Best Friends Forever And Ever With Forever Magazine
The girls behind Forever Mag sit down for a conversation about style, identity, and perception — and coin the term "Girlcore" while they're at it.
What Artist's Wear is a monthly column that features artists, designers, and makers and explores how they think about getting dressed.
In less than three years Forever Magazine has emerged as a major voice and standard-bearer of a new literary generation. With a playful but studied high-and-low aesthetic, the Downtown NYC alt-lit mag has single-handedly redefined the look, feel, and vibe of what a literary magazine can be. Emerging in thick, glossy print form during the pandemic, Forever has since become synonymous with serious fun: from its aesthetic sensibility, content and ethos, to packed releases at clubs and bars all across the City.
Forever stands out from legacy literary publications as actually being an enjoyable visual experience, boasting a carefully curated DIY feel. But unlike those nylon stockings you ripped up in 2021 to make a bolero, Forever is a robust magazine with serious literary chops, publishing writers such as Sheila Heti, Eileen Myles, and Tao Lin. It’s a labor of love created by three best buds: editors Anika Jade Levy and Madeline Cash, and creative director Nat Ruiz.
When I meet Anika and Madeline at Nine Orchard’s fabulously swanky Swan Room, I’m a bit nervous. Having been a fan of the mag for some time and attended several of their events, I have always taken note of the girls’ clothes – playful, attention-grabbing, and feminine – all reflecting the ethos of the mag. Anika orders the signature heirloom martini, me a dirty one, and Madeline a coffee. We escort ourselves to the East Room where Nat joins us over FaceTime from Costa Rica.
In the following conversation we coin the term Girlcore, talk about how the ideals of the mag translate from and into the girls’ personal styles, and the current cultural perception of Forever.
Hannah Wikforss-Green: Forever Magazine clearly diverges from legacy literary publications – in content, aesthetic, and releases that stress “NO READINGS”. The three of you evidently don’t follow the typical dress code associated with literary people either. There’s no black turtleneck in sight. Do your wardrobe choices stem from the same place as your ideas around breaking with literary traditions?
Madeline Cash: There’s a bit of Forever cosplay whenever we have an event. We don’t necessarily wear big princess dresses going to the market.
Nat Ruiz: But whenever we do something together, we play dress up and become the Sofia Coppola movie where everything is girly and Forever-y.
Anika Jade: I think the magazine can come across as being unserious; we’ve certainly been accused of that. We know it’s internally very rigorous, and the hardest thing we’ve ever done. I think the reason it comes across this way is because we aren’t courting institutional approval. In the same way we don’t have anything to prove by dressing as serious women.
Nat: We always talk about how women have to dress like men to be taken seriously.
Anika: And we’re like, what if we dressed up like little girls?
Madeline: What’s the least professional we can look and still get taken somewhat seriously.
Anika: In the beginning it was almost like, “how can we scam our ways into being in a LA apparel ad?”
Madeline: Our vibe is that we keep taking our glasses off waiting for someone to realize we’re pretty but they’re not paying attention, so we just keep on taking them off. Any day now!
HWG: There’s a girly aesthetic that has been on the rise the past few years, where girliness has been elevated and taken more seriously. Think bows, stockings, and ballet flats, as seen with for instance Sandy Liang. In my mind the three of you incorporate some of these girly elements in your visual expressions.
Madeline: There might also be a trend towards youth – ballet flats and bows. Our fourth issue was lost and found-themed, and our whole mood board had I Spy books and blocks paired with serious writing. Our whole thing is being a serious literary journal without looking like one.
Nat: We want people to actually read the magazine and enjoy going through it. The traditional literary magazine is monotonous and it’s hard to keep focus. Making it colorful and kid-like makes it easier to read.
Anika: It’s the same thing as throwing on a bow to go to your day job. Just being like, I’m going to have fun. Obviously Nat is Costa Rican, but I think there is a kind of girliness and naiveté to this almost demented American enthusiasm we have, being like, “we can make a magazine that people will read!”
Madeline: Very plucky and starry-eyed. Are you proud of us dad?!
HWG: High-low is a central idea for the mag. In terms of clothing, something that comes to mind is Madeline’s clown look that she wore to her book party for Earth Angel. There was something so playfully high-low about a custom clown piece – couture clown. When dressing for events for Forever, do the three of you consider how you might reflect the high-low ideals of the Mag in clothes?
