When the art director Jaime Perlman started her first magazine job in New York during the early Aughts, sustainability was barely a concept on the fashion industry’s radar.
But during Perlman’s time working at Harper’s Bazaar and both American and British Vogue, the landscape of the business changed. People started taking note of how deep a carbon footprint fashion left upon the earth. And Perlman, in turn, began having conversations with notable people who had taken an interest in the environment; they impressed upon her the dire need for conservation, reuse, and circularity within the industry. These concepts led Perlman, who left British Vogue as creative director at the end of 2017, to start her own company and sustainability-focused magazine in London the next year.
The result was More or Less, a magazine with an emphasis on the impact of consumption, which places vintage, army surplus, crafted, and thrifted clothing alongside major designers’ wares. The fourth issue, released on Monday, features four different covers. Below, Perlman discusses with W the process behind shooting the likes of Chloë Sevigny and Paloma Elsesser remotely, and how she ensures making a print magazine won’t be environmentally detrimental.
I’m curious about the can onesie that Edie Campbell wore. How was that made?
It was made by Charlotte Collet, who’s a stylist based in Paris. She actually did a shoot for me in our last issue, which was all based on underwater pollution. She created this dress, which was made out of trash that had been found in the ocean, and she kept custom making these weird, strange pieces for different shoots. So she invented this fake fashion label called Kezako—everything is made from recycled materials, old vintage sweaters and fabrics, and trash. For Edie’s look, she found all these Flickr photos from an Earth Day festival in the early 2000s; during Earth Day, there are these big festivals and parades with tons of people wearing these big, crazy can suits. It’s a thing. So that’s where the inspiration came from. To assemble the onesie, Charlotte went scavenging and actually pulled cans out of the trash; these were all cans that were already used and put into recycling bins.
What was Edie’s response to seeing the piece on set?
We were all so glad that she was the model who did the shoot in the end. She’s the only one who I think has a good enough sense of humor that she didn’t cry when she saw what we were dressing her in. She actually thought it was hilarious. So she was just laughing the whole shoot. She’s so thin and wispy and she was in this big, heavy thing but she had a great, can-do attitude.
Tell me about shooting the other three covers. Did you shoot over Zoom, were you working remotely?
We shot Edie in March before lockdown. After that, I was working remotely. The other three covers were all shot in New York and I was not able to go there. With Paloma Elsesser, I had been speaking to her about how I really wanted her to be on one of the covers. We were talking about ideas and she told me about being obsessed with the story of the Venus of Willendorf. She had this idea to be shot nude, with a focus on the appreciation of a really raw, curvy body, appreciating beautiful shapes and brown skin. She wanted to be photographed by a female photographer, and we thought Zoe [Ghertner] would be the perfect choice; they ended up shooting it in New York over two days. I sort of discussed the concept with them and saw the location and did my level of art direction from afar. But I trust Zoe implicitly. I’ve worked with her a million times and she’s got a great point of view. And also I wanted Paloma to feel comfortable with a shoot that was so personal to her and so exposing, literally. I wanted her to feel like she had control over how she was being shown. All three of us were very much involved in the edit, the layout. It was very collaborative.
Adesuwa Aighewi was shot in New York. I wanted to go to the shoot, but it was just too hard for me to travel. I worked with this new photographer, Dawit N.M., who is really a filmmaker. I thought he would be an interesting choice because I wanted to work with somebody new. Alex Harrington styled it with all these pieces that Adesuwa is using for her platform, Legacy. The wares are made by African craftspeople and artists. I love what she’s doing because everyone talks about sustainability, about climate change and the environment, which of course are all important. But it’s also vital to help local communities and support the people within businesses.
Then I had this last-minute idea that we should do a “Vote Biden” cover because of the proximity of the issue coming out to the election. I was like, who would be crazy enough to do this and have enough traction? So I texted the Chloë Sevigny, and she was like, “Yeah, I’ll totally do it.” Then she sent me this weird reference when she was in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She passed some stand in a shop and there were these mannequins dressed in costumes and then they were wearing shirts that said “Gay for Joe.” So we got Marc Hundley to make a t-shirt by him that said “Gay for Joe.” That one’s not on the cover, but there’s a fold-out poster inside where she’s wearing that t-shirt. And on the cover, she’s dressed more bizarre. We’re not trying to make any specific statement. It’s more sort of just being avant-garde.
