Representing the creative future

Ib Kamara, Gareth Wrighton, and Lynette Nylander on the making of Dazed’s 30th-anniversary issue

Dazed’s new leading team talks about the making of the iconic Rihanna cover shoot and the importance of pushing towards a new direction

Over the course of the weekend, Dazed magazine opened the doors of their office at London’s 180 Strand for Dazed Live; a two-day festival of insightful talks, music, workshops, and tacos. Saturday kicked off with a serene life drawing class from couturier Michaela Stark and ended with a performance by groundbreaking artist and Dazed cover star Pa Salieu. In the early evening, hundreds rushed into the talk space, and some lucky ones got a seat perched on custom Asai Hot Wok pillows, to hear Dazed editor-in-chief Ib Kamara, artistic director Gareth Wrighton, and editorial director Lynette Nylander talk through the 30th-anniversary edition of Dazed, or as many may know it, ‘the Rihanna Issue’.

Kamara, Nylander, and Wrighton all joined Dazed in a shake-up at the publication at the beginning of the year, with Isabella Burley’s eight-year stint coming to an end in the form of the Spring 2021 issue. Under the new leadership, Dazed aims to platform new voices and talents globally, indeed, this issue itself was shot all over the world from Brazil to Mexico City, from South Africa to Ramsgate. The issue contains location tags for where each story was shot, with some imagery taken on Rihanna’s actual home street in Barbados. “A logistical nightmare”, the trio explained, but poignant at a time of ongoing global crisis.

“Working on the magazine it’s almost as if we’re back in uni again, it’s exciting but quite stressful.” – Ib Kamara

Kamara and Wrighton met on Central Saint Martins’ Fashion Communication and Promotion course nine years ago, one that, according to Gareth, “really encouraged working together as a class.” After graduating, the pair never stopped working together. In 2017, Wrighton lived with Kamara in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the duo, alongside photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman, worked extensively on the ‘Soft Criminal’, a project consisting of a 22-look collection and images. As Kamara describes it, “I love Gareth […] he provides a very supportive system. I wanted someone that was going to be very honest with me.” He later adds: “We critique every single thing that is around us asking how it could be better.” Ib and Gareth speak candidly about how good it is to be working with your friends and making beautiful work in the process. “Working on the magazine it’s almost as if we’re back in uni again,” Kamara explains, “it’s exciting but quite stressful.”

On getting Rihanna on the cover of their first Dazed issue as a trio, as Nylander puts it, “We thought, ‘oh, that would never happen.’” So how did it come to be? Ib explains, “We didn’t really want to do celebrities for the first issue,” but the team nonetheless were in contact with Jahleel Weaver, Rihanna’s stylist and the force behind some of her most recognisable looks, “Well, Rihanna fits what we wanted to say at the time, and that’s why we went with her.”  Nylander adds: “It felt like the right person for the right time, she’s always so eternally cool, nobody hates Rihanna.” Wrighton speaks of the buildup of tension and excitement he felt after the “iconic” new Dazed launch at the start of the summer; “I was motivated by that. As the ideas started coming together and the pictures started coming in, there was really that feeling of, we’re going to launch these pictures in September, that’s really exciting.” He continues by speaking admirably of the way Kamara and Nylander incorporated her into the publication, “The perfect person for Ib at his point on his styling journey and for Lynette just telling the story within the publication.”

“The shoot itself is quite a think piece, styling wise.” – Gareth Wrighton

Nylander quizzed the pair on the process of bringing out the different sides to Rihanna’s personality for the cover shoot, achieved through an intricate collaboration of both Ib’s styling and Wrighton’s creative direction for the work. “We spent a lot of time in my house, a fortnight, researching and thinking about how we wanted to re-imagine her,” Kamara explains. Gareth adds: “The shoot itself is quite a think piece, styling wise.”  The team dug deep into Rihanna’s heritage and thoroughly researched how they wanted to present the singer in the images. The pair spoke of the importance of critiquing everything while a project is still in the idea stage, “It’s not enough to just take the picture and then edit it,” Wrighton emphasises. Lynette Nylander highlights the way the team looked at every facet of Rihanna as a personality and as an artist, “From music videos, other magazines, even paparazzi photos when Rihanna walks down the street, she’s the baddest.”  The team felt it was important to bring all these different facets of the star into the shoot. “I love the idea of Rihanna pulling up to an event,” Kamara explains. Much of the research that went into the issue “Latched onto the idea of the arrival […] because the context of the magazine coming out in September 2021, we were subconsciously thinking throughout the issue about this idea of going somewhere, after the past year we’ve had, how can our fashion imagery take the readers elsewhere?”

“I really pushed everyone at the magazine to shoot outside.” – Ib Kamara

The panel explained how the vast majority of the editorials for this issue we shot outside. “I really pushed everyone at the magazine to shoot outside,” Kamara admits. “All the editorials, largely, were shot outside, and that was very specifically done to take people on a journey of escapism,” adds Nylander. The cover shoot, however, was inside, due to time constraints, and luckily too, as the day of the shoot was plagued by a thunderstorm. “But she had an umbrella!” Wrighton jokes.

