Meet Andrew Richardson, The Man Behind America’s First “Asexual Sex Magazine”
Early in his career, back in 1992, Andrew Richardson found himself working as one of Paul Cavaco’s assistants on Madonna’s Sex book. He immersed himself in the subject matter. “I spent a lot of time in that community,” says Richardson. “That influenced my point of view enormously.” Six years later—by now an established stylist—he launched Richardson, a magazine that is, depending on your take on these things, either extraordinarily high-end porn, or a very intelligent, very beautiful, and very graphic magazine about sex. The latest edition focuses on masculinity and the male gaze and features a cover shot by Steven Klein (below) and contributions from, among others, Geek Love author Katherine Dunn and Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington (the war photographer who was recently killed in Libya). An exhibition of work from the new issue will open next month at the Maccarone gallery, and preorders for copies launch today at www.richardsonmag.com. Here, Richardson talks to Style.com about sex versus stimulation, the pornification of the fashion editorial, and the essential difference between men and women.
What made you decide to launch Richardson?
Well, after I’d gone out on my own as a stylist, I was working a lot with Terry Richardson and Mario Sorrenti, and we were doing stuff that was really anti-grunge, anti that whole asexual thing about grunge, and most magazines wouldn’t publish it. But there was this one guy in Tokyo—Charlie Brown [a.k.a. Fumihiro Hayashi]—who had a magazine called Dune, and he’d run those stories. At some point, I showed him a scrapbook of ideas I had, and he said, you know, it would be interesting to see what kind of porn magazine you’d do. So we did one.
Do you see Richardson as a porn magazine?
No. We like to call it a sex magazine. We recontextualize sex; we’re analytical about it. Richardson isn’t about coming. Which is the point of porn.
So what is the point?
Stimulation. Not orgasm stimulation, but stimulating debate. It’s like an asexual sex magazine.
I’m not sure how many copies you’re going to sell on the back of that marketing campaign. “An asexual sex magazine.” Sign me up!
We have quite a cult following, actually. People were really excited to have the magazine back.
Yeah, what happened there? Why the eight-year hiatus between issues?
Well, part of that is, this is a really personal project. It takes time. And it takes money to manufacture. There are certain qualities I won’t compromise, like the paper and the way it’s printed. But the other thing is, there’s a real challenge in finding material that suits. We don’t have huge resources to commission, and we have to use all of our intelligence and guile to get good work.
I’d like to ask you about your work as a stylist. How does Richardson relate to that? You’ve done some very, ahem, provocative editorials, like the “Doggin’ ” spread in V you worked on with Steven Meisel. Do you get the sense people think of you as the “sex” guy?
There’s that element to my work, but I can bring it or not bring it, you know? I’ve been at this a while, I get the gig.
I’d think it would be a professional advantage, to be the “sex” guy. Fashion magazines have gotten pretty porny over the years.
I think part of the reason for all of that, too, was that magazines have, in the last decade or so, become more and more the creatures of their advertisers. You’d sign up for a shoot, and find out that 90 percent of it was going to be dictated to you. “Credits.” I think people began leaning on sexuality as a way to make the images exciting, in an environment where there wasn’t as much room to be creative with the fashion. I get the sense that trend has peaked. We were in a time of excess, and now we’ve entered the era of sobriety. Everyone’s buttoning up.
Well, not in Richardson, at least. The theme of the new issue is “The Male Gaze.” Was that a response to the last issue being about female sexuality?
Yes. And it’s interesting, because most of what exists in the world as “sexy” is for men, was created to intrigue and distract them, but no one really looks into that, what it’s about. I wanted to dig a little.
And what did you find out?
I think what I’ve found out is that men are incredibly fragile. We’re less dependable than women, and less integral to the survival of the species, so we put on this show of virility. All the agita around defining yourself as hetero or homo, all the time we spend fighting, going out and conquering countries—it’s all compensation for our built-in failings. And for our fear of failure—we’ve got these basically unreliable penises to make up for. I mean, it’s all just an epic performance.
And how does all that relate back to sex? Or more specifically, how does all that cohere around some generally agreed-upon ideal of what is “sexy”?
The archetype that most men seem to respond to is a large-breasted, soft-lipped blonde girl whose purpose in life is to please men. I don’t think you have to struggle to see the overcompensation there. But then again, there are all these trends in “sexy,” like back in the seventies it was sexy to be Tom Selleck. And now I guess it’s sexy to be Justin Bieber. But if you go farther, if you go beyond the images society presents to us as ideal, and you ask, “What do men want?,” well, there’s not any one answer. What I’ve come to believe, honestly, is that if you’re attracted to someone, you’re exiting the realm of right sexy and wrong sexy, and just looking for ways to find that person appealing. You forgive them for being annoying in some way, or for not being conventionally beautiful.
Love conquers all, as it were?
Yeah, well…yes. Men are just infinitely distracted by women—by their breasts, their legs, their lips, their hands, their hair, their knuckles, their elbows. By anything. I think women spend a bit more time asking themselves, Hmm, but is he an asshole?
The new issue features Tim Hetherington, the war photographer and co-director of Restrepo, who was killed in Libya last month. Was he someone you knew well?
No, I didn’t know him at all until I reached out to him on behalf of the magazine. What happened was, I was thinking about war, and how that’s predominantly a male area, and I wanted to find a way to address that in this issue. And David [Strettell] from Dashwood Books suggested I get in touch with Tim. The piece he contributed is about sex and death (below)—eros/thanatos, as he put it—and the sexualizing of war. We’ve turned war into a pornographic experience; we’re voyeurs. He investigates his own part in that very honestly—his own feelings of excitement about being in a war zone, his desire to be engaged in the action. Small comfort, but I guess you could say he died doing what he loved best.
It really is a loss, though. Tim was doing something incredibly valuable: He was trying to reassess the American soldier, treat him as a human being rather than a symbol. You can see that in Restrepo—there are soldiers crying, soldiers who are afraid. I’m not saying that what he did, in his work, is the same thing as what I do with Richardson, or that they’re of equivalent value, but it is a similar project. Both of us take on these very sensational subjects, and treat them in non-sensational ways. I felt a kinship. I’m sure some of that had to do with the fact that he was this charismatic guy, and also, we’re about the same age, both English, similar upbringing. What a shame.
What are your plans for Richardson?
I’d like to develop it into a major media empire. I want at least four Lear jets. Obviously, that entails getting another issue out after this one, but in the meantime we’ve got the Web site, which is a more playful venue, and more interactive, obviously. I could see making documentaries, publishing books. I mean, sex is universal. The possibilities are limitless.