I have a lot of questions to ask when I interview Omar Sosa and Marco Velardi of Apartmento magazine. Their international collaboration has long been lauded for its innovative editorial and design, savvy publishing and distribution methods, and for making a community of its loyal following through brilliantly low-key, quietly exclusive parties and events. They’ve collaborated with some of the world’s biggest brands, made films with LVMH’s Nowness, and generated enough interest as characters in their own right to have weighty features dedicated to them in the pages of Fantastic Man. As independent magazine makers, they’ve arrived. Everybody knows who they are, and as a fan myself, I’m delighted to be able to sit down with them and probe deeper.
In the end I squeeze in only four questions over the course of an hour. The relationship between Sosa and Velardi is such that no sooner have the words left my mouth than they’re both speaking at once, to me, and each other; agreeing and disagreeing, bickering and joking, laughing and tutting, and meandering away through a discussion of everything but the thing I’ve inquired about. They refer to each other by nickname; Velardi is ‘The Little Dictator’ and Sosa the ‘Grandmother,’ and describe their working process as a “car crash.” As I transcribe our conversation later it does feel like a car crash, but among the debris are enough working parts to get an idea of why they do what they do, and how it’s been so enviably successful.
Apartmento, as indicated by its moniker, began in homes. Sosa, Velardi, and Nacho Alegre—the third member of their team—were always on the road for work. “In the beginning we’d always just stay in our friends’ houses,” says Velardi, “or on their couch, or in their bed with them, and that was the way we did it when we traveled. Maybe we’ve upgraded ourselves a little since then, but we’ve always been parasites. It was important to do that because we were fascinated by the different spaces we’d end up in. And the thing that brought us together was the imagery of those places. It’s just an exploration of spending time with other people at their houses, and looking at how they lived. Maybe we’re voyeurs more than parasites. There’s some perversion in there too.”
“Having my own house has always been very important,” adds Sosa, “and that was always why I wanted to make this magazine. Keeping the idea of a house in your life is important; knowing that one place in the world is yours and has your stuff.”
Oddly, the whole team is itinerant, moving between cities and working across the globe in a manner that belies this affection for being grounded. Velardi is Milanese but now lives in Berlin, Sosa from Barcelona, now living in New York, and Alegre, though resident in Barcelona for the duration of his time with the magazine, has the most hectic travel schedule of them all, due to high profile fashion clients. For each of them Apartamento is a side project, tended in the hours between their individual day jobs.
This has a significant bearing on the way the magazine is run, affording little opportunity for the three to sit down in a studio and focus for weeks on end. “It’s a bit of luck and a bit of randomness,” says Velardi. “Omar brings his stories, Nacho brings his stories, I bring my stories, and boom!”
Of course they share some common editorial goals; like persuading David Hockney to do a feature, or getting Donald Judd involved—something they’ve now achieved—but for the most part they work at random, each bringing ideas to the table and seeing what sticks.
Recently what’s stuck has been household names like Jason Schwartzman and Martha Stewart, instead of obscure sculptors, designers, and photographers for which they’re best known. But Velardi insists this isn’t a move to become more celebrity obsessed. “For us it’s about the person giving us something,” he says. “Like Martha Stewart; of course she’s Martha Stewart, but we didn’t feature her to put her on a pedestal, and there’s no front cover of Martha Stewart. For us it’s about looking at her and understanding her, and finding out more. We could have easily put her on the cover, but we would never do that because we wanted to promote a specific famous person or topic.”
“And with Martha,” says Sosa, “it’s the same criteria that we have for everyone; she’s a self-made person who’s very interested in her home, but at the same time she’s this super, mega-established American figure, and it’s kind of the opposite of what we’re about. But it fits!”
Apartamento turns 10 in 2017, which means it’s older than most of the independent titles that make up this booming industry. While numerous indies have sprung up and died in a matter of months, and others have engaged in redesign after redesign to keep readers coming back for more, Apartamento has maintained the same recipe for a decade, making minor adjustments along the way but otherwise trusting in its original vision—though they have a tough time articulating that vision.