“Creating a magazine during a pandemic is hell. Don’t do it if you don’t have to. 95% of the creative team that worked in the UK couldn’t get to the US to shoot.” – Lynette Nylander

The cover story was shot by Raphael Pavarotti, a longtime collaborator of Ib Kamara, whose work has become increasingly synonymous with the latter; as Wrighton says, “If you’re familiar with Ibrahim’s work you’re familiar with Raphael’s work. It’s become such a ubiquitous double act that it’s literally defining fashion in 2020 and 2021. This is the imagery that we are going to be referencing going forward.” Ib goes on to say, “It was either Raf or no cover because he has a really focused lens as to how he wanted it to look, he’s the one person who we designed the shoot around.” Wrighton speaks of how when Kamara and Pavarotti produce a photograph it is “A new kind of fashion image. There’s a sense of journalism running through them […] the Rihanna shoot to me feels like a series of illustrations of Rihanna, and for her to have been so generous and be on board for the ride the whole time, it’s very rare.”

When speaking of the logistical issues of the anniversary issue; “Creating a magazine during a pandemic is hell. Don’t do it if you don’t have to,” Nylander jokes. Despite calling it a “labour of love,” the travel ban between the US and UK made the shoot incredibly difficult to coordinate, “95% of the creative team that worked in the UK couldn’t get to the US to shoot.” The difficulties were seemingly endless, ensuring the clothes were all where they needed to be and the team alongside this. “How did we make sure that all the time and effort and energy that we put into the shoot actually came off without a hitch?” asks Nylander. “I wasn’t there,” says Wrighton, “It was my first issue working at Dazed and at the time I was working from the office and I couldn’t justify being away from getting to know my new team to do the shoot, so it did fall on Ib to be the stylist and art director on set.” Kamara spoke briefly about how he was “Really looking forward to the shoot because we had worked so hard to make the most impossible shit happen,” he goes on to say, “it didn’t look like a photo shoot.”  Nylander describes the party atmosphere on set, there was a DJ and dancing, “Because the creative was so exciting […] everyone wanted to give their all to it.”

The panel took the crowd through a selection of the looks Rihanna wore for the cover shoot, including custom Burberry pieces facilitated by Kamara’s friendship with Riccardo Tisci, and the latter’s love for Rihanna. “It was very much inspired by what Burberry is doing,” Wrighton explains, “although it’s custom and it came from us, it’s still in conversation with what the brand is saying right now.”  One hugely memorable item of clothing from this shoot was the “blunt dress”, designed by Jawara Alleyne, who also held a workshop earlier in the course of the day’s proceedings. “I don’t remember when I met him, he’s always been there,” says Gareth of Alleyne, “I think it was just so wonderful to dress Rihanna in Jawara Alleyne, we’re putting Rihanna in our issue and we can dress her in our friend’s looks. That’s amazing.” Kamara adds, “Jawara is someone who has made some incredible pieces for us, but also, he’s Caribbean, so it felt right that he got to make that dress for her.” Ib goes on to speak of how, because of his job, he would never call it a “blunt dress”. Wrighton jives, “For me, it’s a bridal look.”

“There was a moment after that where I realised we don’t own these pictures anymore, they belong to the internet.” – Gareth Wrighton

The trio moved on to speak of the trepidation of the final images coming through, and the nervous, slightly sickening gap between receiving them and the magazine’s publication.  Wrighton says of the photographs, “You stare at them and you’re slowly getting tired of them but you don’t fall out of love with them, it’s weird. You’re sat on the train, and you don’t realise these people don’t know about Rihanna under the umbrella.” Ib, speaking about his eighteen-year-old sister, says, “When she likes it she says: that’s nice,” a seemingly wise litmus test. In terms of the huge reception that the shoot received, “There was a moment after that where I realised we don’t own these pictures anymore, they belong to the internet,” Wrighton says, “I think that’s the first time I’ve had that in my work, you produce an image and it belongs to culture, which was profound. I could become addicted to that really quickly.” Kamara adds: “The photos we make in the magazine, they’re not for us anymore, hopefully, some kid in Lagos gets inspired by the work we make.”

“I always say it’s the 30th-anniversary issue, and Rihanna is on the cover,” remarks Nylander, highlighting the vast amount of work from the huge team of people who worked on the editorials within the issue. “It’s a real celebration of creativity from different places, and while she’s the cover of it, it’s not the whole story.” The panel agrees: “The covers did its job; people come for Rihanna and then they stay for all the other stories inside,” Wrighton adds. This is a truly global publication and the trio aim to de-centre the narrative from London and the western fashion sphere. Kamara speaks of when studying at CSM, reading magazines, and questioning, “Why am I not seeing people that look like me’, so I think we really wanted to make it as much a global magazine as possible.” Appropriate, considering consumption of fashion imagery is global; “That’s the point in making a fashion magazine in 2021.”

“There are so many different points of view which is something we really wanted to achieve.” – Ib Kamara

There is an element of perfect imperfection to this issue of Dazed and the imagery inside it, the panel discussed the skill involved in creating a fashion image, “To put the wrong thing on the wrong body, to get it wrong and shoot it beautifully, and then it becomes the look, and you can’t imagine wearing anything but that.”  Kamara adds, “Everything was successful in some way, and even if it wasn’t it is ok. There are so many different points of view which is something we really wanted to achieve.” There really seems to be a sense of creative freedom, and trust between these three, which enables them to work incredibly effectively as a trio to produce impactful fashion images and stories. You can’t help but be excited to see what comes next.