Interview: We Sit Down with Jess Blanch, Editor in Chief at Russh Magazine.
by Daniel Haim
RUSSH Magazine, a bi-monthly Australian publication, has established itself as the intelligent Australian woman’s go to source for beauty and fashion with its all-original content and emphasis on personal style. Founded in 2004, RUSSH showcases the most innovative talent from the worlds of fashion, music, film, and art, featuring exciting emerging talent alongside more established brands.
Describing itself as “Australian at heart, international in mindset,” RUSSH Magazine’s eclectic character reflects the Australian woman’s approach to creating her own distinctive style. We cozied up with Jess Blanch, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of RUSSH Magazine and russhmagazine.com, for a chat about her inspirations, obsessions, and what’s next for RUSSH.
Daniel: Jess, I’ve been a huge fan of RUSSH, so thank you for your time, and thank you for inspiring.
Jess: No – thank you for being so interested. We love your blog.
Daniel: Where are you from, where did all of this begin for you?
Jess: My story is that same cliché you read so often. I grew up in a small country town and was the youngest in my family. It was a fairly isolated upbringing in terms of pop culture. I spent a lot of time riding my horse. I didn’t watch a lot of TV as we only had two channels, so I immersed myself in books and my parents’ records. I’d listened to a whole lot of Sinatra by the time I got to Nirvana. My mum loves fashion and totally indulged me with magazines and I just fell for that fantasy world within the pages. I was back at my parents’ home over the weekend, and I still have some Harper’s Bazaars from the mid-nineties in the drawers by my bed. The one where Lindbergh shot Kate Moss wearing the denim overalls. I’ve been looking at them for years without really noticing. It was like stumbling on gold.
It was always my dream to run a magazine. After school, university, I got into publishing and learnt the ropes. I have been so lucky; I have had some amazing teachers. You can’t do these things alone. It’s essential to find people who believe in you. And when that happens you just go like hell and hope to prove them right.
Daniel: What does RUSSH mean to you?
Jess: It’s impossible to define, but when you see it, you know it. I think RUSSH speaks to us all in very individual ways. I’m always amazed when I meet incredibly different people who all tell me they see RUSSH as a true reflection of themselves. I look at them and see their differences and think, how can this be? But I guess that’s what is so special about it.
Beyond the sentiment of the magazine, for me, RUSSH has an important role to play here in Australia as a vehicle for creativity. There aren’t many independent titles in our market, so we have a rare responsibility to the industry and the people who support it.
Daniel: I really want to ask – what kind of privileges come with running a magazine like yours?
Jess: I think the biggest privilege is the ability to offer someone a chance to be a part of RUSSH – whether as a part of the core team or by contributing work. It has often been their dream, and there’s something quite special about being in a position to make that happen. I know what it means to be given a break; they are so few and far between.
Daniel: Did you always want to make a print magazine?
Jess: I have always loved magazines, but then I also loved working on books. There’s something so addictive about the process of putting something together for other people to enjoy. Sure, I almost die the day the issue comes back from the printers because I’m almost too scared to look, but when I do look, I feel incredibly lucky. Magazines are an archive: not just of your work, but a document of what you were experiencing in your life at the time – all your interests and obsessions and struggles.
Daniel: In today’s world the big topic is whether print will disappear entirely. What is your opinion?
Jess: Disappear entirely, no; but I do believe we will we see a further digital boom of epic proportions. I feel niche titles will always have a place. Look at style.com about to make their foray into print or Dasha Zhukova’s new magazine Garage. It’s a risky market, but print is still compelling.
The instant gratification that comes with online really puts the pressure on a magazine to be remarkable – something that is kept forever.
The digital boom, though, I see as an opportunity for print magazines to expand their brand, not as a risk. I know it sounds a little Lex Luther, but I believe magazines like us will have our own channels in a few years’ time; you’ll be able to go home and watch RUSSH TV. It’s all about multi-medium!
Daniel: Will RUSSH go digital some day?
Jess: We launched our multimedia site in September of last year to extraordinary results, and it just keeps getting better. We have incredibly good numbers and the leading social media following for magazines in our market. The best thing is that this growth has been very organic; we’ve not advertised – we’ve just concentrated on trying things to find out what people like.
We’re working right now on a redesign which we’ll launch in September. It’s as much about tweaking and refining as innovating. Plus, our digital edition will be available from the December issue forward.
Daniel: How about RUSSH apps?
Jess: Now that’s a secret. We’re still in development. We didn’t ever want to do an app for the sake of it, purely as a revenue driver. There has to be a reason beyond doing it because everyone is doing it. What can we give someone in an app that’s special? It’s not about being revolutionary either. It’s about creating something that offers something unique. Stay tuned.
Daniel: What does it take to be the Editor-in-Chief of RUSSH?
