Purple Magazine
— The 30YRS Issue #38 F/W 2022

elein fleiss (part 0)

elein fleiss

This magazine, originally titled Purple Prose, was founded by a young couple — art collector Elein Fleiss and art critic Olivier Zahm — and first published in September 1992. Fed up with the art press of the time, they decided to create an independent publication made by artists for artists. Olivier was already collaborating with a number of magazines and was planning a new one. But without Elein’s determination, it would never have happened. She had a true instinct for art and un­ discovered talents, and she embraced Martin Margiela’s fashion for her own everyday style. She also loved upcoming writers and created Purple Fiction. in 2004, frustrated by the commercial direction that art and fashion were taking, she started Purple Journal, with a more political perspective, before escaping Paris for a new life.



text by elein fleiss

It started in Paris toward the end of 1989. I was looking for an art critic to write something for me, and a friend suggested Olivier Zahm. I was 21, he was 26. From the first day, it was love. Over the months that followed, we started to travel a lot, to New York, to Cologne. We hung out with artists — French, American, German — and we went to so many exhibitions, saw so many films, by David Lynch, by Jean-Luc Godard. Life was light, carefree.

Olivier lived in Paris’s third arrondissement, near the Centre Pompidou. I lived in the sixth, on Rue des Saints-Pères. He wrote about art for magazines like Flash Art and Artforum. I was a young art collector and had just organized my first little exhibition.

In those days, everyone was getting a computer, usually a Mac, which was starting to be sold in Europe. They still had smoking cars on trains. Fax was the main tool for communication. There were no cell-phones, no Internet.

One day in 1992, we were going down the stairs in my building, and I had a thought: why not make our own magazine? A few months before, a new contemporary art magazine had come out in France, but we couldn’t relate to it. There was a need to share our views and our intuitions. Olivier had already had projects with others, which didn’t work out or were not satisfying. For me, it was a new project. Difficulties and obstacles didn’t frighten us; we were oblivious to them. We had zero experience of the press, graphic design, printers, advertisers, distribution. What we had was endless enthusiasm.

The magazine we wanted to make would have no geographic or genre frontiers. It would reflect our encounters and desires. It would be a space for creation and experimentation. Artists would be involved in its conception — an artists’ magazine, like artists’ books. We were wary of critics, theory, and discourse. The Paris-New York axis would be key, much like the Paris-Tokyo one would be later. Contemporary art would be the vantage point from which we addressed music, cinema, fashion, architecture, philosophy, and dance.

We looked to the people around us, the people we met in France or elsewhere. The texts would be published in French or English, with no translation.

Several weeks passed. We were still looking for a name. I wanted a color name, echoing the work of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster on color rooms. She was our friend and helped with the conception of the magazine, right from the first issue. I liked the word “purple.” I liked the color. Dike Blair — a New York artist, a good friend, and a contributor to the journal from the start — suggested “Purple Prose.” We chose that name, which is almost impossible for a French person to pronounce: it means an extravagant style of writing but was also apparently used to qualify press about celebrity romances and sex in old Hollywood.

One night, during a dinner with French artist Claude Closky at the Parisian brasserie Le Balzar, we told him that we were going to start a magazine. He earned his living as a graphic artist and was kind of worried about our ignorance of publishing. He immediately offered to help us with a layout for Purple Prose. My small computer wasn’t powerful enough. Jennifer Flay — whose gallery exhibited artists we were close to, like Félix González-Torres — let us work on her computer in the evening after the gallery closed. Closky and I turned up at 7 PM. On the first nights, we left at about midnight, then at 3 AM, then at dawn. One day, Jennifer and her assistants came to open the gallery: it was 10 o’clock, and we had to leave. At night, I made Earl Grey tea. We drank cup after cup. No alcohol. We also laughed a lot during the layout, thanks to Closky’s very cool, very particular sense of humor. By watching him spend whole nights laying out Purple Prose, I learned graphic design.

On October 21, 1992, the same day that Sex, Madonna’s book, was released, we were in the bookshop at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, launching Purple Prose #1.

From the first issue, we worked as a team with artists and asked different people to participate. There was no limitation of generation or territories. We had people from all over the world participating, whoever crossed our path and whom we found inspiring, whether they were 20 years old or 70, known or unknown. We also included music, architecture, fashion, science, philosophy, or any subject an artist might want to write about, at a time when magazines were specialized, never venturing outside of their field.

I had not pursued any studies. I traveled a lot as a kid and met many artists. I think it made me freer. Olivier trusted my instinct for art, and I relied a lot on his capacity for analysis. Dominique was in-between: great instinct but more intellectual than me. The artists who conceived the magazine with us — like Bernard Joisten, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, and Dike Blair — were all bringing their imaginary world into the contents. Until the late ’90s, Paris and New York were our main creative centers, along with Cologne and Milan. Tokyo came a little later and became central.

Little by little, we became interested in fashion. It started with Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela, and Helmut Lang. From the early ’90s, I started to wear Margiela, and I remember that in those years, some French journalists actually laughed at me for my weird outfits, which might seem unbelievable today. It took years and years for the French press to understand Margiela. We had interesting exchanges with Japanese journalists, like my long-time friend Nakako Hayashi, who publishes Here and There magazine. She was working for Hanatsubaki at the time and was the first journalist to get interested in Purple.

