Briony Somers – Franc Magazine
Briony Somers – Franc Magazine
Model, muse and now magazine editor, I am in the company of Briony Somers, who earlier this year co-launched an independent print magazine, Franc. A fashion publication, it steers clear of fast fashion fluff and instead is thick with essays and editorial pieces as well as a handful of moody fashion shoots.
The idea for Franc was originally born as a college publication for Trinity, where Briony is about the commence her third year, but quickly developed into a standalone enterprise. With her close friend Lauren Henshaw as co-editor, the vision for the magazine was soon standing on it’s own two well-versed legs. It is an intelligent fashion magazine that showcases the ideas, words and images of a generation of young independent thinkers, who happen to really love clothes.
It is impossible to write this and not mention Briony’s appearance. With long, long limbs, skin like chantilly cream and a thick rush of honey red hair, she is like an elongated Celtic imp, but with bone structure so fine it could only have been carved with the brush and oil paint of a Renaissance master. She has strolled down catwalks in London and worked closely with both John and Simone Rocha amongst other notable fashion houses. I am in her apartment just off the leafy banks of the canal near Portobello, and during the brief photoshoot we conduct in her living room I see first hand how she so effortlessly works the camera. Her success in the modelling world is impressive, but it is not why I sought out an interview.
From being a fashion obsessed teenager growing up tall and striking in rural West Cork with her English tinted accent, ordering copies of British Vogue to be delivered to the local newsagent, to navigating the world of rejection and elation that modelling simultaneously exists within, speaking to her about people’s perceptions of the industry and her own opinions and experience of it from the inside is fascinating.
“People talk about distorted body image and pressure on young people, and in the context of schools it’s always discussed as ‘young girls reading fashion magazines’. My experience of being in school was that no one else was reading fashion magazines because they weren’t that interested. The People who did read them generally understood the process, they saw it as a creative cultural thing and not how they should be living their life. But all the boys were drinking protein shakes and felt pressure to be like Ronaldo or whoever! And that’s on top of the masculine ideal of being really aggressive and competent. That was something that was never used to make boys feel bad about liking sports whereas problems with fashion were used to make girls feel bad about liking fashion or makeup.
The message you’re getting is, not only is this vain and superficial but it’s incredibly destructive and you’re ruining your mental health’. And it takes people power to say ‘I like this, this is pleasurable to me, I enjoy clothes, I enjoy make up, even. The discourse had become so toxic and that was something I found incredibly frustrating and something no one was really talking about. That’s changed a lot now, a couple of people have started talking about it and that’s really satisfying. Prior to that, a large part of the discussion was from an outside point of view, that didn’t understand the industry, wasn’t informed, was flippant and very judgemental. I feel people who are in the know, well, they’re just not bothered engaging with that.”
Her perspective of the industry is from a unique standpoint that very few of the population will ever glimpse, and so it is understandable she feels a certain level of frustration with people’s opinion of this vast industry, with its countless facets and dynamics that are not only often misunderstood, but largely invisible. In some part this frustration has spurred on what Franc represents and what it’s intended purpose is, but also to hear firsthand this insider’s candid expression of what fashion can be is incredibly refreshing and hugely interesting, and certainly makes me eager to tuck in to the next issue. As we speak, references to notable figures in the creative industries come hard and fast, and her commitment to producing something of weight and worth is palpable.
“Often the most influential people, and the ones I most admire, discuss the industry and its standards with a degree of separation although, ultimately, it is their view point that comes to define the industry. Glen Luchford, who I’m currently obsessed with, is another example but also Viviene Westwood, Jefferson Hack (Dazed and Confused) and Terry Jones (I-D).
I think it’s really important that people positively do what they want to see in an industry, in any situation whether it be political or whatever, and I think when you look back that’s really how change happens. And even if those people don’t feel like they’re part of it, they are.”
Franc is a bi-annual publication, and issue two is due to launch in September. The debut was a roaring success, and the next one looks to be even better. From being submerged in the close knit pool of creative talent in Ireland they have recruited a small army of like minded contributors who create the graphics, photographs, photo shoots and words while advertising from heavy hitters like American Apparel allow them room to move. The decision to produce a print magazine versus digital was not intended to be a statement, nor was it intended to give the magazine any extra gravitas but even a brief flick-through does relay the impression that this has been a hugely considered and thoughtfully constructed offering.
Scrutinising weighty fashion and art publications like ID, Aperture and ANother, the duo were able to dissect what they wanted to produce in their own. A staggering pile of magazines, ‘research’, is in one corner of her airy living room and as we speak she brings over a huge tome boxed in a special edition case. It is an anthology of the magazine Flair, which lived for twelve sumptuous issues from 1950 to February 1951. The very definition of quality over quantity, during it’s life time it featured the work of Tennesse Williams, Jean Cocteau, Eleanor Roosevelt and Salvador Dali. The genius behind it was Fleur Cowles, an editor who managed to collate some of the most iconic creatives and writers of the century into her magazine. Slowly we flick through the glossy pages, and her admiration for the relatively short lived endeavour that was Flair in part answers my next question.
With Lauren already having graduated and Briony not far behind her, what is next for them and Franc? Will it become their full time job? Do they hope to take it internationally, push into a larger format, increase the volume of work within it? They have considered the future, and even discussed the possibility of one day even handing it over to a ready and willing successor. But for the moment, they are simply taking it as it comes and enjoying the freedom to produce a bi-annual publication which allows them time to envisage, edit and produce. They are in the throes of putting together September’s launch, and with the nuts and bolts of actually establishing a business as well as magazine largely behind them, they are looking forward to focussing on making each piece bigger and better for round two. Whether it does a Flair, and enjoys a brief but significant lifespan, or indeed goes on to become something permanent is by the by. It has all the makings of a publication of note, maybe even to be delivered to an isolated corner of the countryside and devoured by a fashion hungry teen waiting to step out into the big, bright world.