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Old 1st December 2007   #1
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Default The MODE Interview

In the best of all possible worlds, what would the perfect magazine be like?

It would feature surpassingly beautiful goddesses, size 14 and up, with no minus-size skeletons whatsoever.

It would situate plus-size models in breathtaking locations, wearing lovely feminine clothing, showing off their generous figures.

The photographs would be of such high quality as to match or surpass the best of Vogue or Elle.

The magazine would be resolutely pro-plus in its text and images. It would celebrate the joys of being full-figured, of guilt-free self-indulgence, and of leading a pleasurable life. It would give readers a "vacation feeling," an escape from the workaday world.

And of course, it would contain no diet ads or curve-disparaging stories whatsoever.

Such a magazine would be the stuff of fantasy, a glimpse of an ideal world--a better world than our own. It would reveal what our media environment would have been like, the kind of timeless beauty that it would have idealized, if the aristocratic heritage of Western aesthetic history hadn't been overthrown in the 20th century.

*Sigh* It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Such a magazine could never exist.

But it did exist . . . and its name was Mode.

Mode was everything described above--and more. It directly gave birth to this Web site, and defined the very notion of a plus-size model as a living embodiment of Classical beauty. To this day, all other magazines (whether they are plus-specific, or straight-size oriented) are measured against the Mode standard. They are all invariably found wanting.

From its inception in 1997, to its tragic end in 2001, Mode featured the most beautiful girls who have ever called themselves models, and created the finest images of plus-size beauty the world has ever known.

How was it able to do this?

What made Mode so brilliant?

Why have no other magazines been able to match it--let alone surpass it?

Why did the magazine decline during its final years?

And ultimately, why did it perish?

Now, you will know.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the founding of Mode, it was my great privilege to interview Michele Weston, one of the magazine’s co-creators and, for years, its Fashion & Style Director.

In this extremely informative interview (the longest that has ever appeared at The Judgment of Paris), Ms. Weston relates the history of the founding of the magazine, reveals why it folded, and answers the questions that have plagued Mode aficionados for years (e.g., "Why did the models get smaller?").

But the discussion is more than just a tribute to the magazine's greatness. Michele speaks very candidly about the particular conditions that made Mode possible, and the difficulties that any publication seeking to take its place will encounter. Ms. Weston provides a hard lesson in the realities of magazine publishing, and anyone who reads the text in full will find it a sobering yet enlightening experience.

The interview is illustrated with 31 of the magazine's greatest pages, some of which have never before appeared on this Web site, all scanned in full (including Mode’s original text), and tagged to indicate the editorials from which they were taken, and the issues in which they originally appeared. Seven feature Shannon Marie, ten show Barbara Brickner, five present Kate Dillon (during her fuller-figured heyday), and the rest exhibit other popular Mode models. You may click on any of the images in the interview to view them at a larger size.

Now, sit back, click on the link below, and enter the idyllic, halcyon world that was . . . Mode magazine.

- Click here to read the interview

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Old 2nd December 2007   #2
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

What a wonderful interview. It was fascinating to learn so much about Mode, which was always my favourite magazine. I like how the discussion goes point by point through all of the things that made Mode so special -- the specific decisions that made it utterly perfect.

Looking at those beautiful pictures, it's astonishing to see, yet again, how gorgeous Shannon Marie is. She has the face of an angel, more than any other model I've ever seen (at any size), but she also has so much vivacity in her pictures. You can feel the wit and the vibrant personality behind those dreamy eyes.

The interview definitely reveals why the magazine worked so well. I found Ms. Weston's comments about working with recalcitrant photographers especially important:

It was, like, "You know what? She's too thin. The pictures that you did are too thin, and your mission, as we sent you out to do these pictures, was not to make her look thin."
[F]or a little bit, we had these terrible people who were booking, or who were styling, and we just said, "No, no, no, no. That’s not what we do here. We don’t make people look thinner."
we had photographers, we had hair-and-makeup people, who sometimes just needed to leave the set... because they just didn't get it. And [we said to them] "Guess what? You need to not be here with us, because we will not have any girl feel bad about herself."

You do need qualified professionals for such a magazine, but you also need someone with a guiding hand above them, defending the curvy aesthetic, and making sure that the models really are plus, and really look plus. Otherwise, it's all pointless, and it becomes just another magazine supporting the underweight standard rather than challenging it and overturning it.

I miss Mode so much. What wouldn't I give for it to return...
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Old 3rd December 2007   #3
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

Thank you for the interview. It's sad that it seems so difficult for another magazine like Mode ever to appear.
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Old 3rd December 2007   #4
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

I loved learning more about my all-time-favorite magazine, especially how it all came about.

