Grown up in South Africa, Michael Oliver Love had to create his own free place for self-expression. This place is called Pansy, a digital magazine that features gleaming editorials where mainstream gender representation is questioned by bold and cheerful outfits. Fashion is the vital lymph of Love’s creativity. Photography and modelling are, indeed, other two fields where the emerging editor explores the most challenging power carried by garments. We asked him to tell us how the project of Pansy began and how it is heading to participate in the growing process of reshaping masculine imagery.
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How and when did the story of Pansy begin?
Well, I grew up in a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere down the coast of South Africa. True to form these small towns are often spaces of intense social conditioning and repressive culture – not the best place for a little boy who loves sequins and feather boas. The Internet became a safe space for me to express my love for fashion and all things quirky and cute; my Tumblr was my life at this stage. Having fled the nest after eighteen years and finding a new freedom away from home my love for playing with gender binaries through fashion began to blossom. After being in love and involved with various online fashion platforms for many years I felt the need to create my own that centred on progressive menswear, genderless fashion and questioning mass media stereotypes. That’s where Pansy started.
Besides working as editor of Pansy, you are also a model and photographer. How do you combine the three things within your work?
Pansy is quite present in all these aspects of my life. Through photography I love to shoot boys in a way that challenges the Men’s Health t-shirt-and-jeans masculinity that we see everywhere, and I now have my very own platform to feature this work. Modelling becomes a bit trickier because not only is the moneymaking industry completely backwards, but you are also at the hands of whoever is shooting you. So I enjoy putting together personal projects with photographers I know and trust to make something out of the ordinary.
‘Pansy’ is a name that sounds quite ironic. What do you want to communicate through this name?
When the word is not referring to the cultivated variety of viola, it has been used in a derogatory way to refer to a man that is ‘unmanly’ and has shown vulnerability in some way. Coming from the small town I mentioned before, this is the kind of language I have been surrounded by for a long time. ‘Pansy’ to me now means bravery. It means defying the norm and embracing one’s uniqueness. I want to reclaim the word as an adjective for breaking boundaries. Rise sissies, rise!
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Who is the target audience of Pansy? To whom do you want to speak through your magazine?
Pansy is for anyone who doesn’t care for labels or boundaries or bad dress sense.
What kind of aesthetic and themes are shown through the digital pages of Pansy?
Pansy is a platform that is shaped by its contributors and the people around the world doing progressive work. Gorgeous editorial submissions come in from around the globe to be featured on the page, as well as work selected from various other publications that fit the vibe. It has become a frilly, floral, pale-pink paradise that is growing steadily.
Is there still a rigid categorization of masculine and feminine in fashion media and collections, or do you think that this border is now getting thinner?
In the more first-world fashion spaces there is a strong movement towards genderless fashion, and androgyny seems to be a growing trend there. However here in South Africa we still have heaps of work to do. South African Menswear Week is doing an amazing job in showcasing work that full on fucks with the masculine / feminine binary. Designers like Rich Mnisi, Nao Serati and Lukhanyo Mdingi, to name a few, are doing phenomenal work in advancing our local fashion scene.
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What is the social and cultural impact of projects like Pansy, or the works of designers like Palomo Spain? Is it the start of a new process of shaping and redefining the concept of queer?
Oh my god, do not get me started on Palomo Spain, ob-sessed! Well, I am a huge believer in the power of representation; people need to see to believe and understand. For instance I’ll read in the comments that Pansy has been blocked on school networks for inappropriate content, which is super lame. While not everyone enjoys seeing a boy in a sparkly pink gown slaying-yo-life walking down the runway, it strikes a chord in people and starts the relevant conversations we need to be having. All we can hope for is that designers like this and platforms like Pansy can add to the growing tidal wave of progressive thinking and, hopefully, the masculinity represented in magazines and advertising will maintain to be challenged on larger levels.
You started the magazine not so long ago as a digital magazine. Would you like to see Pansy as a printed publication one day? What are the future plans for the magazine?
100% yes. I would love to see Pansy on the newsstand in future, right next to Men’s Health, actually. (Wink, wink) For now it is a happy little digital platform that is always welcoming new contributors in any shape or form. Come along and join the Pansy movement.
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