Wallpaper* founder Tyler Brûlé on the magazine’s ‘occasionally naughty’ start

Tyler Brûlé, Wallpaper* founder and editorial director from 1996 – 2002, on the auspicious start of our ‘curious, global, slightly decadent and occasionally naughty’ magazine. Brûlé's recollections feature in the ‘25 Years of Wallpaper*’ series, published in our October 2021, 25th anniversary issue

Cover of the first issue of Wallpaper magazine
The cover of issue 1 of Wallpaper* magazine, featuring a pair of models in Tom Ford's Gucci. Photographed by Stewart Shining on 27 July 1996, at the New York loft of Walter Schupfer. Styled by Michael Reynolds and Anne-Marie Curtis
(Image credit: press)

Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s summer 1996 and in a small design studio in Vienna the first, freshly designed pages of a soon-to-launch magazine are being pinned on a wall. Art director Herbert Winkler is selecting pictures, playing with cover concepts and smoking non-stop. On a nearby desk, a copy of The New York Times is open to a page with a report about a curious new title that will soon hit newsstands. Back in London, where the magazine is based, ad pages (Gucci, Versace, The Gap and many more) are being shipped to the printer in Austria, while the £100,000 that’s been raised for this venture is dwindling fast. Can we pay the paper bill? The courier costs? And will there be enough money for a party?

A few days later, on a sunny morning in early September, the first issue of Wallpaper* hit newsstands across the UK and around the world. On the cover, a handsome young man and an elegant woman gazed out to the reader from their Manhattan apartment; hanging in the foreground, the simple coverline ‘Urban modernists’ set the the tone for who this title was targeting.

In the weeks that followed, our little office filled with bouquets of congratulations. Media columnists liked what they saw, and brands big and small from the worlds of fashion, furniture and hospitality wanted to be featured in our pages and buy advertising. It took a few months to get issue two out the door, but gradually we found our rhythm and Wallpaper* established itself as a curious, global, slightly decadent and occasionally naughty periodical with a passion for architecture, industrial design, entertaining, fashion, the Nordic world and plenty of travel.

Twenty-five years on, I often wonder if Wallpaper* was the last great launch from the golden years of magazine publishing. If talent, ambition, creativity, focus and audience are a gauge, then I feel it’s a confident contender for such a title.


A version of this article appears in the October 2021, 25th Anniversary Issue of Wallpaper* (W*270), on newsstands now and available to subscribers –12 digital issues for $12/£12/€12.