Since the various freedom of speech scandals and terrorist attacks, the indie French press has never quite left the spotlight, but there’s a lot more to it than inflammatory cartoon strips.

Words: Daisy Muller.

Left, le 1 magazine in Paris cover. Right, cover of a magazine in Paris.

A handful of devoted creatives are crafting titles that are as compelling as they are well put together. And it’s by channeling their passion, that their independent businesses have withstood the knocks in recent years, of which there have been many. From dwindling reader numbers to financial crises, and terrorist attacks to a global pandemic, they have braved it all. Here are eight of my favorite titles to pick up on your next coffee break.

Rethinking the news

Born just before the 2008 financial crisis hit, Le XXI dug its heels in and it’s since gone from an underground labour of love to a household name in Paris.

The cover of XXI magazine in Paris.

Published four times a year, its 200-odd pages are still ad-free, meaning it’s retained its editorial independence. You’ll find photo essays, docu-cartoon-strips (it’s thanks to XXI that I for one, discovered Joe Sacco whose cartoon-strip novels tell the (hi)stories of places like Myanmar to the women of Chechnya), and long-form journalism by a team of heavy-hitters, that delves deep into today’s issues.

And while it’s changed hands several times since Le XXI was launched by Laurent Baccaria (a long-time leader of publishing houses like Flammarion and his own maison Les Arènes) and Patrick de Saint-Exupéry (a former star reporter for Le Figaro), it still lives up to its promise of delivering news in a way that’s fresh, interesting and engaging to its 22,000 quarterly readers.

Get Le XXI now

The skinny

In contrast to the catalogue-thickness of Le XXI, Le 1 folds into a single A4-size weekly gazette. As you unfold the page, you delve deeper into the week’s hottest topic with articles summarising various points of views of the week’s thinkers. The result is a brand new space for debate and thought that can be explored in minimal time.

The cover of Le 1 magazine. Black in France.

Founded by journalist and author Eric Fottorino in 2014, Le 1’s handy format is its main USP. For one, it’s not exclusive. People who don’t have a lot of time to read around the news or don’t have a huge budget to spend on magazine subscriptions (each issue costs only 2.50 euros) can also get in on the debate. And as it turns out, it’s doing pretty well with more than 33,000 readers rushing to get their issue each week.

Get Le 1 now

Wild spirits

Literally meaning ‘crazy’ in Italian, MATTO is in its own league. It covers art, design, architecture, fashion and literature in formats that jump out from the page, either because of the raw visuals or because of the fragmented layout. 

The cover of MATTO magazine in Paris.

Created by art director-duo Aldo Buscalferri and Dominika Hadelova in 2018, the four issues of MATTO so far have been a meeting of minds and cultures from all over the globe. Each feature is treated like an encounter; not a vague and abstract well-written academic vacuous prose that no one really reads.

Leafing through MATTO is like floating through a maze of artists’ thoughts and creations, without ever knowing what to expect. And it’s exactly what keeps it fresh and different to other art magazines. Top marks for MATTO who goes against the grain.

Get MATTO now (in English, sometimes with French articles mixed in)

Sharp act

Pioneering business models, the state of the media, the internet, fetiches… It’s all in the brilliant supersize L’ADN. There’s no sitting on the fence here as its writers, unafraid, advance their opinions. If you’re looking for a title to shake your flagging brain cells back to life, then you’ve come to the right place. 

The cover of L'ADN magazine in Paris

L’ADN’s features and articles might not be the most in depth or meticulously researched, but the tone and topics explored stretch the mind with a twist of light-hearted humour and a pop of contemporary colour. Very welcome in the field of tech and innovation.

The magazine gets top marks for visual appeal and layout, which makes the reams of content easy to get through. Topics are wide-ranging, from Airbnbs becoming private nightclubs, and how conglomerate Unilever plans on giving a billion euros for sustainable projects, to how an app is raking it in by putting fans and porn actresses in touch without a middleman. Keeping the finger on the pulse, L’ADN is an open door to today’s world and its multitude of facets. 

Get L’ADN now

Future world  

Shining a light on today’s issues and how to address them to make the world a better place is what Usbek & Rica’s all about. Focused on current affairs, topics include whether or not a universal salary could eradicate world poverty, or how IBM is abandoning facial recognition technology in the name of racial equality. 

The cover of Usbek & Rica magazine in Paris

If what you are after is a fresh outlook on today’s issues, then this is the magazine to pick up. Written in a way that renews hope as opposed to slashing our last bit of belief in a better world, Usbek & Rica is refreshing and stimulating. It puts forward all the empowering innovations and decisions made by leaders that are slowly countering the crises our world is plunged in.

Get Usbek & Rica now

Fresh focus

Le XXI‘s sister mag, 6 Mois takes readers on visual journeys to the deepest, and sometimes darkest depths, of the news. For instance, the current issue’s cover story is about Brazil’s Indian resistance, illustrated by a portrait of an Indian woman, face tattooed, wearing an expression of strength and pride. 

The cover of 6 Mois magazine in Paris

Photography is 6 Mois’s main medium and its reporters give us a glimpse behind the scenes of the issues that matter. The result is spectacular. Every feature is a mini exhibition that pops out from the recycled paper pages that could hang on the walls of galleries and museums.

A running exploration of the world, 6 Mois‘s reporters delve beyond the headlines to document a world in flux, putting a fresh new spin on current issues like no other title.
Get 6 Mois now

New lessons 

If you’d told Parisians that the new kid on the magazine block would be exclusively about the U.S., it’s highly likely you would have been given a raised eyebrow or two. Three years on, and the colourful, beautifully illustrated America is thriving. 

The cover of America magazine in Paris

Packed with features by French novelists and essayists, La Grande Librairie presenter François Busnel and Eric Fottorino, who also heads up Le 1, are the brains behind the mag.

The promise is four issues for four years. In other words, it’s a running commentary of Trump’s presidential term and it’s proving skeptical Parisians wrong; there’s plenty to keep us entertained. Let’s hope it continues to publish during the Biden era.

Get America now

Depths of humanity

The PDF of the first issue of HAS (Humanities, Arts & Society), a UNESCO-MOST mag, has just landed in my inbox. And while I’m still working my way through its 331 pages, it’s a pretty impressive cross-discipline web of art to sociology and technology to economics. 

The cover of HAS magazine

The publication is an intellectual exploration of the current state of the world through the lens of “creativity as a basis for rethinking the human condition.” It asks questions like whether the cultural management of heritage should give in to the field of visual imagery or whether it should persist in the tradition of conservation, how the ubiquitous presence of technology shapes our minds, and how computational models can explain social interaction and culture. 

A dense publication, it delves into the vortex of what makes us human. And while it might take you some time to get through, it asks compelling questions answered by experts from all over the world.

Get HAS now (in English, French and Chinese. Published twice a year, it is free).

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