some things we learned from proper magBack
Jennifer Lee O'Brien
Here we are, at Proper Mag HQ. It’s late August, and the weather is just so average; grey skies, bland temperature. Sort of cold, but also, not.
Inside Proper Mag’s office it is dead warm. The heating is cranked right up. We should all be drinking watered-down margaritas from plastic fish bowls, because the climate in this red-bricked office conversion is so faux tropical. If their heating bill is any indication, the team at Proper Mag are doing really, really well. And we should all be glad.
Proper Mag is a print magazine produced by the funniest lads (of Stockport) of all time: Mark Smith and Neil Summers. Mark and Neil launched Proper as a website in 2002. Back then it was called ProperTop.com. They reviewed gigs, club nights and albums and wrote articles like “How To Be Happy In A Sad Sad World” and quizzes like, “Are You Saddam Hussein?” They took the piss (a lot) — and they were really good at it.
ProperTop got so popular they made a fanzine out of it called Proper Mag. They’ve since released twenty-three issues and now run a website and creative agency working with brands like Levi’s, Barbour and adidas. They sell mugs and apparel, like socks, sweatshirts and t-shirts, and have recently launched their own brand called Hikerdelic. This has been a full-time job for Mark and Neil since January 2016.
“I never thought we’d end up doing this,” says Mark. “Especially when we first met.”
“When our eyes met across a crowded call centre,” says Neil.
“You had long hair,” says Mark.
“I asked if I could borrow Mark’s Pritt Stick. You know, a glue stick. But it was actually his asthma inhaler,” says Neil.
“Which I’ve got somewhere.”
“We should have framed it.”
Mark picks up a bag next to his desk and begins to search for it.
“It does look like a Pritt Stick, to be fair,” says Neil.
We spent an hour with Mark and Neil in the very lush climate of Proper HQ. Here are some things we learned from them.
THE INTERNET HAS RUINED EVERYTHING
“I’m not really into football,” says Neil. “I was into this thing called 80s Casuals. Most people would argue that the whole Casual scene came out of football, and that is purely about football. All my mates were into clothes but none of them had any interest in football; we were more influenced by American breakdancing. The kids that used to hang out around the Arndale Centre in Manchester.”
“I’ve grown up watching and playing football,” says Mark. “It starts with what boots you get at like, seven or eight years old. Your loyalty to that brand begins; and then you’re ten or twelve years old, and you want a tracksuit, or a jacket or whatever. It just carries on from there.”
“Where we’re from, Stockport, is like the headquarters of adidas in the UK,” says Neil. “So everyone in Stockport, by default, buys adidas.”
“I think everyone knows someone who can get into the factory,” says Mark.
“I probably didn’t wear Nike until I was in my late twenties,” says Neil. “It’s all a bit hazy. We used to go to this club called the Hacienda, which everyone always bangs on about as being this Mecca. And it was for a while. I remember one night we were there and we were all dressed like we were going to get on a yacht. All yachting jackets, and probably baggy jeans and trainers and stuff. Generally, we were a bit scruffy. Massive coats. Again, that’s the football thing, innit?” he says to Mark. “If you’re sat watching a match for ninety minutes in December, or January, it’s seriously cold.”
“I think that’s where the coat thing comes from,” adds Mark. “People always talk about the rain. But it’s really cold at times.”
“Rain coats are going to always be at the heart of the Mancunian look because it pisses it down,” says Neil. “And there’s that working class thing of wearing the most expensive stuff you can find. You might live in a council house, but you’ve got a five hundred quid Stone Island jacket to walk around in. It’s about being flash, innit.”
“You can get really into the politics of it,” says Mark. “I think it’s people wanting to punch above their weight and break the mould of whatever society wants them to be — whether that’s wearing a golfing jacket to twist people’s head, or a Stone Island jacket or trainers that nobody else has got. I think things are a bit different now with the internet.”
“I wonder what kids do now compared to what I did,” says Neil, “I was eighteen in 1990, which is when Manchester was massive. I used to go out on a Thursday night and come back on a Tuesday morning. But now, people don’t really go nightclubbing do they?”
“What you’ve got to remember is that was when there was like four TV channels. No internet,” says Mark. “And people were less bothered about their health, things like that. It’s a different world now.”
“The internet has ruined everything, innit?” says Neil. He pauses, and then adds: “people must still go out taking drugs.”
THERE’S NO AGENDA (REALLY)
“We worked together in a call centre. I started there in 1999,” says Neil. “We just had a lot of fun messing about. When you’ve got a shit job and you’re working shit hours, you either leave quite soon or you — ”
“Carve out a little tiny comfort zone,” says Mark.