Madeline: Our clothing reflects that we haven’t made it yet – I’ll wear a 4-dollar pair of pants with a Gucci loafer. There’s a juxtaposition in our wealth disparity.
Anika: We helped organize this Amazon labor union benefit with Chris Smalls where he was wearing this sparkly almost diamond-looking Versace t-shirt. It was so iconic. He joked at one point that if he could be a union leader and dress in head-to-toe Versace, he would’ve done it a long time ago.
Nat: My boyfriend used to work at Amiri, so I have a lot of Amiri clothes that he would bring back home. Some are iconic pieces of clothing, and the rest of my outfit will just be regular clothes.
HWG: There’s a looming sense of doom in our generation. Nat’s creative direction embodies a sense of play as a necessity when it’s impossible to be serious about the future. In one of Madeline’s short stories in Earth Angel, “The Jester’s Privilege”, the protagonist is asked to do PR for Isis. Anika wore one of my favorite designers to a fundraising event for the mag, Elena Velez, whose aesthetic combines femininity with a post-apocalyptic flair. How should one dress for the climate apocalypse?
Madeline: As the climate changes, fashion is going to adapt with it. It’s getting hotter, which means more insects, so I think there’s going to be a lot of mesh. We all need to invest in mesh!
Anika: Maybe this is just what Big Mesh wants you to think. I was always one of those girls who had to put on overalls if I was moving or something, being like, “I’m Bob the Builder”. I still do that when I’m overwhelmed by a sense of doom. I have a pair of pony skin cowboy boots that I like to wear with denim when I’m feeling apocalyptic. It feels like Mad Max, old west, new sheriff in town type vibe. Kind of lawless.
Nat: I’ve been wearing cargo pants with lots of pockets so I can stuff them with everything I need – that way if anything bad happens, I can just get up and run away.
HWG: I’m also curious why you stress the role of play in this sense of doom. One can play for two reasons – because one is in denial, and can’t accept the seriousness of the situation, or because one figures that all you can do is play when there is no future to be taken seriously.
Madeline: I’m not that nihilistic about it. It has been said that my book can be as glib and flippant about tragedy as it is because of an underlying acceptance, which I disagree with. I’m not just like fuck it, nothing matters, let’s go graffiti the Capitol or something. I still think art can galvanize.
Anika: No, we believe in science. We use paper straws.
Nat: The apocalyptic feeling in the air is actually what brought me and Anika together. Before Forever, we did The Anthology of the End of the World. The end of the world has just been part of Forever.
Anika: Forever implies the end of the world.
Madeline: Our first Pocket Bible was about climate change. How are we not beating the right-wing allegations?
HWG: I would say you guys stick out from the Dimes Square literary crowd as not being right-wing.
Madeline: We’re either called “twee” and Rookie Mag-esque or fascist. There’s no middle ground. I’m not sure what the cultural perception of us is right now.
Anika: It's disruptive to any leftist cause to say that the literary avant-garde is right-wing. One thing we do believe in is the power of language to actually do something in the world and affect the political situation. Now you have a so-called leftist magazine like Verso creating a pretty unfortunate political situation.
Madeline: If a future publisher ever googles my name, “right-wing literary avant-garde” comes up. I’m neither avant-garde nor right-wing.
Anika: It’s bad journalism.
Madeline: It’s bad journalism or it’s misogyny or it’s both. We’re literally self-financed by three working-class women.
Anika: The main thing I would say in terms of our editorial work is that it’s not political. But if you take the viewpoint that the left-wing of America can’t have any relationship with transgression, you’re admitting defeat. If you can’t have any relationship with transgression, you’re never going to be interesting, you’re never going to have good aesthetics and you’re never going to have any political power.
HWG: You talk of style over plot as being of importance to the mag. In fashion, you could think of style as immediacy – a look that catches your eye from the get-go – and plot as coherency – the pieces in the outfit making sense together. Is the idea of style over plot something you’ve applied when getting dressed as well?
Madeline: Yes and no – comparing literary style and fashion style, something can appear quite hideous at first and then, in understanding the context, it can become beautiful.
HWG: The theme for this issue is Buddy Systems, and you guys are one of my favorite buddy constellations around. Have the three of you influenced each other in how you dress?
Nat: Because of you guys I’ve felt a lot more comfortable to be more feminine in the way that I dress. Slowly I’m becoming cutesier with my daily outfits. Like, I’m wearing skirts.
Anika: Nat you whore! My ankles are for my husband.