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July 29 2014

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Olivier Zahm Bites The Bullet, Blogs

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Given its place at the pole position of hip, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Purple Fashion is rather traditional, as magazines go. There’s no market page, no red-carpet rundown, no in/out charticle, no “how to wear it now” service feature. Purple Fashion founder and editor Olivier Zahm gives his contributors a wide berth and his advertisers no quarter. And at a time when most print publications are hemorrhaging readership and scrambling for profit on the Web, Zahm’s atavism is serving him well. Based in Paris, with a satellite office in New York, Purple Fashion has established itself as the key read for anyone forward-thinking about style. But Zahm has nevertheless been staring down the barrel of a dilemma. As he explained recently, the time had come for Purple to set up online, but there seemed to be no right way to translate the publication’s vision to a new medium. “The Internet is so big, and so crazy, I get totally lost,” Zahm noted. “And it’s such a commercial surface, too. I work very hard to keep Purple pure—true to my idea of what a magazine is or should be. It’s a nostalgic idea,” he adds, “but one that is very clear to me. Whereas, for the Internet, I couldn’t see a possibility.” At last, Zahm found one: The new Purple Web site, www.purple-diary.com, went live on Monday after a year of false starts and brainstorming with Nex9 information architect Christof Haemmerle. Much as Purple Fashion evokes the glory days of magazine publishing—Zahm references early Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Interview as touchstones—so does Purple Diary look to the origins of Internet content for a template. In essence, Zahm has launched a blog. “It’s my life, online,” he says simply. Here, Zahm talks to Style.com about bringing the Web back to basics.

You’ve held out on putting Purple online. Why launch a Web site now?

It had to be now. For a year already, I had been playing with ideas—how do we create a vision for Purple on the Net? Every month or so, I think I have it, and I call Christof and tell him to start working. And then a month later I call him back to say, no, no, stop. But in December, I discovered, as a lot of people did, that we were facing this big economic crisis. That was a tough month for me. I lost advertisers, I lost jobs. I was feeling…maybe “trapped” is the word. I needed some kind of invigoration. So I was in Thailand on vacation and suddenly it came to me—this idea for a diary. And I knew that was the right way to start.

Why a diary?

Because I want to bring Purple online in the most simple, most direct, most non-commercial way possible. What is the essence of the Internet, as a medium? It helps us communicate. That’s its specificity. But when I go online, I’m lost. How do you sift through it all? What I want to test is this idea that a singular voice can operate as an interesting and legitimate filter for art and fashion and culture online. But to do that, you need the voice. That’s why I decided to make this a diary. It’s me, my life—what I see, what I like, what I experience and want to share. In a way, it’s like I’m 22 years old and doing a fanzine again.

I get what you’re saying about wanting to create a cultural filter, but I guess I wonder—the Internet, as a medium, tends to be pretty allergic to the idea of any one person or entity operating as an authority. Viewpoint is prized, but authority, not so much.

And that’s why we are all feeling so lost right now. I mean, even on Facebook—I have more than 100 friend requests every day. I can’t look at that Web site anymore. I already quit MySpace.

How does a diary help that?

Why does Obama talk about Lincoln? Because when you are lost you must come back to the foundation. The first voice of the Internet was the blog. The personal voice in a sea of voices—the person alone in the crowd, shouting to be heard. This is the modern condition. It is beautiful and desperate. So I acknowledge that and I go back to the beginning. I didn’t want to make a version of the magazine online. That would only add to the disorder.

Are you planning to write every day?

Yes. I am already doing something every day; I started a little while ago. It’s a new thing for me. For 17 years I’ve been on this schedule with the magazine, I know it by heart. One and a half months of shows, a month of thinking about the next issue and maybe a week of vacation, then a month of production and another month of layout…And so on. The blog has a different tempo. Every day, something. Maybe it will turn out to be like Andy Warhol’s diary—”Today I woke up and had soup at the deli. The soup was cold. Then I talked to Brigid Berlin and she told me I’m a bad artist. Now I have to go to a party, bye bye, see you tomorrow.” That would be genius.

Will there be other contributors?

Eventually. But we start with me in order to show people the spirit of the thing.

Do you have any particular contributors in mind?

It could be Sofia Coppola or it could be a girl who’s still in college but she’s fresh, she’s interesting, she has great style. The important thing is to make sure all the contributors are part of the Purple family. By which I mean, they think the way I do. Everybody who contributes must be exactly like me. This is important. I’m not kidding! You have to be consistent.

So you’ve got Christof working on a cloning device?

Look, I am much more open now than I was ten, 15, 20 years ago. Back when I started Purple I only liked five artists and four bands. But the older I get, the more I want to be surprised. So it’s not that I don’t want new ideas—I do. But there’s a sensibility. In six months, a year, it’s my hope that kids who have never read the magazine will be submitting cool things to me. That’s essential, in fact. I am hoping for a new audience online.

Just to be clear: Let’s say I’m a kid from Podunk, Nowhere, and I want you to post a link to my YouTube video. I just e-mail Olivier Zahm directly?

And if I like what you send me, I will immediately give you a generous bravo. And if I think it’s shit, I will reply and say, your ideas are shit; never write to me again.

Well. And you thought people were bugging you on Facebook. I’d prepare to be besieged.

Yeah, probably. I think it’s good, though, if the diary can become part of the blog community. I mean, I love my little art-and-fashion community, but you have to admit, we get ourselves into a bit of a ghetto. You have to find a way to see what else is out there. And I feel like, if I open up, maybe other people will open to me, and bring me interesting new art or writing or whatever. I’m going to document the whole Purple process—I’ll tell people who’s going to be on the next cover, I’ll take them behind the scenes on shoots. I don’t care about competition. I think it’s exciting to make what I do public. I’m so excited in, fact, that for the first time in 20 years, I’m willing to work for free.

Photo: Joe Schildhorn / PatrickMcMullan.com

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