by Rebecca Lee
Though it may not be offering any free make-up, hot looks for summer, or juicy celebrity scandals, there are still ample reasons to check out newcomer lifestyle magazine Oh Comely.
Oh Comely is an independent, London-based magazine that self-consciously sets itself apart from comparable women’s glossies. As its editors succinctly state, “it is a magazine about people and their quirks rather than money and what it can buy.” The focus is on aesthetics and experiences over appearances, as Oh Comely prides itself on encouraging creativity and curiosity. “Comely” describes that which is agreeable and pleasant, reflecting the elegance and understatement which characterizes the magazine as a whole.
The magazine was founded by Des Tan and Liz Bennett, who met while working on a student newspaper at Oxford. Oh Comely was originally conceived in part due to a growing disenchantment with mainstream women’s magazines and their unyielding obsession with appearances and consumerism: Tan describes such publications as “more damaging to feminist principles than the majority of men’s magazines.” While the magazine is sold alongside the likes of Vogue and Glamour, its founders express that it is not strictly a “women’s magazine,” and hope that the content has wide-spread appeal.
The articles and features are whimsical and artful, and full of the unexpected. The editors play with familiar conventions of mainstream magazines, with features that include interviews with indie musicians and underground artists, fashion shoots that highlight photography over apparel, and tongue-in-cheek reviews of surprising objects, such as alarm clocks and kitchen gadgets.
The writing style is overwhelmingly open and honest, sometimes funny, and often reflective: many articles read like a conversation with an interesting and adventurous friend. With its Polaroid-style photography, hand-lettering and cartoon illustrations, the magazine manages to retain a homemade and down-to-earth charm without appearing amateurish.
While Oh Comely and the ubiquitous Facebook ostensibly have the same aim – to connect people – the former appears as an act of resistance not just to glossy women’s mags but to a materialist consumer culture perpetually in search of “novelty.” Oh Comely reveals snapshots of strangers, in articles which are as inviting as letters and as intimate as diary entries, exemplifying the magazine’s aim to inspire people “to talk to their neighbours.”
There is an underlying nostalgia present throughout, apparent not only in the muted photography, which casts a vintage veneer over the pages, but in the high proportion of articles about childhood memories. Features on homemade crafts and the correct way to brew tea also seem to reveal a longing for simpler pleasures. The magazine’s tagline is “Keep your curiosity sacred,” encapturing Oh Comely’s aim to inspire readers to rediscover the wonder and adventure of childhood.
The format and design of the magazine also form a striking contrast to mainstream publishing: a quick flip through the pages of any issue reveals a deliberate use of white space and a muted colour palette. Overall, the design is characterized by simplicity in clean-lines, foregrounding the content and forming an effective backdrop for the vintage, Polaroid-style photography throughout.
Another refreshing surprise is Oh Comely’s near absence of advertising: in the latest issue, only 5 out of 129 pages were adverts, most of which were so artfully shot that they blended into the visuals of the magazine itself. With its thick white pages and careful craftsmanship, each issue feels as durable and deliberate as a coffee table book: something to keep on display, show off to visitors, and a good starting point for conversations.
Oh Comely is available in a selection of independent sellers across the country, but has also been picked up by WHSmith, ensuring widespread availability and exposure for the fledgling publication. It would make a thoughtful gift for the “alternative” soul – unless of course you decide to keep it for yourself.