With his subversive, sex-stoked imagery for DUTCH in the 1990s, creative director Matthias Vriens (now Vriens-McGrath) knew no bounds. Each issue of the fashion and art magazine came packed with homo- and hetero-erotic imagery alike, merging the latest designer wares with suggestive, titillating story concepts. After becoming editor-in-chief, he published the notorious naked issue, in which not a stitch of clothing could be found among the 83 pages of fashion editorial — shot by Mikael Jansson — aside from designer credits.
Following DUTCH, Vriens-McGrath packed up his provocations and headed to Giorgio Armani (to be global creative director), then Gucci Group (senior art director), while continuing to shoot skin-flashing stories for the likes of i-D, The Face, Numéro, and the New York Times' T magazine.
Now, a marriage and a move to Hollywood later, he's back in the game with another eye-popping publication, TVTOR. The first issue of the self-financed, visually-led biannual bursts with nearly 400 pages, nearly all of it peek-a-boo photos taken by Vriens-McGrath himself or one of a randy roster of up-and-comers.
Here, following a launch party in Milan, Matthias Vriens-McGrath talks fashion versus art, his Tumblr addiction, and the pursuit of "tits, dick, pussy, and ass"...
Lee Carter: What does the Latin title refer to? To me it conjures up sexy Caesars in togas.
Matthias Vriens-McGrath: You’re not far off. Personally TVTOR symbolizes a desire for photography and all things visual and delicious. That could be contemporary art, fashion, sex. Or possibly all of them combined.
The two covers of the first issue, the romanticism issue, show a man and a woman lying prostrate on the floor with their head in an oven, apparently dead and wearing designer shoes. At first I thought: footwear story! Rather, it appears to be a more complex reflection of your current mood.
It's all in the eyes of the beholder. If it ends for you as a shoe story, then I am content with that. However, the theme of romanticism for me is more Hansel and Gretel, Romeo and Juliet, in a manner not shy of Pina Bausch. I grew up in the theater and like to provoke thought by means of suggestive visuals. Neo-romanticism has occurred in history at times disastrous and too turbulent to grasp intellectually and emotionally. I think we can all agree on it being a rather horrific moment in time currently. Personally the return to nature, aka romanticism, is something dear to my heart. Whereas most people believe I am surrounded by bulging cocks non-stop, the truth is I’d rather be in the garden.
What makes it a horrific moment in time?
I am referring to total global insecurity. Most economical structures have collapsed, while others are holding on by a silk thread, watching a minority spend it all. Other fun things that come to mind are assholes like Putin fucking up his country and telling people what to do, including gays, and denying them a future altogether. I can elaborate a hell of a lot more, but I think you catch my drift.
Your work at DUTCH revolutionized alt-publishing, bringing to the fore a brazen, artistic approach to sexuality. What will you carry over from those risqué days? Does sex sell now the same way as it did then?
It does for me. However, this is a complicated stretch. Hypocrisy runs through most commercial and subsequently editorial structures. Fear of flesh and fantasy are of course a prominent source. Double standards rule the fashion world, but it's entirely different in the art world. Appropriation between the two does not seem valid. We can look at pornography within the confines of, let’s say, a Larry Gagosian structure, and art foundations sponsored by fashion structures will include this work in their permanent collections, while a little tits and ass in a magazine might kill off the ad pages from those very same fashion houses. It has not stopped me from showing plenty of tits, dick, pussy, and ass in the first issue of TVTOR.
Which fashion houses have been hypocritical about T&A?
Now that would be juicy indeed! But you have to understand if I were to be specific about this, my chances of making any money at all would be shot, wouldn't it? So one could arguably say I am just as hypocritical as the ones I point my finger at. Rather, I think that after 25 years in this industry and having worked on all different fronts of it, I understand how it functions. I might not agree personally, but mentioning people or companies would not be smart or respectful. In the end we are all just trying to make a buck, one way or another.
One of the things that made DUTCH so exciting and provocative was the idea that your own sex life was just as exotic and copious. In fact you didn’t shy away from that notion. I remember a series you drew on hotel stationery of post-coital male nudes in your room. Besides being happily married now, has anything changed?
Ha! My sex life before marriage seems somewhat of a myth. The sex scenes you refer to were more in my head than in the flesh. The reality of it all was a lot more like a pot of tea in bed and making art by myself. Marriage has definitely spiced up my sex life.
With your return to print, do you foresee a renewed, post-Internet interest in the tactile page?
I have always been a fan of print, at the risk of telling my age. Perhaps this is a desire for collecting. I have indeed taken a long break from it all, but right now I’m more excited than ever to self-publish TVTOR. Magazines will always be around, otherwise they would have vanished already. Niche magazines are needed to inspire and set the tone, where others cannot due to some of the abovementioned. It remains to be seen where this leads.
What has been the most challenging moment for you in the making of TVTOR?
To see my bank account shrink.
And the most triumphant?
When I held the first issue in my hands, I felt a sheer sense of pride and triumph indeed. Before that, to a degree, I lost touch with reality, I love to work and I can sit behind a computer literally for 24 hours. I am addicted to Tumblr, I love Tumblr. I think it’s the best thing ever. A world of millions of brilliant editors gathered in one collective space — orgasmic! Our website will reflect this. Blog entries by a group of TVTOR illuminati will delight, I promise you.
That’s funny. I think a lot of people are addicted to Tumblr, Twitter, and whatnot. Grindr, too. But I think in your case it’s more for inspiration.
Absolutely. I am mesmerized by the amount of research that pops up on the screen in a flash. Twitter doesn't do it for me, but I have yet to start this engine for TVTOR. Who knows, when it catches on, it might be delicious.
Ideally, what's the future you see for TVTOR?
If I can continue making this magazine twice a year, keep the quality of paper, and work with people I admire and like, without bankrupting myself, then I will be a happy boy.