Riding on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle through one of the most beautiful and romantic routes in all of Rome, the Appia Antica. It’s an ancient road the Caesars used to cut through, just as we are now. My man and I are flying. I’m thinking of my friend Sara Rosen and how she might be interested in seeing this beautiful, curved, strangely secluded road that has SO many hidden gems on it. The huge palatial homes that lurk behind the high moss-covered walls on the Appia have a host of interesting details to wonder over—and of all things—graffiti! In some places ancient taggers share wall space with present day writers, none of it really very expert, but they are up all over these epic walls!
What Miss Rosen will think of these writers….and I heard somewhere that the Italian government spends about 5 million a year cleaning up graffiti! I don’t know how true that is, but I also didn’t realize that even the word “graffiti” sounds Italian until now. Now that I have looked into it, it seems that the word “graffiti” has its origins in the mid-nineteenth century Italian word “graffito” or “a scratch”! Wow! Italians scratch and tag! Graffiti is also one Italian word Miss Rosen knows better than most, being familiar with the creative urges that drive people to put their names up all over cities, some more beautifully than others. Apparently the drive to write on walls spans the centuries. There are thousand-year-old tags in ruins and museums here. I’m curious about what Miss Rosen will think of these Italian graffiti writers, ancient and otherwise. Hmm…I wonder if the Italian authorities might want to contact her about bringing the Vandal Squad book here….
Miss Rosen has become a special presence in my life in a short time. We met for the first time in the Hermes store on Madison Avenue at the opening reception for Bruce Davidson’s “Subway” exhibition. Sara immediately struck me as what I like to describe most of my friends as “ bad bitches,” in the 70’s sense of the word. Sara was focused and straight talking, all this while rocking the perfect eyebrows on a fierce Chanel face. More importantly this woman’s off-the-cuff asides made me roar! Rosen, girl, you are a B-girl, wrapped up in a drag queen, serving Jewish around-the-way girl. Love it!
Formerly associate publisher and publicity director of powerHouse Books, Sara sparked my curiosity in the brand. After we met I could see how influential by her personal flavor, edge, and creativity reflected in the people they were working with and in the books they were publishing. Their shows and their magazine always seemed to be something that I was curious about, whether it was an ode to the 1970s or one to hustling. She even has her own imprint, Miss Rosen Editions, which put out Boogie’s Its All Good, Ricky Powell’s Public Access, Martha Cooper’s New York State of Mind—all books I wanted!
After nearly a decade, Sara left powerHouse to start her own thing, Miss Rosen, where she does it all—and then some. So girl, what’s good? My dream has always been to inhabit a parallel universe—just me in my own world doing what I do, connecting with whomever I feel akin to
My dream has always been to inhabit a parallel universe—just me in my own world doing what I do, connecting with whomever I feel akin to
Janene Outlaw: How did Miss Rosen Editions come about?
Miss Rosen: I first realized that I wanted to be a publisher when I met Ricky Powell, back in 2001. Only I didn’t quite realize it then. I had been at powerHouse Books for over a year, doing everything from publicity and promotions to trafficking and accounts receivable, basically working on the post-production end of the business at a company that employed all of three people. When I met Ricky, we started talking about making a book together, though I think he was humoring me. You see, I wanted to do a book and he wanted to do me! Neither of us got what we wanted.
Fast forward to 2004, and I hustled myself the role of project manager for Peter Sutherland’s Autograf: New York City’s Graffiti Writers. I rescued the project from the slush pile, got it into production, and collaborated directly with Peter on everything from editorial and art direction to publicity, marketing, and exhibitions. The book took off. We sold out 7,500 copies in five months and placed it everywhere—from Colette and L’Uomo Vogue to The New York Times and “The Apprentice.” It was truly the most spectacular campaign I have ever worked on.
At that time, Ricky Powell gave me a call. We hadn’t spoken in years, and I was quite surprised to hear from him, especially when he told me he was now interested in making that book happen. I prepared a proposal, a twenty-year overview of his work I dubbed Public Access as a nod to his inimitable underground cable show, “Rappin’ with the Rickster,” and presented it to the publishers for consideration.