Jess: Belief in the future of the brand. Willingness to embrace change as it is needed. An uncompromised belief in the power of editorial. An understanding of commercial realities. Respect for your team. The ability to every so often do something that makes you think, “Well, here goes.”
Daniel: What is your favorite quote?
Jess: So hard to pick one. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The world exists in your eyes only. You can make it as big or as small as you want.” I like this – it reminds me that it’s up to me.
Daniel: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Jess: Yes, I have made lots of mistakes, and I would do lots of things differently. I am learning every day. You know that saying about never making the same mistake twice? Well, I’m proof that you can. It usually means I didn’t learn what I was supposed to the first time. I think so long as deep in your heart you want only the best for yourself and those around you, then you can’t live in fear of getting things wrong.
Daniel: What has been your biggest accomplishment with RUSSH so far?
Jess: I think the biggest accomplishment is the growth of the magazine. This is an interesting time for media, and it’s no easy feat to keep moving forward. I also feel proud of the people on the team. It’s great watching them get opportunities to do the things they’ve always wanted to and pushing boundaries. This is what makes a great magazine.
Daniel: I always say magazines are like collages full of personality. For example, I remember when we were younger, my sister Natalie used to have a binder full of the bands she loved. She used to crop out images, write notes, and attach them to the binder – full of personality! When I pick up RUSSH, can I see “you” in it?
Jess: People tell me so, but it always makes me wonder what the clues are. What I see in RUSSH is a collective consciousness, a shared voice you get as we come together as a team. Sure, we’re all there on every page, but I don’t believe a magazine should be a tome for one person or one style.
And I’m not sure I believe that being “on brand” is always a good thing. True to the vision, yes, but I sometimes wonder if trying to make things fit too much holds people back with their creative thought. Someone reminded me of the story the other day about Terry Jones from i-D, that when photographers went to him with their work saying it was very i-D, he would tell them that he didn’t want it. He wanted it to be very “them.” This makes sense to me. So long as there are boundaries, and you find the right people, then I think this freedom to express is going to be hugely important as RUSSH develops. We turn ten in three years; we’re still very young, even for an independent magazine, and have a lot of growing to do. I can’t wait to see how we grow up.
Daniel: What inspires you?
Jess: Literature, music, art. Most of all I think it’s a great conversation. It’s amazing how good you feel afterwards. That’s when I find my mind is most open and when I have my best ideas. I can be a little vague, always living inside my own head, not always listening while others are speaking to me; so maybe it’s even more special when I’m actually there in the moment with someone.
Daniel: When did you know you finally made it as a magazine?
Jess: I know RUSSH is a great brand. It’s made of great people. I sometimes think that’s enough. But do you ever think you’ve made it? I think you always want more: creative freedom, bigger budgets, greater innovations.
Although, there was the day we got the call from Collette in Paris to ask if they could stock the magazine. That was a good moment.
Daniel: What are you working on at the moment?
Jess: A million different things. The new issue. The site revamp. Planning for 2012. The schedule for the spring/summer shows.
Daniel: Name five photographers you love.
Jess: Lindbergh, Avedon, Roversi, Klein. This was the work I grew up on. How could I not mention Derek Henderson though; he really is part of the RUSSH DNA. And truth be told, Australian photographer and creative director for Vogue Patrick Russell’s work is close to my heart. I grew up on his images, and he really cemented for me what an Australian woman should be like.
Daniel: And of course, name five models you are currently obsessed with.
Jess: Currently, our cover girl Amyeline Valade. Plus our next cover girl, but I can’t tell you who that is, of course. Alla Kostromichova I think is amazing at the moment. And always Eniko Mihalik and Laetitia Casta.
Daniel: What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Jess: My Dad has always said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The fact that Billy Ocean made it his song is just a bonus.
Daniel: If you could choose any three things to get for free, what would they be?
Jess: Can you even buy the important stuff? I want free time and free love. I don’t know, that’s a hard question. Maybe some freewheelin’.
Daniel: What’s next for Jess?
Jess: Next? Wow. I’ve only just begun. It’s always all about the next issue.
Daniel: What’s next for RUSSH? Where do you see the company in five years?
Jess: RUSSH will be twelve then. World domination? There’s Lex Luther again. Aha. We are very clear on where we want the brand to be in five years. Yes, we want to be bigger and more global, but it will also be more meaningful. I see unprecedented creative freedom brought on by a very solid brand.
Everyone is talking about magazines e-tailing at the moment. Do I think we will do that? No, but I do think we will be the channel that edits it for an audience that knows and trusts us completely. There’s so much information around that the edit is getting more and more important. I think it’s a risk to try to be all things to all people.
And I also see us having cemented a broader role in development in the industry, not just on a local level, but internationally. Beyond our role to entertain and educate, there is the scope to play a very specific role in developing emerging talent.