Fashion grew in our pages little by little. In 1995, we published Purple Fashion #1 as the catalogue of an exhibition we did in an art gallery in Geneva, Switzerland. But we didn’t realize that we were starting a fashion magazine. We had no clue at first on how to show fashion; we had no experience at all. Having met some photographers like Mark Borthwick, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Anders Edström, we asked them, as well as visual artists around us, to shoot fashion stories, completely freely, with no professional models, no stylists, no hairdressers, no make-up artists. We didn’t even go to the shoots. For years, until the early 2000s, that was our way of doing a fashion magazine. The “Purple style” was born this way.

In 1995, I also started publishing Purple Fiction, a literary and photography magazine, along with the art critic Jeff Rian. Then Olivier and I started Purple Sexe. We ended up doing four different magazines (Purple, Purple Fashion, Purple Sexe, and Purple Fiction), with very few employees. It was just crazy. Christophe Brunnquell was the art director. We had met him in 1994, when he was working on Encore, a publication that inspired us a lot, headed by Michel Butel, a cult writer and press personality in France who used to do L’Autre Journal in the ’80s. We asked their team of designers to design the catalogue of our exhibition “L’Hiver de l’Amour” (“The Winter of Love”) at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris.

In 1998, Purple Prose, Purple Fashion, and Purple Fiction became Purple. Only Purple Sexe remained a separate magazine, for advertising reasons.

Parallel to the magazines, we organized art exhibitions. The first one, titled “June,” curated by Olivier and myself with a group of artists, was held at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in Paris, in 1993. The director of the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris saw it and proposed that we curate a big exhibition. In fact, she asked only Olivier, but he said he worked with a team and that we all had to be included as curators. That was completely unusual. In February 1994, “L’Hiver de l’Amour” opened. It became a big event, the show of a new generation. You have to imagine it: no one was going to contemporary art shows at that time, except for a few art “specialists.” Suddenly, from the opening of the exhibition, people were queuing in front of the door. We had included Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, General Idea, David Hammons, Larry Clark, Carsten Höller, Julia Scher, Adrian Piper, Andrea Zittel, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Dominique Gonzalez- Foerster, Maurizio Cattelan, and many more artists, some music videos, architecture, performances, dance — all this was completely new, in those years, in a museum. Every day, more and more people came. All the newspapers and magazines wrote about it — an unbelievable success that the museum director Suzanne Pagé could never have imagined. Since then, we’ve kept a strong link with that great woman, who now directs the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

“The Winter of Love” traveled to the PS1 Museum in New York. In fact, the exhibition ended up being very different, and most of the artists did different works. We then organized a lot of other exhibitions, like “Beige” in Copenhagen, “La Voie Lactée” (The Milky Way) in New York at Alleged Gallery, and a show in an alternative space called Programma in Mexico City, where Stefan Brüggemann had invited us. At the end of the ’90s, Bernard Blistène, who was then director at the Centre Pompidou, asked us to curate a big art show. I have to admit I was already a bit fed up with curating exhibitions, which is so much work and less satisfying than publishing. We hesitated, and I told Olivier, “Let’s ask them to finance a long trip to Japan and Brazil to look for new artists.” We thought they would refuse, but they agreed. So, we curated “Elysian Fields,” which opened in 2000, in the ground-floor galleries of the Centre Pompidou.

The magazine, the exhibitions, and our personal life were all connected. There was no separation: work, friendship, love, all one. We were working all the time, but it was not work.

Those were blessed and magical times.

In 2001, Purple adopted a new and bigger format, and we had a new graphic designer, Makoto Orui, a very enigmatic Japanese art director who used to have a space/bookstore in Tokyo called The Deep.

The early 2000s were also years when I started to struggle with the fashion system, which had become very corporate. I found it difficult to continue an independent magazine.

In 2003, I felt the need for a different project and started Hélène, a small independent newspaper, with Olivier, Sébastien Jamain, Laetitia Benat, Marina Faust, and Christophe Brunnquell. We did four issues. Then I stopped and created Purple Journal in the spring of 2004, without Olivier. We both wanted to go in different aesthetic directions. We had managed to continue working together for a long time, but the golden years of our collaboration were past. Sébastien Jamain made a really great film for the Purple 10-year anniversary, which probably closed a period for me.

At the end of 2004, I decided to stop working with Purple magazine and with Olivier, and I left the company we had created. I then created Purple Journal with Sébastien Jamain. It was a low-profile magazine, with photography, literature, fashion, and politics. This was followed by Les Cahiers Purple in 2010 and Les Chroniques Purple in 2014.

I now live in the village of Saint-Antonin in southwest France with my daughter Clarissa. I just opened a space, Le Batèl, with an English artist and friend, Andie Wilkinson, where we’ll sell art, vintage artifacts, and garments.


[Table of contents]

The 30YRS Issue #38 F/W 2022

Table of contents

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