Only this time, I told the publishers that I wanted my own publishing credit. They looked aghast. I clarified, “I don’t want your money. I just want credit.” They looked a little more relaxed. They suggested making me an editor. I clarified: I was more than an editor; I was a brand. They asked if I had a name for this brand, Miss Rosen Editions.
Of the 15 projects you did for Miss Rosen Editions, which was the most influential book youpublished?
I’d like to think all of my books have made waves in their own way, whether it was Ellen Jong’s Pees on Earth, which Rush Limbaugh decried, or Joseph Rivera’s Vandal Squad: Inside the New York City Police Department, 1984–2004, which set the graffiti community’s teeth on edge. But perhaps the book with the greatest impact was Martha Cooper and Nika Kramer’s We B*Girlz, which we celebrated with the 25th anniversary breakin’ event at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. That was, for me, one of the crowning achievements of my career, and the kind of project that makes me realize that anything is possible.
Before We *Girlz had even been printed, Martha and I were having lunch and talking about what we could do to create buzz around the book. I told her this idea, this little pipe dream I had kicking around in the back of my mind: “I remember the 1981 B-boy battle at Lincoln Center; I wasn’t even eight years old, but I remember it was on the news, and that’s when the rest of the world caught on. But it was all guys; it wasn’t even like breakin’ was something that was possible for girls, and I just took it as that. But wouldn’t it be spectacular if we could host an all-girl battle at Lincoln Center? Maybe there’s one seven year old girl out there who would see it…”
“You know,” Marty told me, “2006 is the 25th anniversary. And I know some people at Lincoln Center. Let’s put together a proposal and see what happens.”
And from that, it happened. We staged an international four-on-four B-girl battle and tribute to the 1981 event in August 2006, which was attended by over 5,000 people! I’ll never forget that day. Crazy thunderstorms threatened to tear up the stage during set up, but then they magically cleared for ninety minutes so that we could do our show, only to resume pouring as soon as the last bows were taken. It was just mind-blowing. That any of it was possible, that it had even happened, still amazes me.
Your taste is quite erudite and your projects show a taste for the underground artist. Where does that sensibility come from?
I’ve always felt myself to be on the periphery, not quite an outsider but in no way an insider. Any attempts I have ever made to ingratiate myself into a given scene (be it mainstream or underground) have been unsatisfactory at best. I’ve never been a joiner; I can’t abide by cliques. I abhor all group mentality: us vs. them. I am neither one in this dialectic.
My dream has always been to inhabit a parallel universe—just me in my own world doing what I do, connecting with whomever I feel akin to, and energized by subjects that inspire me to create something new. I’ve inadvertently placed myself at odds with scenes that I love (publishing the graffiti cop book Vandal Squad wasn’t a good look for the girl who got Donald Trump to say on national television, “I hate graffiti” and to still dedicate an entire episode of “The Apprentice” to it) as well as the people I love, many of whom have no love for each other. I don’t take sides. I share stories, and if those stories expose the contradictions and complexities of our existence, so much the better.
What is the most influential book you’ve ever read?
There’s no single book that has influenced me above others, but there are some whose cumulative knowledge has helped shape my identity and aspirations: D.V. by Diana Vreeland; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; De Profundis by Oscar Wilde; Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; Rotten by John Lydon; anything by Raymond Chandler; the short stories of Tennessee Williams; The Art of Living by Epictetus, and The Book of Life by Krishnamurti. There’s something in me that is eternally attracted to stories of glamour, decadence, and transcendence.
You have a classic vibe. What’s your favorite era in history, whether it was the fashion, music, or political movement?
Right now I am obsessing on all things F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I most actively engage with old Hollywood and NYC in the 1970s. Still, I love history in all its forms. I am always looking backwards, rather than forwards. History is written by the winners, but there’s always a subtext, and it’s the relationship between what happened, how it was recorded, how it played out, and what that means today that I find most exciting. When I was ten years old, I wanted to be an archaeologist. To be surrounded by the ruins and relics of the past makes me feel simultaneously irrelevant and majestic, and I love sharing in the glory of human achievement while realizing that it is ultimately transitory, if not disposable. It is always shocking and exciting.
You just left power House after nearly a decade to start your own media company, Miss Rosen. What is your vision and mission now that you are on your own?
