Franc is a bi-annual fashion magazine that offers an original and intelligent look at this unique aspect of culture without being trivial or fawning. Above the Fold chatted to editor in chief, Briony Somers, ahead of the launch of Franc issue number four.
Why did you decide to create Franc?
A large part of FRANC’s success was because it was something I was ambitious about in a way that wasn’t calculated but involved a lot of instinct. Lauren approached me about starting the magazine as a one year project in college; I’d never thought about publishing or journalism before but once she suggested it I got totally swept up thinking about what it could be. The decision was led by a curiosity around why fashion had lost my interest. I had been working on and off in fashion since sixteen but wasn’t reading fashion magazines. Until the age of seventeen, I read Vogue cover to cover but it lacked the level of engagement exhibited by politics and philosophy, which felt far more seductive.
Where did you source your inspiration?
In a literal sense I studied history so what I’ve read during my time in Trinity has provided so much to think about. Fashion is an often neglected area when it comes to academic history and not only is that interesting in itself but it means there’s a huge amount of untapped sources and unexamined issues. I’ve really enjoyed that my academic work and FRANC have grown from the same core interest.
Jenny Drea wrote an article on Lee Miller, the Vogue Fashion and War correspondent, for our first issue and as a result of conversations occurring throughout the editing process I conducted original research on her work for my dissertation. This meant going over to London to do archival research in the National Archives and The British Library and conducting research remotely with the help of Miller’s son Anthony Penrose as well as the team in the National Portrait Gallery.
There is rarely an article I write that isn’t inspired by or held as a reference to history. I think the reason I’m able to spend a lot of time in this little Venn diagram of interests is because I’m interested in concepts and the big picture of how things work. That’s definitely facilitated by an area that’s connected to our identities, TOUCHING ON our economic, emotional and cultural lives, but you can see a concept better when you’re not tethered to a discipline. Which can be restrictive in both fashion and history.
Franc is produced through a collaborative effort by Briony Somers and Lauren Henshaw. How did you both decide to join forces to create this project?
As this issue has come together Lauren and I have been getting very sentimental reflecting. The last thing she said was “I didn’t know you at all when I thought about starting FRANC and I couldn’t really tell you what made me think about you as the perfect parter… It’s so funny how all these things come to be.” We only vaguely knew each other from sharing a class on Weimar history. I’d always admired her hair and her shoes and willingness to recognise that our lecturer could be a little challenging. But I think the real decision came later when we got American Apparel as our first advertiser and decided to take FRANC into the big wide world.
Lauren and I have always been able to be ourselves with each other and from day one we had honest and important conversations about our lives. It was this trust with each other that made us feel able to step things up and is what has has allowed us to take things this far. It has enabled us to keep the magazine going once Lauren left Dublin and has given me invaluable support because I know I have someone I trust at the end of the phone, someone who not only believes in the magazine but knows it’s nothing without the people involved.
What makes a great collaboration?
My friend Jessica Bagnall says she believes friendship happens when two people are willing to have someone new in their lives at the same time and I think that sentiment holds for collaboration. You need two people who want the joy of another’s perspective. If you’re calculating an alignment or hedging your bets, rather than just enjoying the honour of a mutual sharing of ideas, then you’re not collaborating, you’re just adding more work to a situation.
Can you tell us a bit more about your contributors?
I like to joke that they’re people I’ve been drunk with! And that’s flippant but does get to the point that they are people that have something to say in a real and heartfelt way rather than people we seek out for their technical skills. In this issue all bar two of the contributions are ones I’ve asked the contributor to write after something they’ve said or experiencing how they work first hand as opposed to a formal pitching process.
In this issue there’s a real mix from Sean Jackson (photographer), Laoise Quinn (architect and model) and Alanagh Clegg (fashion designer) whose perspectives on work has fascinated me, to Hannah McCarthy (lawyer in London), my sister Ellen Somers and our managing editor Eva Morrissey who have said things in passing I found so interesting that I asked them to write a piece around it.
The theme for the fourth issue is Presence, can you elaborate further on this idea?
Over the last year the ability to be present has been at the source of what is being contended in the world. We’re seeing attempts to constrict those whose voice is legitimate and who is allowed to fully exist in public. Brené Brown once said “what we’re witnessing across the world today is power over last stand. We are (seeing) really fearful, desperate people saying ‘I am afraid to move away from a world of power over to a world of power with’… to share power.”
This is playing out around issues of race, gender, sexuality… the way we ensure that this change occurs is that we make ourselves known, we take up space in the world. We have to do this, not looking for acceptance, not with battle-face, but from a deep belief in who we are and what we have to say. When we make who we are fully present, and we honour that in others, we claim power for ourselves.
Why did you decide to launch issue four in The Berkeley Library?
We spent the summer in Trinity’s accelerator programme LaunchBox developing the business. The programme is based in the Berkeley library and having studied in the building – using the underground passageway to access Trinity’s collection of wartime Vogue’s and hiding away in the bay windows – I wanted to honour the multiplicity of creativity that the space allows. The library has been a space that has housed all by interests, history, fashion and now entrepreneurship. I’m very excited that as of Saturday I can add drinking whiskey to that list.
What would you like your readers take away from Franc #4?
That who they are is important and they do us all a great service when they make it visible.