“It brings out the humour as well, doesn’t it?” says Neil. “That’s a coping strategy, innit. Especially around here. Rather than getting therapy, just take the piss. Get drunk.”
“If the internet had been where it is now, we probably wouldn’t have began Proper,” says Mark. “Social media wasn’t what it was now, it was just message boards and forums, really. It was something we did for a laugh; and we did it for a laugh for quite a long time. And then people started sending us things and started asking us to do things.”
“So, when we started off there were magazines like FHM and Arena — all those kinds of mags,” says Neil. “And they were just really London, really snooty, really elitist. Twenty grand watches. Reviewing Aston Martin’s and stuff. That just doesn’t happen in Stockport; we don’t drive around in Aston Martin’s in suits. That’s why we made Proper. We were big fans of Loaded and The Face magazine in the ‘90s. But it sort of ceased to exist in the noughties. So we made something for us. It was something we liked and wanted to read.”
“I think I sold the first three for about twelve quid,” says Mark. “It was a pack to make it worthwhile. And then for every one after that it was like, three pounds fifty — something like that. We sold it to people on forums. They fed into what we wrote about as well.”
“Issue 10, that was the first proper magazine,” says Neil.
“It was as good as it was going to get by me designing it and both of us writing,” says Mark. “It needed somebody to oversee it and show us how to make a real magazine. So we did two issues with James Brown who founded Loaded magazine, which was nice.”
“We thought we had made it,” says Neil. “Thought we could retire soon.”
“And then James Brown just got busy with Sabotage Times and we just carried on. And we’ve carried on ever since,” says Mark.
“We’re still making something we’d be happy to read,” says Neil. “It’s quite organic. Brands will come to us and ask us to write about stuff, but ninety percent of the time it’s just Mark and I sat here going, ‘what should we write about?
He turns to Mark, and says, “it was never intentionally a clothes-based magazine, was it? It’s just sort of gone that direction. There’s no agenda, really. We’ve always sort of stuck to having a laugh, haven’t we? And not being fashion wankers.”
LONDONERS AREN’T THAT BAD
“When we first went down to London, we were like the little country mice in the big city, meeting all these fashion people wearing neckerchiefs and stuff,” says Neil. “I think northerner’s have always got this thing about London — how everyone is dead unfriendly and horrible. But every time we’ve worked down there, it’s been the opposite. Everyone’s dead nice.”
“That first trip, we got down there. I felt like, this is not our world, this is not where we fit in, they’re going to find us out,” says Mark. “I think by the end of that day, we felt like we’d intimidated more people than had intimidated us.”
“To be fair, you were walking around with a screwdriver and fresh stitches in the head,” says Neil.
“It just opened the door and made us realise that it was possible to do this more than we had been doing it,” says Mark.
“The most annoying people in London are all northerners who’ve moved down there,” says Neil. “Genuine Londoners are down to earth, normal people. We’re all the same people aren’t we? I think the internet has democratised us all. Made us all more similar.”
He pauses, and adds: “I don’t know what my point was.”
THEM AND DRUG DEALERS; IT’S PRETTY CLOSE
“I find outdoor shops the most interesting clothes shops,” says Neil. “There’s still that element of feeling like I’m not supposed to be there. When I used to go to the Barbour shop in Manchester there were these old ladies in pearls reaching for the panic button like, ‘he’s going to rob us!’ Cut to three years later and it’s an indie disco; all the kids have got skinny jeans, and they’re all twenty. I preferred it when I scared the old ladies. You still get that in outdoor shops when people say, ‘oh what are you looking for? What’s it for?’
“It’s like, I don’t know? I’m walking around town. I’m not going up K2, mate.”
“In Issue 12 we coined the phrase Hikerdelic or Hikerdelia,” says Mark. “It’s a play on the word hiker and psychedelic. We sat on the idea for a while, and didn’t do much with it. But we’ve started to believe it can be it’s own brand. We’ve done t-shirts, and we’ve sampled a jacket. A couple of mugs as well. The plan is to grow that into something bigger.”
“It’s inspired by ticket touts and drug dealers wearing Gore-Tex jackets in Manchester, combined with vintage hiking gear,” says Neil. “The Salford ticket tout is definitely up there in terms of style gods. Because they’ve got a lot of money, they’re a bit flash — a bit criminal as well, but always the best dressed.”
“And the best connected,” says Mark. “Probably travelled around a bit as well.”
“They’ll be stood outside the Apollo in Manchester with a coat worth a grand and a cashmere sweater,” says Neil. “So them and drug dealers; it’s pretty close.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion, Vol. 2