We talk to Vogue’s Art Editor Jane Hassanali

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We talk to Vogue’s Art Editor Jane Hassanali

Today, Jane Hassanali is Art Editor at British Vogue, having largely worked in the luxury fashion magazine market throughout her career. Not that her experience begins or ends there. A Graphic Arts and Design graduate she’s also worked for Mixmag, NME, Selfridges and even designed album sleeves for the likes of Soulwax. She exists where print and digital media, design, fashion, art, photography and music intersect. That’s familiar territory for us. We know a kindred spirit when we see one. We recently caught up with her for a quick chat.

Was design always your thing from childhood?

Art has always been a passion of mine since as early as I can remember. That and music. From a young age I was always doing creative things at home with my dad, such as marbling and ink blowing on paper – fun when you are a few years old anyway!  I studied both Art, and Design & Technology for GCSE and at A-Level. From there I went on to do a one-year Diploma in Art Foundation studies at Middlesex University. I loved to paint, but decided upon a degree in Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds Metropolitan University. It was broad with brilliant facilities, which is what I loved about it. I had the opportunity to learn many creative practices such as photography, etching, screen printing, video editing and of course graphic design, which included typography and letterpress printing.

What were your ambitions when you left university and how did you land your first job in the industry?

University was great as I got to try so many creative things in my first two years. However, in my final year I had to specialise in one specific area. This was so hard as I enjoyed it all! I decided to create my own magazine as this way I was still able to combine everything I loved. Of course, it had to be a music magazine as that was also something I was still very passionate about. I carried out interviews with musicians and styled up the text and headlines. I photographed the artists and developed the pictures in our darkrooms.  I also got to combine it with illustrative work and experimented with type. When I left university in 2003, I had naturally carved my path into magazines. After doing work experience at a couple of music publications, I then got offered a job at Mixmag as Design & Picture Assistant after interning there for a month. Having a strong interest in the subject as well as design definitely helped. I also got my own column reviewing records and compiling a monthly Top 10 chart.

What other roles have you held?

After 2 years at Mixmag, I then went freelance designing for publications such as Grazia and The Sunday Times Style which was an intro in to the more luxury side of the market. In 2009 I became Art Editor at ASOS Magazine. It was a relatively young company back then, so an exciting time and an invaluable experience to grow with it and help evolve the magazine along the way. I redesigned it a couple of times and also got to design the cover each month, which was fun. After three years there I freelanced again, where I started to art direct and design supplements for the likes of Elle Magazine, Net-A-Porter and British Vogue.

Did you ever expect to find yourself as Art Editor at Vogue?

Actually no! When I first left university at 23, I knew at that point I wanted to work for a music magazine or ultimately at The Face, which was my favourite magazine at the time. I loved the youth culture, their photography and use of typography – it always felt cool, current and creative. I was on a very long waiting list for work experience there, which I applied for straight out of university. Typically, just as I landed the job at Mixmag, I got a call from The Face asking if I was available. Unfortunately, because of the timing (and full time job VS work experience), I had to turn it down. From then on I never really had a specific place in sight for my career, I just carried on doing what I was doing – working hard, enjoying new places and seeing where it took me.

The freedom of freelance was brilliant as it enabled me to experience many different magazines, learning and developing new styles along the way. When the opportunity arose to art direct one of British Vogue’s supplements in 2012, I was incredibly excited. Once I had experienced working at British Vogue, I knew it was somewhere I wanted to stay. You are working with the best in the business and I was surrounded by so many intelligent and inspiring people, creating amazing content on a daily basis. When the job came up as Art Editor shortly after designing a second supplement for them, I jumped at the chance. It is not very often a job opening comes up at British Vogue!  

Has your taste in art had an influence on your aesthetic?

I love many different styles of art and they take so many different forms, but when I am designing pages it is about what will work for the piece we are trying to illustrate and of course the publication. I am currently designing and commissioning for our magazine with a trained Vogue eye, so if I can see a particular style working well for a specific article, then I will definitely try it or pitch it to the editors. So in that sense I think yes, but overall not drastically as it is more about choosing the right aesthetic for the brand.

Aside from that, I do also see the building and designing of a page a bit like creating a painting. It is similar in that you layer, add and take things away, until you find the right balance and composition you are happy with.

Take us through a typical day for you at Vogue.

Monday morning always starts with a production meeting with the art, picture and subs team led by our Managing Editor. This enables us all to catch up on what has been done and what we need to prioritise for the week. I am then straight in to designing pages. I will liaise with the writers and section editors and discuss ideas about the best way to illustrate the stories. I will talk through imagery and photographer ideas with the picture desk and also speak with the Creative Director and Editor at points during the day to ensure they are happy with the direction. I will often mock-up ideas and create mood boards ahead of photo shoots. Some days I will be out of the office art-directing shoots such as our fashion front-of-book ‘Trends’ or ‘Interiors’ sections, which I oversee to ensure all is to brief and as visually engaging as possible. 

Did you study what your predecessors in the role had done when you took the role?

Absolutely. Whenever you take on a new job at a magazine, you should always study and take on board their house style, whether it be words, pictures or design. I always look at how their pages had been created previously and refer back to them time and time again, not just for inspiration but to ensure what I was doing was in keeping with the brands aesthetic. Once you have this mastered, you can start adding your own flourishing touches and ideas to help evolve and develop the layouts and style.

Do you have any artists, established or not, that you admire?

Forever Monet – I adore his colour palette and his Impressionist-style of painting always draws me in. I find his paintings emotive yet calming at the same time. Matisse, Kandinsky, Dali, Giacometti, Gary Hume, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread, Dee Ferris, the list goes on. From old to new, there will always be too many to mention for different reasons. I love illustration too, especially fashion artist and legend René Gruau and also Mats Gustafson who does beautiful, figurative watercolours who we commissioned recently for a feature in Vogue. Breed also has some brilliant talent on their books – I really like the striking silhouettes of Natasha Law’s paintings teamed with her bold, colour-blocking and I admire Quentin Jones’ unique, collage approach to both print and animation. Craig & Karl and Danny Sangra’s style I love too – again, I’m always into so many different types of art!

I often go to art fairs – there is so much talent around that I love to see. I recently bought a graphite duckling sketch by Charming Baker – ours is called Albert. It is very cute but the drawing also has more meaning and depth to it than one may initially think.

How do you see the future of print media?

Because of the progression of the internet and social media, it means that people now consume their information in so many different ways. The knock-on effect of this unfortunately has contributed to a decline in magazine sales. However, I truly believe there will still always be a demand for print media. There is something beautiful and rewarding about having a tangible object in your hands to look through and spend time on, being able to physically turn the pages and pore over the imagery.

Do you still have unfulfilled ambitions?

Yes, too many! Aside from continuing with my career in design, I’d still like to be an artist/painter – I took up an evening painting course earlier this year at The Slade School of Art to get back in to it. I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing children’s books and fairy tales for quite a while… Oh, and hopefully I will still have time to be a rock star at some point – or at least release just one hit single!

Below shows a selection of cover designs, trend, interiors, beauty pieces and features that Jane has worked on.