No worries if you have never heard of Tyler Brûlé, because many of us working with advertising, marketing, design, and media have. And much of what you have seen, liked and done in the last 15 years has been heavily influenced by Brûlé and the people behind Wallpaper* magazine. Wallpaper* was the must-read glossy, global living guide for future trends at the turn of the century.
Believe me, thanks to this title your 21st century had a very different outcome.
Look around you —your sleek smartphone, your wardrobe, your living room decor, the foodies delicatessen in your fridge, or your last travel destination. Wallpaper* was one of the main players promoting obscure trends that are becoming mainstream today you can find Wallpaper* magazine’s influence even in your grandmother’s favorite Sunday newspaper.
It all started one day when Tyler Brûlé secured a loan and launched the astonishingly beautiful Wallpaper* magazine in 1996. This fresh title presented an alternative lifestyle to the grunge culture and marked a new direction in the difficult art of magazine publishing.
The sales figures skyrocketed in the first months of publication and attracted the attention of the publishing industry. In an unprecedented move Time Inc. offered one million pounds for a young title only a few months old and kept all the existing staff in place. Backed by one of the biggest media concerns in the world, Tyler Brûlé made Wallpaper* one of the most influential global magazines in recent decades, moving the grunge generation X (the ungroomed pre-sequel of the hipsters) to places where they had never been.
Today Wallpaper* magazine is a cliché of itself. Brûlé and his staff are long gone and started Monocle Magazine, but their influence in our lives remains. See how:
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Made It Cool to Look Healthy
I bought my first issue a few months after launch. The smiling Ivy League guys definitely stood out at a newsstand crowded with grunge and late 90s heroin looks. Depicting sports and health in a fashion title was a suicidal stunt that represented the worst of the 80s. Today, health is all around asking about half-marathon results is a great icebreaker at social gatherings.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Made You Love Mad Men 10 Years before Mad Men Aired
Back in 1996 the 50s design associated with the worst of western culture. So, promoting the very best of mid-century modern architecture and interior design in a fashion magazine was a wrong staff decision. But against all odds, Wallpaper* succeeded with what no other architectural magazine had ever achieved—making the new generations love 20th century classic architectural masterpieces, sometimes as a mere first class background for high-end fashion shoots. You had never seen so much concrete in a magazine before.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Made Us Desire an iPhone 10 Years Before the iPhone Arrived
Electronic devices in the late 90s were mostly disposable gadgets in plastic or computers in cream plastic or meter tall black Sony hi-fi systems. Wallpaper* contributed to a shift in tastes, promoting the work of designers like Jacob Jensen for Bang and Olufsen and Dieter Rams for Braun, opening our eyes to finish in aluminum and the long-forgotten design quality of home devices. Jonathan Ive and his team at Apple created the products you were longing for during the decade that followed.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Made You Upgrade Your Wardrobe
In a time when a plastic watches set you on the edge of over-accessorizing, promoting Swiss watches and end-fashion to the broad public was a no-go strategy. Wallpaper* taught us to drop the white t-shirts and flannel shirts and love the relaunched Gucci from a new guy called Tom Ford. Hugo Boss, Filippa K, Burberry, and FCUK followed afterward. Generation X experienced a sense of quality they’d never tasted before.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Made Us Love Scandi Once Again
After the heyday of the Scandinavian design in the 50s and 60s the Scandinavian culture lost much of its international appeal. Wallpaper* articles about Wegner, Alto, and Asplund contributed to the renaissance we enjoy today where many admire our balance of craftsmanship, high tech, sustainability, and social equality. New and cool Scandi designers were included on top of the classics. Habitat, IKEA, and the Nordic Noir did the rest.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Designed Many of the Magazines You’re Reading Today
A balanced mix of fashion, travel, food, and architecture have become the ubiquitous standard ingredients of the publishing business today, from high-end magazines to Sunday issues of tabloid newspapers. Back in the 90s the media landscape was dominated by narrow-casted magazines covering mainly one issue. Titles like Wallpaper* or Arena shook the business, breaking the rules and establishing themselves as major actors in the last golden age of the print business before the advent of the digital media.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Taught You to be Truly Global
The usual suspects (Paris, London, Rome, and New York) attracted millions of visitors during decades of cultural monopoly. No one dared to move off the beaten path. So Wallpaper* raised eyebrows when featuring travel guides for Santiago, Manchester, Tel Aviv, and even Baghdad. The guides, with the superior quality of their scouting appreciated even by the locals, have been the standard for the industry ever since and have been imitated endless times since.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Filled Your Fridge with Ecology
The 80s gave us nothing more than broccoli and over-hyped French cuisine. The 90s failed even worse and gave us the popularization of fast food. The landscape was depressing, as Naomi Klein pointed at that time.
Health and sustainability were not directly linked to modern urban living. Despite that it has been around since the 70s, the ecology movement never took off. Wallpaper* contributed to changing that and promoting food sustainability to new consumers, adding an unexpected coolness to local, organic products.
Featuring food was a huge, bold move coming from a fashion magazine. The staff proved to be ahead of their time. Anticipating that food was fast-becoming a key factor in urban lifestyles Wallpaper* challenged our tastes, supporting the emerging new food trends we enjoy today.
Tyler Brûlé & Wallpaper* Illustrated Your Dreams
Never before had a lifestyle magazine offered so much place to illustrators. Wallpaper* shocked many in the business by resurrecting fashion illustration from the grave. The entire media industry copied the concept and a renaissance of modern illustration was born.
Pictures from the few magazines that survived five house movings. Cover picture by Monocle.