After pornography, cats rule the internet. Pages and pages have been given over to the furry creatures with pundits devoting hours of brain time to unravelling the mystery of the feline phenomenon. Offline, new cat cafes are springing up across the globe, offering customers a dose of feline affection along with their cup of coffee. With no visible end in sight to the ever-growing popularity of the puss, it was surely only a matter of time before the launch of an upmarket magazine dedicated to all things cats. Enter Maria Joudina-Robinson, a Moscow-born, London-based art director, who this July launched Puss Puss at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. “Cats dominated the internet and now it’s time for them to take over print,” says Joudina-Robinson, 30, whose Russian Blue, Sputnik, appears in the magazine twice.
A pioneer in hipster hospitality, Ace Hotel provided the perfect setting for the publication’s unveiling, which couldn’t be further from the usual breed of cat fancy magazines or the innumerable online paeans to the lolcat. Its stylish white pages are filled with strong visuals of young creative types at home with their cats, tattoo art and leopard print fashion. The articles that accompany the images strike a balance between low- and mid-brow culture covering fashion, art and lifestyle; the first issue features a mix of interviews with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, former Vogue cover model turned cat activist Celia Hammond and London silk scarf designer Vicki Murdoch. “I wanted it to be feminine and pretty but also dark and masculine with interviews with Ai Weiwei and [tattoo artist] Liam Sparkes,” says Joudina-Robinson.
Yes it features a piece that contemplates the rise of celebricats — it’d be an oversight not to — but there’s also one that touches on the too-often freaky world of cat breeding, of hairless moggies, LaPerms (yep, cats with curls) and kitten farms. While the former offers insight into a key contemporary cultural trend the latter is a meditation on the great lengths we humans are willing to go to in order to create the ultimate prized possession. “For some breeders, the thrill of the genetic chase for a particular rare colour for example is very motivating,” comments artist Karen Guthrie in the article. Even ailurophiles who think they know it all will be sure to discover new cat facts to regale their moggie-loving friends with. Did you know that Ai Weiwei shares his Beijing compound with more than 30 cats? Or that scientists have bred a glow-in-the-dark kitty?
Leaf through the magazine, however, and you begin to wonder whether cats are a sufficient enough thread to tie magazine together. The publication’s Kickstarter campaign only scraped together £4,554 of its £20,000 goal. An inauspicious start compared to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, a cat cafe in east London. Admittedly a different type of venture, the cafe nevertheless raised more than its £100,000 goal in less than two months; when the opening was announced earlier this year, 3,000 bookings were made in the first four-and-a-half hours, causing its website to crash. As a consequence, the first issue of Puss Puss was truly a labour of love with the shortfall made up for by Joudina-Robinson and articles penned by journalist friends and friends of friends. It was only when Ai Weiwei agreed to be interviewed that Joudina-Robinson felt encouraged to press on ahead. “I said I have to do this if someone like him is taking it seriously,” she says.
The concept behind the twice-yearly publication certainly feels logical. The last decade has seen cats take over the internet with articles featuring a feline or two guaranteed to boost pageviews or better still, go viral. The figures are dazzling: Nyan Cat’s video, in which the half-cherry pop tart cat flies across the screen for three-and-a-half minutes straight with the occasional “meow”, has been viewed more than 111 million times. Like it or not, we live in a world where Grumpy Cat has a movie deal, Tara the Hero Cat has a line of yoga pants and YouTube sensation Maru’s book has been translated into two languages — more than most of us could hope for in a lifetime. Add to this, the rise of niche publications such as Kinfolk, The Gourmand and The Gentlewoman and, despite a slump in general magazine sales and subscriptions in the UK, you surely have a winning formula?
Like this new generation of niche journals, Puss Puss too pitches itself as a collector’s item. “It’s something you keep and put on your bookshelf,” says Joudina-Robinson. “It’s not like a Grazia you buy at the airport and then bin. There’s an emphasis on the quality of the paper, the physicality of the magazine.” Joudina-Robinson’s background in art direction and design at agencies such as M&C Saatchi-owned Provenance is evident throughout: Puss Puss is appealing both to look at and to touch. Although far from vacuous, however, the magazine’s purpose remains elusive. It fails to achieve the richness of, say, The Gentlewoman, whose quality journalism and bold front cover decisions (its 2012 Autumn/Winter issue featured Angela Lansbury) aim to provide an alternative to body-obsessed women’s magazines. And while Kinfolk’s mission to promote a back-to-basics, Little-House-on-the-Prairie type of existence is arguably exclusive — it has been criticised for being “too white” — it nevertheless has a clearly defined goal and audience.
It’s early days for Puss Puss though, and feedback so far has been favourabl,e with orders coming in from around the world and the magazine due to hit the shelves of London bookshops Foyles and Artwords soon. “There’s been a huge renaissance for the print magazine lately,” says Rob Howard, a magazine buyer for Foyles. “Our customers seem to appreciate the option for a regular, curated look at particular niche subjects and topics, in a high-end print format that they can keep as an object. Titles such as The Gourmand cater to this, as will Puss Puss.” A design and art direction agency, named after the journal, is expected to help finance the publication and Joudina-Robinson is confident about its future, with the second issue due in January 2015. “I’m sure someone will come along and say, ‘What are you doing? Don’t we have enough cats online?’ But so far the feedback’s been very positive. Most people have asked me whether this is a limited subject but the more I dig, the more I find.”