Cecilia Dean on Producing the World’s Biggest Magazine

Visionaire/CyCy Sanders

In fashion, you're often advised to go big or go home. Measuring 5 by 7 feet, the latest issue of Visionaire -- a multi-format art publication and the umbrella under which both V and V Man operate -- seems to have been guided by a similar credo. Appropriately dubbed the "Larger Than Life" issue, the magazine is so huge it even broke a Guinness World Record. And of course, who better suited for the biggest magazine in history than Lady Gaga, who stands in an oily, mermaid-like ensemble on its cover.

We caught up with Visionaire co-founder Cecilia Dean to hear what "larger than life" means to her, and what exactly went into this fabulous feat of magazine engineering.

How did you and the Visionaire team come up with the concept for a giant magazine?
Well, I think the concept isn't novel right? I mean, doesn't everyone want to break a Guinness World Record? And we're in publishing, so it wasn't a huge leap to think, "Wouldn't it be great if we could break a record?"

What kinds of challenges did you encounter getting this issue produced?
At first, we were thinking, "It's just a really big magazine, how hard can that be?" But it is really hard because, first of all, you have to find a printing press that's going to print that big, and a lot of print presses only print much smaller. Then we actually had to get special paper that wouldn't rip when you were flipping through the issue. If it were normal paper, it would just tear and rip constantly, and that ended up being a big challenge -- not something you would think of until you're actually looking at the prototype and it's ripping like crazy. Generally, printing a magazine is a fairly automated process, but since our pages were so big, they had to print everything one page at a time, and then move it, and flip it all by hand. It becomes so laborious, and that's something you can't know until you start production. It really requires a huge amount of human attention. In a really funny way, it ends up being very couture, I think.

Why was Lady Gaga right for the cover?
There are so many different interpretation of what "larger than life" can mean, and what awes me about visual artists is that, for every person we approached, they had a totally different interpretation of the idea. For us, "larger than life" is a personality that's so huge and ubiquitous in the culture -- who seems to be everywhere at all times, in society, in politics, in entertainment. And that person becomes a much larger figure than an actual human individual. I mean, who personifies that better than Lady Gaga?

Were there any features included in the "Larger than Life" issue you especially enjoyed or found interesting?
This is a very art-based issue, which is really fun for us. There were some other "larger than life" personalities in it, for example Marina Abramovich who, for me, is one of the most enormous personalities inhabiting the art world. She also did the world's longest performance art piece for her show at MoMA -- the "I Am Present" show, which ran for three months straight. Ryan McGinley gave us a beautiful image from his new series that hasn't been shown to anyone. It really captures the idea of "larger than life" being fantastical and playful, kind of like being a kid again. The "larger than life" idea has a lot to do with fantasy; it offers a fantastical view of the world. Karl Lagerfeld also did this really great portrait of himself in a forest of limbs -- he's literally surrounded by all these legs, and he had some wonderful thoughts on how life should always be "larger than."

Is the sheer magnitude of the issue in any way meant as an ironic comment on familiar doom-and-gloom predictions about the "death of print"?
I don't think it was so deliberate, but of course I've been privy to all these conversations about "print is dead," especially when the internet sort of took over. But, really, I don't believe that print is dead -- I think it's around, and I actually feel like there are more magazines available than ever before. But what I find very interesting is that Visionaire has been around for twenty years now, and in a funny way, I feel like it's more relevant today than it was pre-internet. I think the most important role of print publications is that they offer a real, physical experience to the reader that they simply can't have digitally. Doing an issue that's "larger than life," that's so physically enormous, is an experience that can't be duplicated by just throwing images online. To understand, it you have to experience it in-person.

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