellen Von Unwerth
41) Guido Paulo
42) Walter Van Beirendonck
43) Juliette Lewis
44) Jimmy Moffet
45) Mike D
46) Li Edelkoort
47) Dries Van Noten
48) Renzo Rosso
49) Nadja Auermann
50) Jean Baptiste Mondino
51) Donna Karan
52) Tank Girl
53) David LaChapelle
54) Patrick Cox
55) Tyson
56) Chris Bailey
57) Linda Evangelista
58) Shawn Stüssy
59) Vitorio Solbiati
60) Mary J Blige
61) Michelle Hicks
62) Martin Margiela
63) Camilla Nickerson
64) John Travolta
65) Kate Moss
66) Drew Barrymore
67) Michelle Montagne
68) Liam Gallager
69) Joe Mckenna
70) The Gucci Assassin
71) Schoerner
72) Gabrielle Reece
73) Uma Thurman
74) Hussain Chalayan
75) Absolutely Fabulous
76) Stella Tennant
77) No entry for 77 for some reason.
78) Method Man
79) Steven Meisel
80) Power Rangers
81) Grant Hill
82) Eugene Souliman
83) Gren Arnet
84) Didier Fernandes
85) Raymond Meier
86) Gaz from Supergrass
87) Alexander McQueen
88) New York Fire Department
89) Fiona Cartridge
90) Emanuela Schmeidler
91) Goldie
92) James Jebbia
93) Lucinda Chambers
94) Manolo Blanik
95) Issey Miyake
96) Anna Friel
97) Takeshi Kitano
98) Paul Weller
99) Linda Fiorentino
100) Charlotte Russel

Next up, check out our comprehensive Supreme family tree.