Annie Flanders, founder of Details magazine, dies at 82

Annie Flanders, the fiery red-haired founding editor of Details magazine, the proudly independent chronicle of downtown Manhattan in the 1980s, died March 10 in an assisted living facility in Los Angeles. She was 82 years old.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said writer Martha Frankel, a friend and former Details contributor.

In the post-disco era of the early 1980s, a combustible mix of art, music, and fashion erupted from nightclubs, boutiques, and art galleries located mostly below 14th Street. It was the territory of Flanders, chaotic but symbiotic, and its tribes were its people. And though that world was tiny, its cultural impact – the artworks of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the fashion designs of Isabel Toledo, Betsey Johnson and Stephen Sprouse, and even the shenanigans of a child of sassy club named Madonna – weighed heavy, and lingered.

“It was this crazy collision,” Simon Doonan, longtime creative director of Barneys New York, said in a phone interview. “There was a feeling that anything was possible. There were two adults in the room. Annie was one of them. She was able to make sense of the chaos and make a magazine out of it.

Flanders did not invent the city centre; it was a real place with real people, said Ruben Toledo, the Cuban-born artist and husband of Isabel Toledo, whose exquisite and artfully feminine clothes were first featured in Flanders magazine. “But Annie was able to step back and see the glamor and sell tickets there,” he said.

‘In a way,’ he added, ‘she formed that’80s culture, which has become not only an American phenomenon but an international one. We who were in the trenches were just too muddy and dirty to see it ourselves.

The Flanders background was all the rage. She had worked in retail and spent a few years in Ethiopia starting a clothing manufacturing effort there before, in the 1970s, overseeing the style pages of The SoHo News, the upstart competitor bible of the local counterculture, The Village Voice, until it folded in 1982.

With her red hair and New York accent, Flanders was more Aunt Mame than Diana Vreeland — she was festive, not pushy. She had a good nose, Doonan said, “for charismatic misfits and creative people.”

Flanders collected many to launch Details in the spring of 1982, funding the effort with $6,000 from his savings. The magazine’s co-founders included Stephen Saban, an acerbic British writer, nightclub-goer and SoHo News alum; Ronnie Cooke Newhouse – then Ronnie Cooke, before marrying into the Newhouse publishing family – fresh out of art school; and Lesley Vinson, a young graphic designer who had laid out Flanders’ pages at SoHo News.

The first cover of Details looked like a slab of marble with the title etched on it, and early magazine covers featured a single sleek portrait done in black and white (which fit the budget but also the aesthetic) . “Ephemera written in stone” was the graphic concept, said Vinson, the magazine’s art director.

The initial print run was 10,000 copies – many copies were distributed to people whose names were pulled from nightclub guest lists, who offered them in exchange for free or discounted advertisements. At first, Details had no newsstand sales. The staff organized postal parties to fill the envelopes. Billy Idol came by late at night to lend a hand.

The details had a motto: “A party in a magazine”. “We’re going out so you don’t have to,” Saban liked to say.

Staff members arrived at work in the late afternoon, a schedule suited to their nocturnal behaviors; Flanders started her day at 4 p.m. (To streamline her evening routine, she often donned a scarlet wig, which she named Mildred and lived in her office.)

“We’re not an intellectual magazine,” she told Judy Klemesrud of The New York Times in 1985, the year Details won an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. “We are strictly for people who are artistically inclined or fun loving. We represent a way of life: people who really like to laugh, have a good time, go out and care, at least some of the time, about what they’re wearing.

Saban covered the nightlife, hard. (Patrick McMullan took the photos that accompanied Saban’s column.) Cookie Mueller, the doomed avant-garde model, actor and biting writer, was the art critic. “It’s all worth nothing,” she once wrote of the scene she inhabited, “but it’s all true, and that’s something.”

Entertainment journalist Michael Musto, who would go on to cover nightlife for The Village Voice, wrote film reviews that were sometimes notable for their brevity: “Mentl” was his one-word summary for Barbra Streisand’s 1987 film , “Nuts”, a witticism. which ended up being a clue to Trivial Pursuit.

For a time, Lewis Grossberger, a comedian, wrote a column called Mental Notes, which once offered dating advice from Attila the Hun.

As for the magazine’s title, it came to Flanders one day when she was chatting with her daughter, Rosie, about school, as she recalled in the Times article: “‘Rosie, you need to get the details, I love the details. I want to know the whole story.

She was born Marcia Weinraub on June 10, 1939 in the Bronx, to Dorothy (Lautman) and Ralph Weinraub, a realtor known as Lefty. She attended New York University for three years, studying retail and journalism (and winning Miss New York University in 1959).

She worked as a buyer and fashion director for department store Gimbels, among other emporia, then opened a funky clothing boutique, Abracadabra, on the Upper East Side in the late 1960s, the decor of which involved a contraption. Mirror mount salvaged from an old amusement park. She met her longtime partner, Chris Flanders, an actor-turned-entrepreneur formerly named Christian Van der Put, when he helped her build a window display for the store. He didn’t think the name Marcia suited him; to him, she was more of an Annie. She therefore adopted this name, as well as his surname, although they never married.

In 1988, Details was acquired by Advance Publications, the publishing empire of the Newhouse family, which owns Vogue, among other glossy titles, for $2 million. Jonathan Newhouse was the publisher for the first year, before moving to Paris in 1989 to oversee the house’s international titles.

Despite its popularity and influence, Details struggled financially, although at the time of its sale it had a paid circulation of 100,000 copies. Flanders was fired two years later and the magazine was redesigned as a men’s publication, with James Truman, a former Vogue editor, as editor. The magazine was closed in 2015.

In the 1990s, Flanders and her family moved to Hollywood, where she reinvented herself as a real estate agent, though she didn’t drive, working with her daughter, Rosie, who did. His daughter survives him. Chris Flanders died in 2007.

Decades never end cleanly, and the 80s were no exception. By 1989, the ranks of the inner city world that Flanders had so lovingly chronicled had been decimated by AIDS. Mueller died that year, as did thousands of others.

“We thought it would last forever,” Musto said. “We thought the magazine would last forever.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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