Jeremy Leslie: at magCulture

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 28 seconds

Everyone has a story. Magazines are thriving at magCulture – the shop, website, design studio and mag masterclass hub – on the Clerkenwell/Angel border run by graphic designer and mega mag fan Jeremy Leslie. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photo by Kimi Gill 

Jeremy Leslie runs magCulture on St John’s Street, close to City Uni and just opposite Islington Museum. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Back in the ‘80s, magazines were an essential part of making full use of London. Whatever you were into, from music to anti-racism, high fashion to wine bars, there was a mag to meet your needs. After graduating from London College of Printing as a graphic designer Jeremy Leslie started working on some of the capital’s coolest mags including City Limits, Time Out, Blitz, and subsequently at his design studio in Mount Pleasant a host of mags for companies like Waitrose, Sky TV, Virgin Atlantic….

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But it’s all due to an experiment with the magCulture Journal, a wordpress blog (which Islington Faces also uses), with a sizeable following which focuses on magazines (in particular the vision of the editor and art director) that led Jeremy to open a shop in December 2015 which sells just magazines. The sharp eyes will also notice a handful of books selling on the magCulture shelves, including The Modern Magazine, which Jeremy wrote back in 2013.

“I’m from west London, but now live in south London. When I decided to open the mag shop I’d already been based locally with my design studio. I liked the area. I’d drive round London on my scooter at the weekend looking at sites everywhere and I realised that I really liked it here. We are on the southern edge of Islington – Finsbury/Clerkenwell. It feels like you are in the middle of the city of London but it’s still very calm and homely. Feels like everything is rushing around but it’s a little oasis,” says Jeremy.

“There’s the huge City, University of London, journalism school with both BA and MA students right on the doorstep and 800 yards away there’s the building in which the first publication that used the title magazine was published from, that was The Gentleman’s Magazine, published first in 1798. This side of Clerkenwell Road and along Farringdon Road there were a lot of printers around and all the allied trades – typographers and designers. It isn’t far from Fleet Street. Even that big red and white house on the corner by the lights was a print factory,” explains Jeremy.

The magazine world has changed radically over the past few decades. But at Magculture you can find more than 450 titles, from Wonderful Man to Anorak, the happy mag for kids. Many of the titles are indie, oozing cool or design genius, such as Aesthetica and Uppercase. Hung above the cash card machine is a more pop buy, a black T-shirt with the logo “I love magazines”. What’s not on sale are the types of mag stocked in W H Smiths and corner newsagents. You come to MagCulture for bespoke, design-led and hard-to-find pubications as well as Jeremy’s perennial favourite, The New Yorker.

Even with another of London’s famous magazine shops, Wardour News in Soho, closing on 25 May 2018 (due to rent and rate rises) Jeremy is adamant that magazines offer something unique and are a long, long way from dead.

“In our world, there’s been a flash of publicity around the fact that this very established magazine shop is closing because of rent rises. It’s a very sad event. Rents are so high there. Soho used to be so ecletic. I used to work above a shop that just sold board games, Just Games, but it’s now a Starbucks.  It’s a destination so brands want to get in. But magazines are never going to disappear. In the history of all media there’s never been a single form that has actually disappeared. Even 30 years ago people were writing the death nell for radio, but that’s not disappeared. And it’s all thanks to the internet,” says Jeremy. “Magazines, and the early days of print, were taken forward by technology. Mags have always risen to that challenge whether an improvement in colour technology or whether everything’s on the internet now.”

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So many mags to pick from at magCulture, St John Street. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

5 places Jeremy Leslie likes in Islington

  • Exmouth Market still has its own unique shops, with proper shops. For daily food I’d recommend Brill Café on 27 Exmouth Market. It’s nice and has been there since way back. If I’d had time today then I’d have got a bagel with avocado and dukkah (Moroccan spices).  For a more special occasion I go to Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market.
  • I also like lunch at J&A café on 1-4 Great Sutton Lane (in the alleyway running from Clerkenwell to Old Street, parallel to St John Street). A favourite is a healthy chicken dish with salad and a glass of wine.
  • I go weekly to yoga at Clerkenwellbeing on 178 Goswell Road.
  • Neal Whittington has a really good stationery shop, Present & Correct, at 23 Arlington Way, EC1. It’s a beautiful, old-fashioned proper stationer, international market on line, he’s a character and has a proper Instagram feed. Last thing I bought? A 1950s stapler, because they don’t fall apart. Read the interview on MagCulture with Neal, see here.
  • The Peasant at 240 St John Street is a proper old Victorian landmark corner pub.  Mine’s an IPA. And they do decent lunches, plus there’s a posh restaurant upstairs and they show the football during the world cup. I’m a Chelsea fan. Have been to Arsenal but not the new stadium.

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Jeremy Leslie: “People used to argue that you need three to four issues to judge, but I think you need about 10. If your magazine is still going after 10 issues, then you’ve grown into your skin.” (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

View point
There are many reasons to say, “I love magazines”, but Jeremy explains that, “What drew me to magazines is the way content and writing come together. It fascinates me the way two different mags can deal with a story – such as a celebrity interview or an in-depth news report – in totally different ways according to their point of view, their visual intent and the character of the magazine.”

He admits there’s always a favourite. “Longstanding it’s the New Yorker, but my favourite of newer magazines is probably The Plant. Carol Monpart, its editor, spoke at a magCulture event recently and you can’t beat hearing about a magazine from the people behind it. Plus, it’s a very good quarterly magazine. It’s interesting because it came from left field. It’s taken a while before it has become very good – this is the 12thissue. People used to argue that you need three to four issues to judge, but I think you need about 10. If your magazine is still going after 10 issues, then you’ve grown into your skin.”

So who visits MagCulture? Jeremy is used to this sort of probing. “There is no typical customer. Two things people always ask is ‘Who is your customer?’ and ‘What’s the best selling magazine?’. Both very hard to answer. Mags are so varied in frequency and type – with people it’s the same. They are all ages. We get a lot of people from abroad – using MagCulture as more of a destination. We also get quite a lot of people wondering in.” It’s the steady flow of people and the joy of discovering new magazines that keeps Jeremy and his team busy. “There are part-timers including event producer Stephanie Hartman and a team of writers for the online journal,” he explains, plus magCulture shop manager Jamie Atherton,

Jeremy may be a mag super fan but he’s also a pragmatic example of a portfolio operator. As well as running magCulture and his design studio, Jeremy is also the creative director for a Luxemburg publisher. “I’m out there once a month and deal with them on a daily basis. We also do a lot of web design, and recently redesigned a logo for Noble Rot, a magazine with a wine bar on Lamb’s Conduit Street,” he says.

If you’re curious about magazines, or want to see this much-talked about Islington-based shop, then you need to make a visit to Jeremy Leslie’s magCulture by heading to St John’s Street to select at title. Or if you want a better insider view then join one of the monthly magCulture meets, attracting 40-50 people, where an editor or art director talks about their latest issue.

MagCulture also runs magazine masterclasses, known as the Flatplan (a magazine insider joke) which focus on how to launch your own magazine whatever your role – art director, distributor, printer, social media expert.

  • MagCulture, 270 St John Street, EC1V 4PE @magCulture #magcultureshop #magcultureevents https://magculture.com
  • Visit the website and magCulture journal/blog Magculture.com for reviews of six to eight new magazines each week.
  • Go to the monthly magCulture meets. Buy a ticket to get a beer, a talk and a discount on the mag.
  • Look out for the modern magazine conference (known as ModMag) at Conway Hall on 1 November 2018. 

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thanks to Anne Coddington who suggested Islington Faces interviewed magCulture.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola