Of i-D's debut, Jones says, "Fashion people, in the sense of designers, understood it immediatelypeople like Ozzy Clark and Jean Muir, and the new wave, like Steven James, [John] Galliano, Katharine Hamnett, Body Map and [publicist] Lynn Frank."
While models Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek and Gisele did their first cover shoots for i-D, inside the aim was to feature "stray cats who could not easily be pigeon-holed," says Jones, "people like stylist Ray Petri who I'd worked with in the late 70s and really understood menswear, photographer Marc Lebon and [accessories] designer Judy Blame. It became a group thing." i-D broke a lot of names, too, including Madonna, whom Jones had seen playing at a Fiorucci party. "Fiorucci was one of my day jobs. i-D was the night job. The magazine ran a debt, so at that time I consulted for other magazines and did a lot of German advertising. Madonna was an instant decision. I had to give her her first cover. When Marc Lebon did the shoot, no one in the studio knew who she was."
In between fashion shoots and interviews, i-D has also tackled socio-political issues such as fair trade, the environment, war and poverty. "It was very intentional to get i-D into the political," Jones says, "to shift more toward the hidden self for a deeper picture. Fashion had become too concerned with fašades." In this sense, Jones admits, i-D is not always commercially viable. "We can do things like the Make Poverty History issue and not mind it not making money. We're lucky to break even at the end of the year. I prefer to do an advertising campaign than the magazine having to do things for the money. I'm quite happy to art direct one or two campaigns a year, like Y-3, but at the same time I don't want to turn i-D into a commercial studio."
In the post-grunge late 90s, as circulation across all style magazines started to dip, Jones decided to cut out music, film and art from the magazine, opting instead to repackage i-D as an identifiable fashion magazine again. Of the change, Jones says, "We had tried being something for everyone and, financially, the early 90s had been pretty tough. Around 1997, I stopped doing other jobs and tried to focus solely on the magazine with the idea of shifting back into fashion, looking at it in a fresh way. This was the Scott King periodall block types, sloganeering and clearer design. We've always tried to look outward. We're not some boring biannual catalog." Ouch!
But just how is i-D more than a catalog? "It's about respect and progress. i-D respects other people and respects their positions in society. I wanted to make a magazine that was a minestrone of lots of people's ideas." Indeed, Jones has incubated an enormous amount of talent over the years, including photographers Wolfgang Tillmans, Nick Knight, Alasdair McLellan, Terry Richardson and Craig McDean, as well as Edward Enninful (Dolce & Gabbana consultant), Perry Heins (i-D's first editor under Jones who coined the term New Romantics and spearheaded the magazine's much-imitated use of song-lyric titles) and Dylan Jones (no relation, the magazine's former editor who's currently the editor of British GQ and chairman of the British Society of Magazine Editors).
"i-D's always drawn people that have a rapport with it. I try to understand the contributor. You might have two aces in your hand, but if you work for me, you're going to have four. It can't be explained, but if we have a winning hand it can be chemical and instinctive. The editorial team aren't told what to do, just asked for a level of passion. I see my role as being quite passive; people bring me the ingredients. I can do layouts if it's deadline and we're stuck, but my job's making the mix.
"The process can also be incredibly intensive and frustrating for both sides. My tolerance level is lower than previously. I'm less communicative than I'd like and not always around. Ultimately, the question is can people put up with me? I'll often go to my kids, photographers Matt [also i-D's New York Editor] and Kayte, with problem jobs. They're the biggest ball-breakers. They won't try to please me. I want people who can interpret something in my head, but in their own way.
Jones claims not to think about the countless publications that have followed in i-D's footsteps, but he can spot them. "[British] Vogue will look at i-D and think, We'd like a bit of that photographer. Some photographers have that in mind when they shoot for us, but their work in i-D will have more soul. That's the difference. We've become a virus, which was kind of intentional. The idea was to infiltrate."
i-Dentity: An Exhibition Celebrating 25 Years of i-D Magazine is on view at the Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM), 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1, 020-7407 8664, until December 3.