A few weeks ago, while in Shoreditch, I stumbled across a magazine that made me stop in my tracks. Regular readers will know my love and passion for books and great magazines. Well, this was certainly a great magazine. I bought it, went home and started reading…… everything about this was sheer brilliance and I knew I had stumbled upon a firm favourite.
Let me introduce you to Hole & Corner. The first issue launched back in May this year. Fascinated and wanting to know more, I emailed Sam Walton, Editorial & Creative Director, to see whether he will grant me an interview. Lucky for me he said yes! We waited a little so that I could see the hot off the press brand new issue 2, released in shops today.
What did ‘growing up’ look like for you and was there a particular ‘when I’m grown up I’ll be’…? A healthy balance of urban and greenery, much like my life today. Some rather lovely years growing up in a small village next to my auntie’s farm in Hertfordshire – while near enough to London for weekend trips to Camden in my teenage years. A ‘when I grow up’ moment? Yes, there’s a fairly distinct moment – at 15 years old, Jon, a family friend bought me a gift from his work, an A2 colour proof of a Wendy James cover he’d designed for Sky magazine. That seemed like a cool job and Wendy James wasn’t so bad either. That pretty much started me on the road to working in magazines. I was blinkered from then on really, if a college project didn’t fit the editorial approach it wasn’t given much time – I’m still not sure if that was a good or bad thing, career hasn’t suffered but the grades did! I did eventually work at Sky – as a freelance designer.
What’s your career path been so far? Well, as you have already gathered, magazines have played a big role, it kicked off on a football magazine (I like a pun), followed by the launch of Canal Boat Monthly – something that hasn’t made my CV but actually I might be adding that now – the editor could name virtually every pub on every tow path in the country – I shall track him down for Hole & Corner after this interview. I freelanced for a while after that, which was a terrific way to meet people and learn fast.
I joined World of Interiors but soon realised that it wasn’t the right place for me at that time – I needed a faster pace. However it is the only magazine I now hold a subscription for – I’ve always loved it. I guess a pivotal moment was the opportunity to work on the launch of Frank (1997) – a new woman’s magazine from Wagadon, the publishers of The Face and Arena. An exciting yet exhausting two years. The magazine had its troubles but I worked with some great talents and at the top the magazine guru, Nick Logan. I signed my contract at Vogue (1999) an hour before being made redundant due to the closure of Frank, a touch fortunate. Vogue and Harvey Nichols magazine followed, the experience gained working on both those titles – both very different but each with a huge amount of commercial responsibility – put me on a new path. I wanted to work with the brands that had the relationships and influence on these titles.
I left magazines to work with Mary Portas. Our paths had crossed earlier in my career; she was a client then in my first stint at Harvey Nichols, it was better being on her side. Just under a year later I had the opportunity to join Spring Studios as Creative Director – an exciting project I couldn’t refuse. We started with eight people and when I left last summer after six years we were 65. If I’m honest I preferred it when we were eight – at 65, there was a little too much time in meetings, it wasn’t the future I was after.
A lot of people have great ideas. It’s the ones that turn them into reality that make the difference. How did you start Hole & Corner? I find the tactic of talking about it so much that you leave yourself in a position where you can’t really turn back quite effective.
I certainly didn’t have a particular ‘Sky/Wendy James’ moment, there were a number of factors that led to the idea developing. Working within a digital environment at the agency listening to voices talking about the demise of print was one; leaving the city to live in Dorset was another; and feeling inspired by some really interesting and innovative niche print titles – why couldn’t I produce one?!
I started working on the idea and a dummy while commuting from Dorset to London – it’s my most productive time. I knew I could pull together the visual content, I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic creatives over the years. Getting Mark onboard as editor was crucial – I’ve seen plenty of lovely design and photography magazines but I really wanted something with substance with great writers – Mark is that and brings with him some fantastic contributors – many of whom I’ve also had the pleasure of working with over the years.
The first issue’s cover carries the line: ‘Stories of Dedication. A new magazine about life’s finer details’. Can you expand? I don’t think it’s that ambiguous really – we both had a line we liked, we used them both! For me, each person we met or were introduced to had clearly committed so much time to their skill or passion that the word dedication seemed ideal. Finer details: quiet stories, great stories, people not often spoken about by the press, they don’t have a book or a film to promote. In our welcome letter we quoted Steve Mason. His album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time had been a source of inspiration during production and his quote was particularly poignant.
‘We’ve been massively disconnected from what we are,’ says Mason, of the inspiration for his new album. ‘We’ve been turned into mini capitalists. We’ve been systematically separated from all the good things on the planet. The tides, the moon… we’ve been removed, and I think it’s time to think about that.’
Hole & Corner celebrates craft, beauty, passion and skill. It’s real storytelling and introduces us to dedicated craftsmanship we don’t often encounter in the media. What’s the fascination for you? Well, we feel they have genuine stories to tell – it’s not managed or manipulated like most of what we’re offered in mainstream media. I’ve found myself listening to some incredible stories, and you’re more likely to hear great stories from someone in their 70s than their 20s of course – our new issue features inspiring women in their 80s and 90s. It does take commitment on our part, too – we have to take the foot off the pedal and be prepared to spend a good amount of time with people.
When I returned home from my first visit to John Delacour I was blown away by his experiences, skills and stories – initially so inspired then perhaps slightly exhausted – how could I achieve even half of what John has achieved?
Today sees the launch of the second issue. Both issues’ cover shots are beautiful and refreshingly non-commercial. There’s also a noticeable lack of advertising. Is this part of your business model? Is it sustainable? Er, not really. However, it is about balance, we’ll seek more advertising for future issues, we will work with brands we admire and that share our values – it’s a smaller pool of course but if the magazine retains its integrity it will retain its audience.
The independent publishing model is very different to the newsstand, and whilst digital is such a threat to most newsstand titles it is the only way so many independent titles can exist. Ironic really – the ideal that ‘digital will kill print’, when actually it allows us to market our title and reach a global audience. It’s a really exciting period; the competitive nature of newsstand doesn’t seem to exist, you feel like part of a club more than anything – aside from World of Interiors subscription it’s indy titles in my bag and on my desk. I’ll be talking about my experiences to date with a few other publishers at the upcoming Magculture & Stack event – two great ventures!
The detail to attention is phenomenal. From the paper, the typeface used to the photography, size of magazine and overall smell. Everything a digital publication cannot compete with. It’s dedicated craftsmanship in itself. Is this your way of finding balance within this digital communication phenomenon? What are your plans for the future of Hole & Corner? I’m suspecting there are no plans for an online version? The magazine was always about the print, the photographers I’m working with want their work published that way, it befits the subjects in my opinion, we’re adding our own little bit of craft. I’ve enjoyed being so hands on with design again, it’s actually been such a long time since I designed a layout. It’s very peaceful. Equally working on the website with Stuart (Hobday) has been good for me, sort of forced me to embrace a bit of code – I still have to send him the odd email – ‘Where has the share box gone?’ – but he soon fixes things and I’m off again. We’re commissioning for the site, not huge amounts but when we can, film is an area I’m hoping we will grow in the next year. We have a couple of films coming in the next few weeks that should be really beautiful.
We also intend to create plenty of other opportunities for the business through events, products and partnerships. The magazine will always be at the heart of things but there’s lots of exciting plans ahead. We’ve just announced a series of events in partnership with Platform and Habitat, please visit our site for details.
Sam, thank you for your time and sharing your most interesting career path. It’s always so fascinating to see how people get to where they are. I wish you every success with your new venture and will be an avid follower.