Her cover look was giving me Handmaid’s Tale.
A little bit. I think that was kind of what we were initially all thinking—A little bit Handmaid’s Tale, a little bit of Richard Prince with the mask.
How did you decide to launch a sustainability-focused magazine?
I set up More or Less magazine, as a reaction to everything becoming so excessive in fashion. Having worked at a magazine like Vogue for so many years and seeing catwalk fashion really well represented in the media, I felt like there was a hole for vintage dressing. Brands that were more about sustainability were looked at through a different lens. Sustainability is important, but also I think a lot of people just love buying vintage and dressing that way. So I wanted to sort of showcase a different kind of style that wasn’t so catwalk-oriented.
When I started the magazine, there was a focus on sustainability, craft, DIY, and vintage dressing. As I was making the magazine, I kept meeting more and more people who suggested others I should talk to about sustainability. I met Livia Firth and Amber Valletta and all these interesting people; the more I talked to people, the more I realized how vital the conversation of sustainability is. When I was at Vogue, I really didn’t think about it very much. It wasn’t something that was a huge priority for me. But at the same time, I was very aware of how wasteful everything was and how fast-paced the fashion industry had become. But I didn’t necessarily know how to articulate that. I didn’t have the information to communicate about it in a factual way. But it’s really the most important conversation. And actually, it’s become so much louder.
Creating the magazine was also a moment of learning for me, for sure. I learned a lot about what wasn’t working—the more you open it up, the more you find out, and the larger the problems become. It can be really daunting because there’s so much that needs to change.
What was your conversation with Livia Firth like?
Initially, I wanted to make the magazine at a super low price point. I thought looking at people who shop at thrift stores would be interesting, and I just felt like there was something gauche about going to a shop and spending 4,000 pounds on a brand new coat that you’re going to wear twice. It didn’t feel very modern to me. Livia said to me, “Actually, you need to be careful with that because it’s all well and good to have fashion that’s affordable, but you need to pay for the buttons, the stitching, the zips, shipping, the material, the packaging, the people who are sewing these pieces of clothing together, everything adds up. That all needs to be included in the cost of what you are paying for with fashion.” So if you go too low, something’s not right. Somebody is getting cheated and something isn’t being done properly. Since then, I’ve really opened up the price point because I’ve learned that a sustainable way to dress is by investing in something you’re going to hang on to for many, many years, simply so that you consume less fashion. And the notion of buying things—buying something new every season, every month—needs to change. We need to rewire our brains because it’s not going to work in the long run.
Some people might say that starting a print magazine could arguably be as wasteful as a fashion brand. What would your response be to that?
We’re definitely very mindful of that. The magazine is printed on Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. All the paper we use is from a totally circular forest. So for every tree that is pulped there, a new tree is planted. The forest is fully managed. We don’t want to tear down forests to create the magazine.
Have you started working on issue five?
We do know that we’ll make another one next year. I’ve no idea who or what is going to be in it, but the essence of the magazine and our ethos is that we prioritize sustainability, circularity, vintage, and inclusivity in fashion. We love championing new photographers and new talent, and we donate all of our sales profits to charity; we change it around every issue. This time, we donated to the NAACP, Lebanese Red Cross, and the World Land Trust. Our next issue will be more of those same themes.
It’s a really difficult time to plan anything far ahead of time. We were supposed to initially come out in June with the Edie issue. And every shoot apart from Edie had fallen apart or changed. But I’m really glad, in a way, that we pushed it and had extra time to shoot more things. But the world completely changed within that time, and our shoots ended up being very timely. Who knows where we’re going to be in a month, two months, six months time. Whatever the world may look like next year, that’s what the issue is going to reflect.