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The ALT Aesthetic

Photo courtesy ALT Magazine

This story was produced for Badger Vibes, a joint project of Madison365 and the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

What began as an idea in a college dorm room is now a reality: ALT Magazine now illuminates street style and underground fashion while creating a space for individuals to freely express their cultural identities.

“Nell and I came up with the concept and name of ALT Magazine in February 2017 in my dorm room at Sellery [Hall],” says cofounder Lisa Heverly. “We were tiny freshmen finding our place at the university.”

Heverly serves as the magazine’s creative director for the 2018–19 academic year but met Nell Yu, ALT’s president, while involved in MODA Magazine, a different campus fashion magazine affiliated with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Publications Committee. Heverly and Yu both worked as fashion news correspondents there.

“We met at a café in November 2016 to get to know each other and ended up vibing so well that we instantly became best friends and talked of starting a new magazine together ever since,” Heverly says.

After bonding over a shared interest in streetwear, Heverly and Yu concluded the campus needed a magazine for underrepresented students. The duo wanted to accomplish two things: show their love for street-style fashion through a photography-based medium and promote both diversity and inclusivity — especially of people of color in contrast to the larger UW campus community that is predominantly white.

“I just want it to be a safe platform for everyone to speak up and share whatever their story is,” Yu says.

From Concept to Creation

Once it became registered as a student organization, ALT Magazine launched its first issue in November 2017, named (appropriately enough) “The Primary Issue.” The blend of streetwear, bright colors, and artistic photography solidified ALT’s place in underground campus fashion.

Now with an editorial board of 18 individuals who each have his or her own style, the staff plans to develop new opportunities for their audience.

“I wish that the aesthetic [of the magazine] continues to be streetwear but, with different leaders, they’ll bring different perspectives and change over time, but in a good way,” Yu says. As a student organization, ALT changes leadership each year.

ALT, however, provides students with more than trendy looks. It’s also an outlet to explore contemporary issues and identity through fashion. The magazine’s head of public relations, Fernando Umanzor , says the publication focuses on fashion, but its contributors also write about socio-political issues.

All of the staff members bring individual perspectives into the mix. Like any great publication, ALT Magazine takes a team effort. From pitching concepts, assigning articles, scouting locations, coordinating shoots, and designing the overall “ALT aesthetic,” the magazine needs many hands to get the work done.

“[In] every meeting, we are brainstorming for different ideas,” says editor-in-chief Livvie Van Lanen.

When Van Lanen transferred to UW–Madison as a junior during the 2017–18 academic school year, she was looking to join new student groups. Heverly and Yu approached her at the student-organization fair, and Van Lanen became one of more than 120 people to sign up for the magazine that day — a triumph for the publication. Heverly attributed this success to the clothing she and Yu displayed near ALT’s table from world-renowned designer Virgil Abloh ’03’s brand, Off-White.

Then, following the magazine’s first kickoff meeting, more than 60 individuals applied.

“Nell and I carefully selected about 24 members — stylists, graphic designers, photographers — to start ALT with,” Heverly says.

The inaugural roster ultimately added up to 26 individuals, including Van Lanen. This year, more than 50 people are involved with the magazine.

“When I started planning for the summer for this [past] year, it was my goal to recruit some younger members because a majority of our members are juniors and seniors,” Van Lanen says.

What’s Next?

As editor-in-chief, Van Lanen hopes to continue the mission the cofounders set out to accomplish while also increasing the publication’s exposure. The magazine currently has a substantial audience on Instagram (more than 1,000 followers), and Van Lanen anticipates that ALT’s April fashion show will showcase the many talents students have.

“That’s an extremely cool opportunity for them to get their work out there, to have models walking down the runway with their clothes,” she says.

In April 2018, the ALT Fashion Show featured more than 30 models, six designers, and two live performances at the Chazen Museum of Art. More than 250 people attended the event, filling every seat.

“We anticipate our next show to be even more innovative and extravagant,” Heverly says. “Keep a lookout in spring [2019].”

In just its second year, ALT has started to lay the foundation for social justice and individuality in fashion — but Heverly notes there is more work to be done. She learned from her peers that body positivity and plus-size fashion are matters for ALT to pursue actively.

“I also hope we can incorporate more models that don’t have a stereotypically ‘beautiful’ face or body, especially height,” she says. “Street style can look good on anyone — that’s why I love it.”

Van Lanen says the group plans on one day designing and releasing its own fashion line, equipping alternative fashion enthusiasts on campus with an opportunity to carve their own lanes on ALT’s platform.