Dirty 30: Paper Magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary

Relapse Magazine

Kim Hastreiter, Co-founder of Paper Magazine

Photograph by Shane McCauley

Traditionally, a 30th birthday is often honored with sarcastic, backhanded zeal—the annual celebration, fueled by tradition, coupled with the agonizing fact that an invisible line has been crossed. And while many people dread the inevitable commencement of their 30s, for Paper, the Manhattan-based alt-glossy—who celebrates their 30th anniversary with a newly-designed September issue—they cross into a new type of future. It’s a road, to them, lined with progress and opportunity, not regret and frustration. “[From here], the magazine is going to be super idea-focused,” said Kim Hastreiter, co-founder of Paper, adding that their website and social media channels will be adjusted to push news. “We used to give the alternative news [in print], but now [the magazine] is going to be more of an object. And I’m super excited.”

    When Hastreiter and her business partner David Hershkovits started Paper in 1984, Manhattan was a strange and often tumultuous place. It oozed an anything-goes mentality that, despite its dangerous landscape, bred new waves of creativity, artistic expression and community building. “Back then, SoHo was really just starting,” said Hastreiter. “I thought, ‘Wow. Downtown is kind of happening!’” And with that realization came opportunity. “We have always been very much interested in what’s coming up,” added David Hershkovits. “That’s how we grew the magazine.”

To Hastreiter and Hershkovits, Paper was, perhaps, not necessarily the end goal, but more so a vessel to release ideas—a tangible creative outlet for what they were seeing and experiencing in downtown Manhattan during an era of change. It was the age of Basquiat, Vivienne Westwood and the Mudd Club—the age of expression in this urban habitat. “When I started Paper, all of my friends were starting to get famous,” Hastreiter said. “We could just feel it. We were always in the beginning of these cultural movements and we’ve always had street cred because we were there from the beginning.”

Hastreiter, an affable woman with beaming red glasses—her signature accessory—has always been an artist at heart. Originally from New Jersey, she bounced around to various universities but finished up at CalArts and, in 1976, drove cross-country with a friend in her pickup truck, a dragon painted on its side. Landing in downtown Manhattan, in an apartment on Houston, Hastreiter worked mainly in retail while her aspirations for the art industry became disillusioned. “The art world was narrow-minded,” she said. “And I was just meeting all these people that were collaborating and I was really fascinated by the things that happened when everything crisscrosses and clashes with each other, as opposed to the art world [where] everything is singular.”

After befriending famed street style photographer Bill Cunningham, Hastreiter landed a job as style editor at SoHo News, where she threw all her art-world friends into a melting pot—Robert Mapplethorpe took photographs, Keith Haring modeled, etc. “I would bring them into the style pages and do these quirky things that no one had really done before but I did it because I was an artist,” she said. It was there, too, where she met David Hershkovits, an East Village cat with a keen sense of culture and a good eye for quality writing (he has a Masters in Literature from Penn State). They worked alongside each other for the next few years until the SoHo News folded and they were out of a job. “I am really good at people-finding; David and I can just smell what’s happening,” said Hastreiter, going on to explain that, after failing to find proper funding, the duo started Paper each with $1,000, pulling advertisements from their friends and using typesetting equipment and other materials afterhours at the New York Times, their first issue being a fold-out black and white poster. “We were able to be on the wave and get caught with the culture and how it was moving,” explained Hershkovits. “It was always about finding things that excited us and really just spreading the word. It [was about] community.”

As Paper continued to grow throughout the 80s and into the 90s, a distinct line had been drawn between their outlook and that of other fashion and culture publications. While many magazines were covering the on-goings of New York, Hastreiter and Hershkovits were cultivating a viewpoint of becoming these cultures, in order to transition their purpose more fluidly and to be able to truly stand behind what they were representing. “We were never journalists,” Hastreiter admitted. “We would never write about something just because a press person called. Instead, I would much rather get someone who was obsessed about a certain genre to write about what was going on. Being an editor is also about matching up people in that way.”

And, in 1992, Hastreiter’s outlook of matching up people blasted through her front door, prompting, surprisingly, a match for the magazine itself: Mickey Boardman. A bombastically enthusiastic fashionista fresh out of Parsons with an eye for the shiny and a brain for the new and enticing, Boardman was an avid reader before he was an employee. “Paper was my favorite magazine. I was like an obsessive fan,” said Boardman, who started off interning and is currently the publication’s Editorial Director. “I never had any intention of working in a magazine. I didn’t even know what working in a magazine was about,” he continued, clad a Lacoste polo, vintage Fendi sweater, glistening blue Burberry glasses and J Brand corduroys that “they dug out of the archive,” a casual, lay-around look, as he put it. “But I just sort of fell in love. When you finally arrive home, you can just feel it.”