Not only is Shannon Marie breathtakingly beautiful, but my God, she has the most perfect complexion of anyone I've ever seen. Mode came out before the digital revolution, so Shannon Marie's perfect skin is the real thing, an honest-to-goodness miracle. It's like Michele says in the interview, "God just didn't create a million of them." In this case, he created only one. It would be amazing if Shannon Marie ever came back to modelling.

My favourite quote from the article is when Michele says of the models:

The more curves and the more size they had, the more fun it was.
That's so true! It was more fun for the models themselves, and more fun for the readers. The magazine was about fun- about pure joie de vivre. I think it's why readers loved Mode's models so much. The models and the readers were bound together in a kind of mutual enjoyment of life and all of life's pleasures. In the pictures, the models were saying, "I can have whatever I want and still be beautiful, and so can you."

By contrast, what is straight-size fashion (and its waif-filled magazines) about, but mutual suffering- suffering and guilt. The models are starving, the readers are starving, and what the heck for?

Mode was fun- it was about having fun, and it was fun to read- and that sense of fun is something no other magazine ever had. It's one of the main reasons why everybody loved it.
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Old 4th December 2007   #5
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

I remember reading that Shannon Marie was a junior-plus model in the days of Mode, contemporary with Valerie Lefkowitz. That means she would still be in her 20s today. It would be incredible if she returned. She truly was "the fairest of them all..."

Just think if Shannon Marie had continued her career. We'd have double the number of masterpiece-images of plus-size beauty. Barbara Brickner's galleries would have a matching compliment in just as many of Shannon Marie.

I love how candid Michele was in the interview. We should all be grateful to her for that. For me, her most powerful statement was:

How you go out there doing things…changes what things are.
This is such an important point. What a sad excuse it is when people quote "rules" about modelling or fashion (especially in the plus-size category) to exclude certain larger sizes, or shorter heights. As Michele said, Mode consciously broke all the rules that were in place when the magazine was launched. It made a whole new way of seeing beauty possible because it defied convention, because it rejected the myths of "flaws," etc.

If the rules said models couldn't show curves, Mode broke those rules and showed curves.

If the rules said models had to be tall and thin, Mode broke those rules and chose models who were visibly plus, and had more normal heights.

The only reason things "are" a certain way is because people have been blindly following what everyone else has been doing. Mode proved for once and for all that it is possible to reject aesthetic boundaries, and to create a whole new paradigm.
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Old 4th December 2007   #6
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Default Bond girl Shannon Marie

I've always been enraptured with Shannon Marie's beauty, and she became even lovelier as her career progressed, but I forgot how exciting her early, Bond-inspired "Spy Girls" layout was. She looks like a bona fide Bond girl, out of one of the classic Sean Connery films, like Thunderball. The original Bond girls were dynamic, but they also had a very soft, feminine beauty (think Ursula Andress in Dr. No), to contrast with the toughness of 007. Shannon Marie has that, but she's even more gorgeous than any Bond girl.

It just goes to show that a model doesn't need to look "edgy" (ugly) to do an "editorial look." Exciting editorial can even better be achieved with a glamorous model. Count on MODE to do something so unique and captivating.

I too appreciate Ms. Weston's candour. She was refreshingly honest in her responses, even in this exchange, where one might have expected a little fudging.

HSG: Was beauty an active criterion in selecting the models for MODE?

MICHELE: You always look for beauty. They’re models. I mean, they are models. And this is what a lot of women don’t understand today...You know, being a model, or a supermodel, to that degree, is a freak of nature...There is a standard. Even in the plus-size world.

HSG: Even? Especially.

Instead of some politically-correct platitude, Ms. Weston tells it like it is - yes, plus-size models need to be as beautiful as possible. And of course she's absolutely right. It's vital for plus-size models to be as photogenic as possible (to be more gorgeous than any minus-size models), to overturn media-generated "dumpy, frumpy" stereotypes foisted on plus-size women.

No one could look at the pictures in that interview and deny that full-figured models are absolutely gorgeous.
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Old 5th December 2007   #7
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Default The MODE difference

I understand the references to Vogue and Elle in terms of aesthetic quality, but such comparisons are misleading, and do a disservice to Mode, because Mode was far superior.

What was important about Mode was how unlike those magazines it was, how different it was.

Yes, Mode was comparable in terms of photographic quality, but its message was positive rather than negative. Whereas those magazines are a societal blight, a poison, ruining the body image of young women, Mode was the antidote, undoing the damage that those magazines did.

Anorex-chic magazines are the disease, and Mode was the cure.

For that reason I am against seeing plussize models in in straight-size magazines at all, because in those cases, full-figured beauty is being robbed of its subversive power, and worse, it is being co-opted to further suffering - to spread diet mania, to sell the myth that starvation is somehow attractive.

