washingtonpost.com  > Columns > Fashion

Paper Rocks Hipsters: 20 Years of Cool Hunting

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2004; Page C02

NEW YORK

Kim Hastreiter, the co-founder and editor of Paper magazine , arrives at the Tribeca Grand Hotel wearing her distinctive cherry-red glasses, with her gray-streaked hair pulled into its usual high ponytail and with Romeo, her Dandie Dinmont terrier, on a leash.

There is every reason to expect that Hastreiter will know much of the management at this proudly hip hotel -- and she does not disappoint. Hastreiter knows a lot of people and puts that knowledge to use. "I'm a hook-up person," she says as a way of describing what it is that she does. Hastreiter likes to connect one person with another: a fashion designer with a visual artist, a cartoonist with a handbag manufacturer, shoemakers with painters. She knows most everyone at the hotel because she lived here for several months while she was renovating her apartment. During another renovation, she lived at a sister establishment, the Soho Grand Hotel. The Soho hotel wasn't yet open to the public, but Hastreiter became its first guest because she knew the right people.


Kim Hastreiter is well known for spotting nascent trends, such as frocks by design collective As Four. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

_____From Robin Givhan_____
Sugar Overload (The Washington Post, Sep 16, 2004)
Spring Bling (The Washington Post, Sep 13, 2004)
Try This On For Size (The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2004)
Politics Heads Down the Runway (The Washington Post, Sep 10, 2004)
The Look Is Red, White and Blah (The Washington Post, Sep 3, 2004)
_____Arts & Living_____
The Fashion & Beauty section has stories and tips.
Add Fashion to your personal home page.

Twenty years ago, Hastreiter -- with business partner David Hershkovits -- poured her curiosity for people and their artistic endeavors into the creation of Paper magazine. To most folks, Paper is a glossy magazine filled with clothes they can't imagine ever wearing, people they've never heard of and businesses located in neighborhoods they would most likely want to avoid. But most folks do not have an insatiable need for the new, the innovative or the odd.

Exploring the underground has always been Paper's mission -- discovering and documenting provocateurs, places and ideas in their earliest, rawest, and often most disconcerting, form. Paper doesn't pride itself on being trendy. It is pre-trendy. "Trends don't start with trendy people," Hastreiter says. So one won't find Hastreiter holding court in the latest Meatpacking District restaurant where reservations require a secret number, speed dial and the patience of Job. Hastreiter will be at the restaurant off the alley of some distressingly seedy street.

"We prefer to write about things when they're still in garages, when they're more rough," Hastreiter says. "Years ago we put a local waitress with tattoos all over her body on the cover of the magazine. We lost ads because of it. But we had never seen that before." Now, of course, tattoos or body piercings are common and their wearers are shilling for such mainstream brands as the Gap and Pepsi.

Pinpointing who discovered what used to be a competitive but pointless game. The winner received little more than bragging rights. But now, in the age of corporate cool hunters who scour cities and suburbs sniffing out the next million-dollar trend with the exuberance of pigs sniffing out truffles, a talent for sensing "cool" can be lucrative.

So Paper has spawned Extra Extra, a consulting arm of the magazine that specializes in marketing, promotion and branding. Extra Extra has organized focus groups to discover why trendsetting clubgoers don't drink gin. It has gotten a new champagne into the hands of key restaurateurs and bartenders. It has gotten new sneakers onto the right stylists' feet.

"We know how to talk to a certain type of person. We know that 'Tipping Point' kind of person," Hastreiter says. "They can't articulate why something is cool, but we connect the dots."

Hastreiter and Hershkovits launched Paper magazine after their employer, the Soho Weekly News, closed. In the beginning, Paper was a broadsheet folded in quarters. It looked like an elaborate note that a couple of high school kids might pass in art class. They started the magazine in a downtown Manhattan loft with $4,000 in seed money.

Today, Paper has a staff of 35 and a circulation of about 88,000 concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco. "We are still independently owned," Hastreiter says. "We don't lose money. This isn't a vanity publication."

It is a risk to declare Paper first in documenting and celebrating certain cultural goings-on. After all, who can know about some kid in Ann Arbor, Mich., who might have been cranking out a local skater newsletter on a Xerox machine? Or some guy in the Bronx with a rap leaflet? But it would certainly be safe to say that Paper was among the first to chronicle the rise of hip-hop culture. The magazine acknowledged the work of break dancers, graffiti artists and stylists. It preceded magazines such as The Source and Vibe.

"Afrika Bambaataa wrote a column for the first issue of Paper," Hastreiter says.

The magazine helped to transform drag queens such as Joey Arias and RuPaul into stars -- maybe not in suburbia, but among a certain crowd of urban partiers. Paper documented their style and attitude long before Madonna made it famous with "Vogue."

The magazine's 20th anniversary has been celebrated with the prerequisite parties, as well as in the windows of Barneys New York and with a temporary in-store boutique that Hastreiter curated for Marshall Field's Chicago flagship.

Hastreiter, 52, is a natural-born cool hunter. She grew up in New Jersey in a family of artists and she moved to New York intending to become one herself. She was doing conceptual art, which typically means that she was thinking and talking a lot about art, rather than splattering paint on a canvas. She no longer works as an artist -- happy to hunt cool, rather than waiting to be declared cool.

After attending a host of shows during New York fashion week, Hastreiter is enthusiastic about the work of Tess Giberson, who shows off a delicate artisan's hand in her clothes; VPL, a line created by the stylist Victoria Bartlett; As Four, a quirky collective of designers; and Miguel Adrover, who combines classic tailoring with lofty thoughts on politics and culture.

Ultimately, someone else may come along and popularize these designers' ideas. Someone else may reap any profits. Paper is not a magazine with the clout to launch designers into the mainstream. But because it is on site from the start, documenting creative ideas from their inception, Paper offers proof of where things begin.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company