Hastreiter’s affinity for magnetizing downtown tastemakers, throughout the 90s, continued to lean towards the emerging and effervescent. During this time, she often set up a Winnebago in Union Square, which she named the Fashionmobile, for emerging designers to present their collection alongside an elevator pitch. One year, shortly after graduating from Pratt, designer Jeremy Scott presented to Hastreiter who facilitated a recognition from Amy Spindler, a Times fashion editor. “[Kim] has always been championing the underdogs and the eccentrics and the special needs of all the artistic domains,” Scott explained in a 2007 profile of Hastreiter in The New Yorker. And it was Hastreiter and Hershkovits’ dedication to this independent, artistic mentality, and their ability to connect people with the same outlook, that allowed the magazine to grow. From 1993 to 1999, the magazine’s circulation doubled to 63,000 (it’s now at 125,000). “[The person] who read Paper was the type of person that all their friends would call to find out what’s going on. That’s the person was cultivated,” explained Hastreiter. “We were that person and our readers were that person. They got their juice and information from Paper.”

    Transitioning this naturally occurring phenomenon of community-building into a money-making asset came after brands started approaching Paper and asking for help in experiential marketing and event planning. And, at about the time when Target approached Paper in 2002 to tap cultural influencers for the opening of their first store in Manhattan, ExtraExtra was born. Hastreiter and Hershkovits’ brand strategy and creative marketing offshoot transitioned Paper into more of a full-scale communications company than just a magazine, and has netted them clients ranging from Lanvin to MAC Cosmetics. “ExtraExtra is bigger than the magazine, practically,” said Hastreiter (in 2011, the Times reported that ExtraExtra accounted for 40 percent of their entire revenue stream). “It’s all about amplification and building a strong community and we have that strong community,” she continued, saying that magazine staffers work with ExtraExtra and vice versa. “That is our strength. We are curators. And we go whole-hog into that.” Hershkovits amplified her point: “It connects to the roots of the magazine. When we started, we threw parties and that’s how we promoted.”

    As the new millenium rolled along, and the Internet became more of an everyday necessity rather than an after-school commodity, the cultural beehive that is Paper began buzzing. Always on the lookout, too, for what’s new in technology (they were beta-testers for Quark and Apple in their early years), Hershkovits was an early advocate for social media, especially for his staff. “Give me two tweets and I could tell you the history of humanity,” said Mickey Boardman, who is the most active on social media at the magazine with nearly 90,000 tweets and over 51,000 followers. “I am at my very best when it’s spontaneous and nonsensical—I’m too serious overall, and Paper is that way, too.”

    Earlier this year, as their website and digital strategy called for a bit of revamping, Paper has re-introduced a veteran of the brand, Drew Elliott, who came from The Audience and formerly ran ExtraExtra. He is now a partner in the company and their the chief creative officer. “Drew is a genius at amplification,” said Hastreiter. “He is leading this new charge of integration of all content.” In just the past four months, Paper has grown its Instagram following by 70,000 users, and increased its web views from just under 500,000 to 750,000 per month. “The thing about Paper that is interesting is discovering the new and introducing people to these types of things,” said Elliott. “There are Paper people out there all over the world and they want to understand what’s happen at the edge of culture. People are much more interested in discovery. And that’s our big advantage,” he added. With Elliott behind the wheel, the publication is continuing with Hastreiter and Hershkovits’ bottom-line of connectivity and discovery while using large-scale, modern-day tools, allowing them to redefine the emotional relationship with their reader and continuing to achieve that symbiotic connection.

The tight-knit atmosphere at Paper—the sense of community that fueled their steady growth for the past 30 years—has turned out to be its biggest asset. Boardman first followed Paper because he had built a niché, symbiotic relationship with the brand. “The heart of Paper overall is that we have the enthusiasm of the zine with a slicker production value,” he explained. That crunchy zine mentality is the same still, and the duality of authentic transparency and community cultivation is still at the heart of the operation. The September issue cover with Courtney Love, too, speaks to the aesthetic of what Paper was at its onset: Large, block letters dominating an otherwise very simple image. It’s a change, a hark back at their formative years, that Hastreiter embraced with a nonchalant shrug and raise of brow: “We love change. We embrace change. We are old radicals. And we have nothing to lose.” It is as if, amongst all the progress since the magazine first issue 30 years ago, the mentality of representing New York hasn’t faded away and given rise to more shallow publishing ideals. “Certainly coming from our history, starting with [just a] poster, it was very minimal in some ways of what we were trying to do,” Hershkovits started, “but we were connecting with those people. [And] we never really left there. That’s still who we are.”