Freeeedom! For the first time in my life, I understand the responsibility of being completely independent, on both a personal and professional level. I believe that “action is character,” as Aristotle said, and my primary aim is to synthesize who I am with what I do, so that Life is Good. Good people. Good projects. Good energy. When done right, work isn’t just fun, Work is love. I have seen time and again that the spirit one brings to an initiative affects the entire experience. And now that I truly can say that my Time is Mine, I want to make best use of it.
And to that end I am pleased to introduce my company Miss Rosen, which offers all kind of services from publicity, marketing, and video production to representation, exhibition, and event projects. My clients include content packager and publisher Melcher Media, art book publisher Glitterati, photography magazine Focus, photo historian Gail Buckland, memoirist Monica Holloway, photo agency Redux Pictures, photographer Ricky Powell, accessories designer Maripol, and the East Village libertine legend herself Patti Astor.
I am quite excited about what the future holds. I find that times of economic instability are the greatest source of cultural creativity, and that triumph glows brighter in the dark. The people with whom I am working are a select few of the exceptional minds I have encountered during my first ten years in publishing, dating back to my first year at Rizzoli where I met Marta Hallett, then publisher of Rizzoli, and now publisher of Glitterati; as well as Bonnie Eldon, then managing editor of Universe, now associate publisher of Melcher Media. Or Ricky Powell, with whom I published Public Access, my first Miss Rosen Edition, in the fall of 2005; and Maripol, who invented the #%$rubber bracelet!!&*
What kind of projects catch your eye, and what makes you decide to sign them?
I am most attracted to work that I wish I could do myself, to people I hold in great esteem, and to projects that represent a distinctive blend of talent, craftsmanship, and original thinking. My imprint, Miss Rosen Editions, was dedicated to contemporary urban culture, taking the form of books that are primarily about street life and art. I maintained a narrow focus in this capacity, since as it reflected what I could create within that realm. Now that I am providing a much wider array of services, I am most interested in partnering with people whose projects provide a wider representation of life and culture as we experience it.
Describe the perfect work day, the perfect client, the perfect project.
The perfect work day would be one defined by the ability to conceptualize and execute a creative and dynamic campaign that challenged me to perform beyond my comfort zone. Perfect clients are those who are clear in their aims, realistic in their vision, and personable in their communication. The perfect project would be one that allowed me the space to collaborate in a meaningful way.
What is the future of publicity and marketing for edgy, art books and projects, as the magazine and book publishing industries crumble slowly before our eyes?
When I was 16 there was this dancehall song that I loved madly. The main line was, “Life is what you make it.” I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind, understanding that success and happiness were intertwined with my outlook on life. Intellectually, I think the economic crisis is exciting. For far too long culture has been boring, predictable, and unoriginal. Financial security breeds complacency, and with that comes a lack of creativity, a sameness, a lameness. When the old model is rendered ineffective, a space is created for new ideas and energies. We are living at the dawn of a new day, and the possibilities are without limit.
Even if media as we know it, in the form of books and magazines rendered obsolete (an idea of great fright to me and any other collector of the printed word and the printed page), I trust in humanity’s commitment to storytelling. Once upon a time, stories were engraved in stone—far more permanent than anything we’ve invented, And yet we no longer use such technology. Change is essential to human development, and those who are receptive to the new language of communication will be best equipped to spread their message.
Aspiring artists, authors, and storytellers alike must consider the essential questions: who is the audience, and how do you reach them? There are countless ways to connect. What matters most is being clever about your message, your medium, and your means.
What magazines/periodicals do you keep up with, no matter what?
Hamburger Eyes. Nobody does it better. Nobody even tries.
How do you stay inspired?
I am truly grateful to be here.
Janene Outlaw, graduated with a BFA in Fine Art and Photography from Cornell University, has worked as a photo editor at publications, which include The New York Times Style and Weekend sections, New York magazine, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and Fortune, among others. Curator of “A World Less Seen” an exhibition of ten African-American photographers at the Time Warner Gallery, NY, in 2004, Outlaw has also edited photography books and record packaging projects for major record labels, as well as taught at The School of Visual Arts, NY. Currently traveling through Europe, Outlaw is pursuing independent photographic projects.