“We wanted to do something, but we had so many different ideas and ways to do it,” says Sosa. “It wasn’t clear 10 years ago that an independent magazine could be like Apartamento. Now, I’m not saying that we set the tone, but we were one of the first. And it wasn’t like you’d go to a bookstore and say, ‘Oh there’s one magazine for interns, one magazine for chairs, one magazine for plants;’ there weren’t that many references for us. We could have chosen many different places and themes that Nacho and I had thought of, but Marco came in and was like, ‘Okay guys, we have to make it happen, and lets do it this way.’”
To what does Velardi attribute their success? Business, and a practical level of experience that neither of his collaborators possessed. “I gave them orders from the perspective of advertising, and distribution and how to get it right, and to launch it in Milan. I knew how to do it, and suddenly I kind of became the glue.
“It was interesting because Omar had experience with designing magazines, Nacho had experience with making fanzines, I was working with Nieves at the time and was helping a lot with the press and distribution. I was also working with magazines in Milan like 032c, and so the mix of experiences we had was great.”
Combined with this variety of experience is the tension you feel when sitting down with Sosa and Velardi. They provoke and antagonize one another constantly, ridicule each other’s explanations of their past and disagree outright on where they’ll be heading next. Does working in such a restless environment guarantee that nobody grows complacent?
“It keeps us going, this tension,” says Sosa, “and this tension comes from very different places; putting different things together and seeing if this is right or wrong, and where are we going? I’m the one responsible for laying out the whole magazine and putting the stories together, and usually I close the door and nobody else can be in the studio…”
“But then you do it,” interrupts Velardi, “and we’re like, ‘Fuck this, this is rubbish!’ and we start changing the order of things.”
Right now this tension is manifest in arguing about their new app. For years Apartamento has existed only as a physical product; a brilliant printed magazine with a frankly shoddy digital presence. There have been times when the website has just been plain text, failed to show the latest issue for sale, or just been offline completely. For this Sosa is unapologetic. He’s not interested in websites; thinks that the internet gives too much away for free, and has no desire to play along just because other magazines have a strong web presence. But this new app, he says, is different. “Now, when I go to the bathroom, I’m reading Apartamento on the app and it’s good shit!”
Once again though, neither can agree what to do with it moving forward. “The app is still in the making,” says Velardi. “It’s useful for us because it’s another way to look back. When you’ve made 17 issues it’s easy to forget which story you did, and every single person, and which stories you could have done much better. It’s a way of analyzing the past and being more conscious of our work. With some stories you look back and realize how many great images you didn’t put in the magazine because you couldn’t run a 60-page story…”
“Yeah but excuse me Marco,” interjects Sosa, “that’s something very important that I don’t want to do. I think some stories can be killed that way, because there is no editing, or the edit is too big. You need to work out what’s essential and what is the story you want to tell, because with the same 100 pictures I could tell you three or four different stories. With the internet we have to be very careful of not putting too many pictures out there.”
Velardi: Of course the editing is important, but we have stuff that we could have put in, and we have archives of images that we couldn’t feature…
Sosa: Yeah but you can’t tell everything…
Velardi: We couldn’t publish all of Girard, because it didn’t fit in the supplement that we did…
Sosa: But that’s one of the beauties of print I think, that you are limited by space and…
Velardi: You see this is another car crash happening right now!
What’s certain for now is that the app offers up seven stories from Apartamento’s archive at any one time. You have a few days to read them, and then they’re replaced by new ones, with no further access to the whole archive available. It’s a system that allows them to keep some kind of editorial and curatorial control over their content, while still making room to experiment with a new medium. Is it working?
“Let’s see,” says Velardi. “In a year maybe it will have been a total failure, or maybe it’ll be working really well. It’s hard to say. But this is our project, and there’s no financial constraints. We’re just doing it with our budget and with the idea that we’re developing it for ourselves.”
“And now we’re going to make a book too,” says Sosa, “so that’ll be like several car crashes together.”
“Yeah,” says Velardi, “we don’t know where we’re going with that one yet either.”
And with that they decide that they’ve said enough—“We talk so much. We’re like old people”—with most of my questions left unanswered…
Marco Velardi and Omar Sosa were interviewed at HERE 2016, the It’s Nice That annual symposium.