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Elise By Olsen’s cult fashion criticism magazine is shuttering for good

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‘Heirs of History’ marks the final issue of Wallet, the pocket-sized, chin-strokey fashion publication

At the age of 13, Elise By Olsen founded the youth culture magazine, Recens, making her the youngest editor-in-chief in publishing. Ironically, however, By Olsen could not take home the Guinness World Record because she was too young for their age restrictions. Since then, fashion media has, understandably, framed By Olsen as some kind of wunderkind – though that’s not an accolade that she has ever felt particularly comfortable with. Still, by the time she turned 18, the Norwegian had begun work on her second publication, Wallet, which sought to “redeem good, critical fashion journalism,” while channelling her frustration at the industry and its reliance on hierarchy.

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“That’s why we called it Wallet,” she says, “because we wanted to talk about how these industries capitalise on individuals, the money, the politics, and the power within”. Although By Olsen feels “extremely privileged and honoured,” to have worked on the magazine – speaking fondly of her interviews with Adrian Joffe, Nick Knight, Hussein Chalayan, and Grace Wales Bonner – as she releases her tenth issue, By Olsen has made the decision to shutter. “The magazine was always meant to be a series of ten editions, speaking to ten specific themes. All my projects always have a very specific duration. I don’t see the point of continuing a project just to do it. It compromises the quality,” she says, having been critical of the industry’s tendency to steer sinking “old guard” publications into the ground.

“Hopefully the Wallet series is a point of departure for a larger conversation in the fashion industry,” she says. When By Olsen first introduced the magazine in 2018, it arrived as an antidote to traditional fashion media, where thoughtful critique has become increasingly compromised by branded content and advertiser relationships. Wallet, however, has taken a microscope to power, press, technology, and education – with the aim of sparking the same level of dialogue which exists in film, art, or literature. Slim enough to fit in your pocket, pages were left blank for note-taking, and, quite symbolically, adverts could be torn out along perforated lines. The tenth issue of Wallet – “Heirs of History” – looks at the practice of collecting fashion, with conversations between historian Valerie Steele, stylist David Casavant, and archivist Emman Debattista, exploring the obsessive act of archiving as a tool for “new creative knowledge and cultural capital”. 

“It’s a response to the mythical idea of legacy,” By Olsen says, which by virtue of this being the magazine’s final edition, surely takes on extra baggage. In the absence of publications like Wallet, what does this mean for the state of criticism within fashion today? “Criticism seems to rest at an awkward threshold between perpetuating the romantic fantasies of the fashion industry, and ferociously exposing its various problematic operations,” By Olsen believes. “As we talked about in our issue 9 “Culture of Critique”, fashion never established its own critical canon – and the outlines of the practice remain flimsy today. With the advent of the internet and online activities, criticism changed once more. The visual aspects of fashion criticism grew, as the fast pace of social media desired a faster, snappier, and sassier response than that of academia – cancel culture as one example of this.” 

While By Olsen hopes to apply this critical thinking in the future to other industries like music and food, for now, at least, she is saying goodbye to Wallet – with one final project landing in Autumn. Otherwise, the reluctant prodigy is continuing to expand her cultural institution, the International Library of Fashion Research, “a project that is inherently life-long, never-to-be-completed, and with no end in mind.” As she closes the page on “Heirs of History”, she repeats – “this is an epilogue to a small, but powerful project, and the last issue ever of Wallet…”

To explore the back issues of Wallet click here.