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There are shards of broken glass on the latest cover of Clear that look as much like crystallized sugar jewels as dangerous debris. Near the bottom of the blue-toned layout is a single word, “reflect,” which is what mirrors and lenses do, or humans when they’re thinking hard. Though the Royal Oak-based, high-gloss fashion magazine will be 2 years old next month, this image on its signature see-through overleaf suggests that “cutting edge” is a concept its creators still take literally — in fact, more than ever.
And while publisher-creative director Emin Kadi and managing editor Ivana Kalafatic maintain a clear-eyed focus on the glamorous and the beautiful, they also think in global terms, both geographically and stylistically.
“I modeled all over the world for about eight years,” says Kadi, “then picked up a camera and wound up being a photographer living and working internationally for about 12 years — in Paris, Milan, South Africa, Greece, Australia, New York, Miami — but I always thought that it didn’t matter where you did what I was doing.”
Kadi and Kalafatic met in Brazil — not the South American country, but the Royal Oak coffeehouse — four years ago. And their immediate mutual attraction had a lot to do with who they were, not just how they looked: he, an experienced photographer with the chops to match his imagination, she, an accomplished jewelry designer with major-market contacts.
“We started working together immediately, not the typical ‘let’s go to the movies’ dating,” says Kalafatic. “At first, I represented Emin, working with his clients as well as on my own jewelry. Soon we established a studio feel to how we like to work and then just fell into the magazine. ... It’s almost like it encompassed our own talents without us knowing what we were getting into.”
After two years of sharing concepts and dreams, they decided to take the plunge and give their ideas material form, daring to take their labor of love to the next level. Against the odds and beyond all expectations, Clear has become an impressive achievement. No reader leafing, even casually, through its pages can miss the stunning production values, sumptuous paper stocks, arresting photography and layouts. The cost of printing such an exquisite hunk of information every three months must be daunting, especially considering that the latest issue, at 80 pages, contains just a handful of ads. Kalafatic claims circulation figures of 100,000 copies overall and 40,000 locally, though Detroit industry insiders seriously doubt that such numbers are possible. Nevertheless we might ask, why do this in Detroit and not New York or LA?
Kalafatic, who was born in Croatia, responds, “The multicultural aspect really comes across in Detroit. The first response we always get on the magazine is that it looks like it’s based out of London or New York. But then people start reading it and notice the content — maybe something featuring Cleveland, Chicago or Detroit — and they wonder what’s going on. Emin and I had a tie to Detroit and said to ourselves that there’s a reason why people keep coming back here. We really wanted to be a sophisticated voice for this place, a portal in and out of Detroit and/or the Midwest. Nationally we’ve been embraced very well — locally, it’s been a big learning curve for the people we work with.”
Kadi, who’s of Albanian descent, adds, “We can’t be categorized, and that was our aim. But people like categories. They like to get it without thinking about it, instead of letting it take you somewhere. We all travel; we all want to do something cool; we all want to go to a place that has all these cool things that we see. We buy everything there; we know what’s going on, but then we come back home and stay with the same mentality we had when we left. But what’s great is when people travel somewhere and see us on the newsstand and say, ‘Oh, that’s from our hometown. That’s Clear.’”
The issue of Clear that hits the stands this week is a study in multicultural contrasts and ironies. On the glossy second cover, just inside the translucent outer wrap, is a shot of 18-year-old model Crystal Middlebrook from Inkster. She’s wearing a black, high-necked jacket and standing in front of an old brick warehouse with the word “Detroit” on its side. At the bottom of the layout, another word, “Desire,” sets up a consonant rhyme with the name of our city, as if Detroit and desire had some intrinsic connection.
Inside, on fine stippled paper, Middlebrook is featured in a series of 10 full-color images shot in the starkly familiar (to us, at least) environs of the Motor City. She poses in high-fashion outfits before warehouses, shadowy buildings, weathered brick balustrades, underneath a basketball rim or on an abandoned red pickup, in compositions that jam together the remnants of our past and the utopian vision that glamour always implies. Because fashion always points everyday life in the direction of fantasy — which is, and always has been, its hopeful purpose, despite objections from the more embittered souls among us.
Kadi, who often works with nonprofessional models, remembers how he first met Middlebrook, a classically featured daughter of Motown: “Four years ago, when she was 14, she just walked into my studio. She’d heard about me — and I saw something in her then, but she has really blossomed into more of an international-looking model now.”
Extending the multicultural bridge even further is a sequence of nine pictures, in both color and black and white, titled “The Adriatic.” Shot on the shores of Croatia this past August, the eroticized images of Croatian model Ana Mihalcic are ironic in this context. As we remember the Balkan violence of recent years, we read these visions of desire as a gesture, on the part of Kadi and Kalafatic, of getting on with life, of transcending hatred with beauty, of the triumph of youth and internationalism over tribal racism.
Some of the Adriatic photos are reminiscent of the work of Helmut Newton, high-fashion’s master blaster and one of Kadi’s all-time favorites: “He’s one of the greatest photographers by a long shot. He shoots everything in one roll and that’s what I do. We shot that whole spread in Detroit in three hours. In order to do that, you have to have a vision of what you want already in your head.”
If anything is obvious, it’s that Clear’s creative directors, who have been invited this year to teach a course in editorial design at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, know what they’re looking for. And they up the ante with each new issue.
“Everything is design now,” says Kadi, “from a salt shaker to the handle in a bathroom to a subway sign. Look at what Target did. No one would think that those edgy ads would ever work in a department store. But now everyone’s trying them.
“Clear is a design environment with a lot of possibilities. We want to bridge the gap between an independent and a classic magazine. Most independents have a lot of shock value, with situations that can really get grotesque and ugly — just to have a photograph on a page to grab attention. But we avoid nudity for its own sake. We prefer to use art and cleverness.”
Kalafatic adds, “We’re a theme-based magazine that’s an art object in itself. And we’ve survived through smart business moves, a lot of self-sacrifice and presenting a good product.”
Clear is another of those Motor City enigmas that draws on the energy and cross-cultural vibes our metropolis is renowned for. And after two years of existence, it’s now available in 17 countries around the world. From this position of success, Kalafatic recalls the project’s beginnings: “The magazine really took off after Fashion Week in New York in February 2001 [a biannual industry get-together]. We went there very green, doing our own distribution, setting the magazines in bags on chairs in that entrepreneurial environment. We didn’t really know what to expect and were just excited to be there, to have that opportunity. We were carrying the magazine in our hands and one of our current distributors saw it and motioned to us. He ended up being our distributor for that show and in other major, high-end venues. Then we went to the Universal Bookstore in Soho and showed it to a guy there who took the 20 or so copies we had in our bag, took down all the other magazines from his window display — Arena, Wallpaper, Vogue — and put us up for two weeks. That’s where things really started to happen. We got a blitz of calls, from potential contributors down to Borders books. Then Barnes & Noble came on board and so on.”
“When you stumble on and develop an idea that’s this good,” says Kadi, “it just seems easy. Not easy with respect to physically doing it, but the concept drags you along with it. You can’t not accomplish it, because it makes you succeed.”
For a closer look at Clear, go to www.clearmag.com. For subscription information call 888-923-2667.
George Tysh is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.