How Colors Magazine Predicted a New Visual Language

The One Block Down editorial archive is an ever-evolving resource detailing the cultures, movements and ideas that defined contemporary stylistic discourse. From unique takes on today’s leading pop-culture topics, to off-kilter stories that might have slipped through the net, our editorial archive is as fundamental as it is abstract. Discover our latest visual essay in partnership with@urbancamou_2.

Colors Magazine was founded by American graphic designer Tibor Kalman and Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani in 1991 as a new "sponsored" editorial project by Benetton. Published quarterly in two languages and with versions available in 9 different languages, it represented a magazine for a globalized audience before the advent of the internet. As even Tibor Kalman said, without the means and possibility of communication giants, Colors was "the first magazine for the global village."

At the same time, what separated Colors Magazine from any other publication of the time and made it a revolutionary "experiment" was its courage to tackle relevant and controversial topics that most of the other magazines weren't covering. During its run, topics varied from social issues such as AIDS, and Race, to uncomfortable political affairs that were not talked about generally in this type of publication. It also presented more fringe and peculiar topics like on Issue 10, when they focused on the subject of "Sports" but by looking at what wasn't shown on TV, such as kids from Rio de Janeiro train surfing or Iranian bodybuilder who showed up in front of mobs of people in Teheran.

The visual element of the Magazine is also a fundamental aspect of the success and cutting edge style of Colors, which both influenced and predicted the visual communication that now, in 2022, is present everywhere. It was a disruptive publication that broke a lot of patterns of the editorial world of the time and celebrated the power of photography.

As designer Fernando Gutierrez, who worked for the company in the '90s, said in an interview with Image Source, "Tibor was very passionate about the power of photography, and that's something that fed through the whole Benetton project. And when he did Colors, he really showed them how you can do something amazing with photography. He made people look at how photography was used, he made you see things."

What Colors Magazine was able to do was not only to innovate the editorial world, through the work of some of the most brilliant creatives minds of this time like Tibor Kalman and Oliviero Toscani. Even more, Colors Magazine presented a new path of modern publications, focusing on the fringes of society and what society is uncomfortable to talk about.

By exploring worlds and topics that at the time were unknown or without an authentic representation, Colors Magazine demonstrated through photography the power of visual communication, cementing the base for the new contemporary wave of independent publishers of books and fanzines.

If we look at how communication is moving in 2022, we can clearly see the prominence of social media compared to other medias that were dominant in the past decades; into this new visual language, we can immediately see traces of what Colors Magazine was pushing almost 30 years ago. Its bold graphics, clear images, and controversial photos represent almost a guideline for content creation in the fringes publication world and social media for the past ten years.

Image Research and Copy by @urbancamou_2

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