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Urban Outfitters’ Slant
Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 2. (Enlarge)
February 01, 2014

Urban Outfitters’ Slant

Big box retailers like Old Navy and Target have long tapped into a lightly ironic sense of nostalgia in their marketing, but in the early 1990s, Urban Outfitters fully embraced a retro, anti-consumerist consumerism, snarky and winking – alternative style gone mainstream. Urban’s tabloid magazine Slant encapsulated all that the company hoped to represent to its customers. Slant was published for nine issues between 1995 and 1997, and was distributed to more than 500 retail outlets beyond Urban Outfitters, including cafes and clubs. Cleverly riding the zine explosion of the 90s, Urban differentiated itself from other clothing franchises early on by employing underground artists and writers to grab a bit of their cachet. Slant published the writing of John Maar, Nick Tosches, Kenneth Anger, and Luc Sante, implicitly trusting the cultural literacy of its target reader. Mike Calkins, Urban’s Assistant Art Director at the time said, “The pretense of Urban Outfitters assumes that the people who shop there know who those writers are.” (Communication Arts Jan/Feb 1998). Slant also hired many of the artists creating the best comics, illustrations, and gig posters of the time, thus producing the coolest advertising circular ever – one with a DIY aesthetic and tons of street cred. Art Director Howard Brown, hired in 1992 at age 25, put the magazine’s mission succinctly in a 1998 article in Communication Arts:

We want each page to work on its own as a poster, so you can tear it out and put it on your wall. Even if you don’t like to read, it’s eye candy. People see this and realize that Urban Outfitters is different. We’re giving them more than stickers. We’re giving them culture.

(To that end, Urban assiduously pursued associations with indie rock bands, carefully yoking their brand to alternative music. Store soundtracks were carefully curated and Urban’s designers created concert posters for preferred bands, which were sold in the stores. Below, posters for Blur and Sebadoh.)

Two posters for "Blur". The left poster has 3 horizontal stripes; green, white, and red as the background.  A silhouette of a high way that twists and loops is in the middle. There are one green and one white car in the foreground. On the top left of the highway is a small rectangle with 3 different images of a car. Underneath it is " Blur" is big white letters. On the right poster it was a violet background a simple illustration of a black hand with a bandage wrapped around its index is in the middle. "Secadoh" is above it.

Posters for the Trocadero in Philadelphia, mid-1990s. Blur by Mike Calkins (UO’s Assistant Art Director). Sebadoh by Howard Brown (UO’s Art Director).

The magazine also benefited from the role of Charles Spencer Anderson, whose studio participated in the design and concept of covers and articles. Anderson’s refined retro-ironic style served as a nice counterpoint to the un-designed zine look Slant also strived for. (For more on C.S. Anderson’s self-described “Bonehead” style, see Steven Heller’s article “Bonehead Design: Style as Language” in Design Issues, Vol. 12, No. 2, Summer 1996.)

In case there was any confusion, the cover of the first issue of Slant offered a definition of the term: “to present (information) in a way that favors a particular viewpoint.”

A front cover of a news paper. On a red background three white muscled men each carry a heavy machine. They struggle carrying and slant a bit to the right. Above them in yellow cursive text is the titles of the news paper," Slant". The Title has arrows and arrows on each letter, it's designed to look like a how-to-write-cursive letter. Below the title in a thin yellow background is the definition of, "Slant". "to present (information) in a way that favors a particular viewpoint".

Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 1.

It’s an unexpected statement coming from a retailer that aimed to flatter its customers’ sense of individuality. Urban Outfitters, after all, was specifically positioning itself in opposition to the Gap uniform. In any case, thanks are due to David Mazzucchelli, who recently donated the complete run of Slant to the Glaser Archives. Receiving a pristine set of a significant ephemeral publication is an archivist’s dream, of course. I’ll feature some of the interior comics and illustrations in a future post, but here are some covers by Mazzucchelli, Gary Panter, Michael Mabry, and Chip Kidd. To see more covers, visit our Flickr account.

A newspaper for "Slant". The front page is two sumo wrestlers wrestling in a bright blue background. The Sumos are colored white and yellow with a orange outline. Above the sumo is yellow Japanese calligraphy in small orange circles. Next to each circle are thin white letters that spell out "Slant".

Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 9. Cover by David Mazzucchelli.

A front or back cover of a news paper. Two punk rock, grunge looking teens are giants. They step over buildings with people running away from them. The illustration has navy blue outlines and white and dull red shading. In the red sky the title of the News Paper, "Slant" is written is a way where every over letter is turned 90 degrees.

Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 3. Cover by Gary Panter.

Front or Back cover of a News Paper. A black and white photo of a man's head. Overlays of various images such as; a map, a vintage car, an ad for tobacco, an etc in red or magenta color are on top of the black and white image.

Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 5. Cover by M.K. Mabry.

A newspaper for "Slant". The front/back cover is a photo of the underside of a bottle cap that has "Please Try Again" in bolded black text. The half of the image has a light red hue overlaid on it.

Design Study Collection: David Mazzucchelli. Slant no. 6. Cover by Chip Kidd.

This post also appears on our Picturebox blog.