Julian Wiehl is the mind behind Vienna’s “progressive men’s magazine”, Vangardist, showcasing the savoir vivre of the gay community
In 2015, Vangardist Magazine and the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi paired up to break new ground in publishing: An issue themed HIV+, printed in HIV positive blood. Vangardist became the first and only magazine ever to win eight Cannes Lions that year and with a project that reached an estimated 55 million people.
Julian Wiehl’s creative journey began in film school. After spending his civil service year in Costa Rica, he returned to Vienna to study at the Filmakademie.
“I had very little to do with the scene here,” Wiehl admitted, as we soaked up the late afternoon sun at Volksgarten Pavillon. “I was a little bit of a nerd.” Oblivious to fashion, he “had a terrible haircut.” But thanks to his flat mate and later business partner Carlos Andres he found his way into Vienna’s gay community.
While Wiehl worked as a production assistant on short films and commercial jobs, Andres was laying out a magazine for a company that sold merchandise like banded pens and USB sticks. “The inglorious story is that we thought if he could put that together in 12 hours a week, then the two of us together could make a whole magazine in 15.” Thus Vangardist was born.
The concept: If they wrote about being gay in a classier, more neutral way, it would become more accepted. In fact, there is almost no gay media in Austria, according to Wiehl, and the things that do exist all concentrate on sexuality. Besides just talking about same-sex love, the existing media “was all about six packs, models, blah…” Instead, they wanted to go in the direction of der Spiegel for the gay man, with more of a “visually attractive” lifestyle angle.
Of course you can’t run a magazine for gay men without describing your demographic in generalizations, especially to advertisers. Still, it felt strange asking Wiehl to induce sweeping assumptions about his readership, as political correctness alarms kept going off in my head.
“Since children are not very common in the gay scene, they concentrate more on their careers,” said Wiehl. This also means that certain jobs lend themselves to the lifestyle choice: the restaurant and hotel business, in air travel, any job that doesn’t require being in town all week. “Gays are very ambitious people,” he said. “Perhaps because they’ve always needed to prove themselves, to their parents, to society, that is a motivator for many to reach higher.”
Despite the remaining stigma, gay men in Vienna have it better than in many other places, and Wiehl’s hopes for the community seem achievable. “We need legal equality.” He feels it’s time to depoliticize the community.
So what is stopping Austria?
“This is a country of fear. No one does things here until everyone else has already done it.” Austria is well behaved and introverted, he says,“except for the FPÖ, that is constantly stepping out of line,” which makes it even harder to be openly gay at work, or in the public sphere, especially in religious communities.
“Of course making the magazine has been provocative,” he admits. “But nothing has ever happened to me because of it. No threats, no violence.” He feels that if more people behaved in an openly gay way, it could achieve a certainly matter-of-fact normality.
Still, Wiehl is proud that Vienna has supported him in endeavors like the HIV+ issue of Vangardist, and that Austria has proven its open-mindedness by supporting the Life Ball. “The community can afford to have more fun with it.”
At heart Julian Wiehl is a committed idealist with a wry sense of humor. And he’s stayed humble.
“Deep down I’m still a geek,” he said with a smile
Where to Find Julian Wiehl in June:
“It’s the best urban Heuriger in town,” Wiehl asserted. He recommends the Grosse Jausenplatte (a plate of cheeses, spreads and cold cuts with fresh bread) and few glasses of the “delicious” wines they have on offer.
One of the best-loved restaurants of the fashion crowd, Wiehl recommends the courtyard garden seating in summer. Go for the attractive waiters (“sadly they’re not all gay”) stay for the delicious carpaccio and beef tartar.
On the top floor of the Stilwerk building across the canal from Schwedenplatz Le Loft does a “fantastic brunch” with the buffet is right on your table and an “unforgettable chocolate mousse cake”
Every first Saturday of the month Vangardist throws its Männer im Garten party at one of Vienna’s favorite summertime nightlife venues. The next ones will be on June 3rd and July 8th.