Everyone knows ‘diversity’ is it the It-word of the season—from inclusivity mandates to countless “changing faces of fashion” features, the industry has finally started to catch up with the rest of the world, in terms of rightfully banishing all-white runways. Or have they? Sure, brands like Balenciaga have actually started to cast models of color, and big name magazines have started to widen their reporting to include more than just a skinny, white girl perspective. But really, the industry is run by powerful white women, who have no idea what it means to be a young black artist. And that’s where Neu Neu comes in. Started by New York-based photographer (and former BULLETT intern), Alexis Noelle Barnett, Neu Neu is Downtown’s answer to the lack of black representation in art and fashion. Produced by all black creatives, including Quil Lemons and June Canedo, and showcasing all black talent, like Selah Marley, Brittany Byrd and Theophilio, the magazine spawns not just a space for marginalized voices, but a platform. While the rest of the industry is focused on looking hip by interviewing stars like Kanye West and Fetty Wap, Neu Neu is bringing together established and emerging artists to push culture forward.
BULLETT caught up with Barnett to talk about the future of the mag and why right now is Neu Neu‘s moment.
Tell me about Neu Neu. Where did the idea for the magazine come from?
I grew up as a black girl who loved fashion, and I subscribed to all of these major publications. But I always felt a major disconnect looking through them—it seemed like black women didn’t really exist in the industry, because we weren’t on magazine covers and we weren’t credited as photographers, stylists, trendsetters. As a part of my senior thesis, I wanted to explore media and representation in fashion—that’s what prompted me to start this whole project. I decided to create a space for elevating not only the work of this underrepresented group, but I also wanted to create something that was disruptive—that would be on the same shelves as these beauty publications and produced by a creative team of immensely talented black people. I’ve always wanted to start a magazine, and I realized the only way to be disruptive and to integrate ‘us’ into the industry was to create a physical publication that mixed established artists with upcoming talent, coming together to represent themselves and their community, and most importantly, tell their own stories—and accurately.
How did you go about making that happen?
I used social media—I’m really big on Tumblr and Instagram. That’s the thing about Instagram—you’re able to see these sub-communities of artists of color or communities of black creatives living and working in New York. At the beginning, I approached Brittany Byrd—who’s on our first cover—and pitched the idea to her. That combination of searching the internet, talking to Brittany, talking to other people, connecting different creatives and bringing everyone together—that was the whole idea.
How often will you be releasing new issues?
Neu Neu is a biannual publication, so our next step is to begin planning the second issue. I just want the publication to continue growing—to be bigger and show the world, ‘This is what happens when you bring together a bunch of really talented black artists that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.’ Ultimately, our goal isn’t to separate black artists, but to create a space for accurate representation. It might sound cheesy, but Neu Neu really is a ‘for-us-by-us’ project—this is a way for us to represent ourselves and show who we are, without having other people telling us what we like or want to see. It’s fashion, art and culture from our perspective.
How do you see the brand evolving from here?
I’d love for Neu Neu to become a real media platform that has an online presence, a print presence, and also a creative agency that represents artists of color—not only elevating artists of color but finding ways to bring them into these mainstream space. Especially now, ashion claims to be moving in this ‘diverse’ direction, but diversity isn’t going to happen unless we’re the ones telling our story. For that to actually happen, you need black photographers photographing black models for Vogue covers, black editors at British Vogue—things like that.
Why do you think now is such a good time to launch something like Neu Neu?
Now is the right time for a combination of reasons: we have this president who’s inciting a lot of hatred, violence and uproar in the country, dividing people and making it tougher for people of. But I think right now is also time when people are finally wanting to expressing themselves, and they’re looking for an outlet to do it. The only way we are going to move past this bullshit is to find our own spaces—to make our own. Neu Neu is an outlet where marginalized groups who have to turn on the TV and see that they’re not allowed to serve in the military or that white supremacists are taking over whole towns—it’s a way for those people to come together and be creative and show their work.
How have people responded to the inaugural issue?
It’s been amazing—I’m so proud of this project. And it feels great to have people reach out just to say, ‘This is so awesome, I’m so happy a platform like this exists.’ I mean, there are a lot of black magazines, but I don’t consider Neu Neu one—we’re more like Dazed or i-D, obviously just on a lot smaller scale. We’re covering the same corners of culture that these independent publications cover, but it’s produced by young, cool black kids—I don’t think anything like that is out there. So, I’m excited to see what happens in the next year.
What do you mean you don’t consider Neu Neu a ‘black magazine.’ If it isn’t that, what is it?
The goal of this magazine is to create a space for accurate representation. That being said, we’re not creating a magazine by black kids that only black kids are going to read—I want everyone to be interested in this. I want us to create concepts, editorials and really great content that’s appealing to everyone—not just us. And I want everyone—regardless of race—to be into it. There are great black magazines, like Essence and Ebony, and they are amazing at what they do. But my goal is to bridge the gap between the disconnect of where fashion is supposed to be, when it comes to diversity, but how it’s not marketed or produced by black people. I’m reporting on the same buzzworthy stuff as a lot of indie magazines—we’re just telling it from a different perspective.
What do you want readers and other girls, like you, who feel underrepresented in the fashion industry, to take away from Neu Neu?
I want to show all of the sides of black creativity. The theme of the first issue was the diversity within us—I hope readers can finally see blackness as something that is multi-dimensional. They’ll see that even if a magazine is produced by a bunch of black creatives—even if you put us in the box of being a black magazine—everything you’re flipping through is so different. A lot of times, when you say someone is a black photographer or a black designer, those people will get put into boxes, or people will have preconceived notions about what that means or what their work will be like. Even working on this magazine, you’ll be surprised how many black artists turned down the opportunity because they had this idea in their heads of what blackness would like in publication. So, I really hope this shows a perspective that people haven’t seen before and that it tells our story the way it actually is—not the way Vogue writes about Timbs being cool now. We just want to have a place to be able to talk about what we like, and our culture, the day-to-day struggle, pain, beauty and magic that comes when we get together.
Read more about Neu Neu here, and keep your eyes peeled for the sophomore issue.