Mode did the opposite. It used the power of glamorous photography for good, not for harm. It was the fashion anti-magazine.

- - - -

Whatever difficulties there may be in creating a new publication for plussize girls, at least this inteview, with its extensive collection of scans, and thorough examination of Modes tone and content, provides a clear recipe for how to create another ideal magazine - another publication that will undo the harm that anorexic fashion does to young women.
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Old 5th December 2007   #8
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

My favorite picture is the very first, showing Shannon Marie in red, amidst the grass, with such a serene expression. It's as close to a vision of Paradise as I can imagine; a goddess lying in the Elysian Fields.

For me, the most telling exchange in the interview is the bit about magazines and diet ads:

HSG:How did you come up with the wonderful policy to never, ever run diet ads of any kind?

MICHELE: It’s wasn’t appropriate.

HSG: So you weren’t tempted by the money? I’m sure they would have offered—

MICHELE: Sure, but it wasn’t appropriate.

HSG: They would have driven dump trucks full of money to yours doors!

MICHELE: But it wasn’t appropriate.

HSG: But that’s so right. Why doesn’t everyone realize that?

MICHELE: No, it wasn’t appropriate.

HSG: That’s so right, and so obviously right, to everyone—to MODE, to full-figured women, to the men who admire them—so why doesn’t everyone in the fashion industry realize this?

MICHELE: Well, because they want to make money. For us, it was just not appropriate. It’s not appropriate. You don’t do that. God, you just don’t go there, because it makes women feel the one thing that we never wanted anyone to feel—and that was, that they weren’t okay.

With the repeated questions, it's like the interviewer was testing Ms. Weston to see if she would budge on this point (and hoping that she wouldn't). But her resolve in her position - that diet ads are not appropriate - tells you everything you need to know about why MODE was so great. Yes, the magazine was in it to make money, but it also had fundamental beliefs and principles that it wouldn't compromise.

Unlike the so-called "love your body" editions of mainsteam magazines (which usually do more harm than good), MODE sent a clear message, not a mixed message. It understood that presenting a positive viewpoint means not only promoting the good, but also keeping out the bad. What MODE (wisely) kept out of its pages was just as important to its success as what was in it.

Any plus-size magazine that runs diet ads is a sell-out (as is any model who appears in one). It betrays the very women who comprise a magazine's readership, because (as Michele says) such ads make readers feel that they aren't okay. MODE, on the other hand, wanted them to know that they were gorgeous just the way they were. And that's why it remains such a beloved publication.
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Old 19th December 2007   #9
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Default Re: The MODE Interview

Wow, the interview with Michele is fantastic. It brought back memories of how brilliant Mode used to be. Over in England, I first came across it as my newsagent had been sent a copy. It was so relevant, being a plus-size myself. I would re-read it until the new copy came out. Michele's articles really helped me; the "form and function" articles were most useful.

I agree with Michele regarding the money issue. I have seen articles featuring the cost involved with launching a magazine in England. If I ever win the lottery, I would set one up.

Mode was the most fantastic mag ever, informative, esteem-enhancing, and it did actually feature models that most women could relate to. I will have to go back to it. Thank you indeed to Michele. I read you book often, and thanks for setting up a brilliant interview.

Merry Christmas to you all.
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Old 20th December 2007   #10
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Default Re: The MODE difference

Originally Posted by MelanieW
I understand the references to Vogue and Elle in terms of aesthetic quality, but such comparisons are misleading, and do a disservice to Mode, because Mode was far superior.

What was important about Mode was how unlike those magazines it was, how different it was.

I agree completely. There are at least two other crucial differences between MODE and any other "women's magazine" that must be understood as being crucial to its success.

1. MODE was beautiful, rather than "edgy". Just look (I mean really look) at the pictures in the interview. Most of the editorials in straight-size fashion magazines look like modern-art disasters. The models wear freakish makeup, ugly deconstructed clothing, and the lighting and photography are weird for weirdness's sake. Just awful. By contrast, MODE's shoots were pretty, feminine, and beautiful. They were like attractive Classical art rather than ugly modern art -- in style, as well as in the size of the models.

2. MODE was tasteful rather than vulgar, when discussing "women's issues." Most magazines today have a repellent, raunchy, "Sex and the City" side. Their discussions of personal matters, especially intimacy, are clinical to the point of being vulgar, almost obscene. Mode avoided all of this. Its articles were very gentle in tone, very "G" rated -- and that's a good thing. A mother could feel comfortable having her daughter reading it. Sure, MODE's models were sexy, and it used the word "sexy" a lot, but it was a very demure, flirtatious, '50s kind of sexiness. In short, MODE had class, which is sorely lacking among women's magazines today.

Both of these factors are a major part of MODE's lasting appeal.
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