Turning a university project into a career, Philipp Neumann renews Leipzig’s history in publishing through a magazine store for design and culture
In 1650, the book merchant and printer Timotheus Ritzsch (1614-1678) produced the first daily newspaper in Leipzig. It was one of the first steps in the history of publishing, which flourished over the centuries as in no other place in Europe. Since 2008, a magazine store located in the Kolonnadenviertel of Leipzig revives the city through printed paper. Mzin founder Philipp Naumann reveals the store’s work and mission.
Philipp Neumann: Twelve years ago, when I was studying graphic design at the Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts, I designed a magazine shop as my final year project. Mzin started out as a cardboard model. After graduating, I rented a place in South Leipzig and opened the store. A few years later, I moved mzin to its current location, in the Eastern part of the city. Since the beginning, I have worked with my professional and life partner Karen Laube.
Elena Caslini: In 2008, when the global financial crisis struck, there was no reason that publishing would be exempted from its effects. Magazines had moved online; independent publishers had been swiped by the digital revolution.
PN: When I opened mzin, the publishing industry was longing for renewal. They needed to touch objects again, to feel the texture of paper, and the smell of it. At the end of the 2000s, there was a revival of self-publishing in the fields of art and design, which would last. The Internet is a source of information, but it cannot replace the energy and appeal of a printed magazine.
EC: Mzin: where does this name come from?
PN: Mzin is an artificial word alluding to the term ‘magazine,’ it is an acronym for it. I coined the term aiming at visualizing what the shop attends to. People pronounce the capital letters separately, others do it as ‘m-zin.’ It is open to interpretation.
EC: Over the years, you have gathered a selection of publications from fields of culture – design, fashion, architecture, art and pop culture. You sell literature and poetry zines next to periodicals dedicated to Western, Oriental and Arabic typography, vinyl records, and prints.
PN: A friend of mine told me that my approach to culture is Postmodernist. Once in Ghent, I discovered a record store selling records that did not respond to a music genre, but to a mood. Their motto was ‘Goodbye categories. Hello mood’, this summarizes my vision. Mzin is a space with no barriers and human interaction as its element. You come from Milan and are looking for a book on Virgil Abloh, I ask you if you knew he comes from an architectural background. The chances of you going home with a book on architecture in Chicago have increased. I advise people and guide them to make connections they would not make themselves or on the Internet. I want them to connect the dots. This morning, I found a thank you note from a designer called Peter Wolf who had visited the shop, it is these connections that bring us full circle.
EC: Before opening mzin, you were deejaying and spending time at record stores in Leipzig. You worked in one of them for a while. The inclusion of vinyl records in your selection speaks of your background.
PN: This opportunity instilled in me a ‘Do it yourself’ mantra that characterized subculture since the Seventies. I wasn’t selling records; I was meeting people, organizing parties, and designing their invitations and posters. It was an experience that allowed me to understand that, in life, I would go my way, outside the mainstream. People I was meeting were designers with a background in graffiti art, or fashion designers with a past in skateboarding. I learnt to remain curious about culture tout court. This is something you cannot learn through an academic experience.
EC: At mzin, one can find Germany-based and international magazines, with several published in English. Addressing a local and global audience requires the ability and time to satisfy the needs of a creative industry that is transforming.
PN: My process of getting information starts early in the morning, I listen to podcasts and the radio. If I hear of a designer, a photographer, a publication I do not know about, I research it and order a few copies. Outside of mzin, Karen and I are active in the art and design communities, organizing festivals, conferences, and teaching abroad. We come into contact with creatives who broaden our perspectives. The magazines I put for sale at mzin are a source of knowledge. To give you examples, I read 032C, a fashion and art magazine from Berlin contributing to contemporary cultures, and Pin-Up, which is based in New York, to remain updated on what goes on in photography, design, and architecture. System is a zine that kept me company during lockdown with interviews to creatives. One of their issues before the pandemic was dedicated to Miuccia Prada. Purple is a publication that I bring home when I can.
EC: Are there magazines at mzin attracting the attention of creatives that are in university or are taking their first steps in the creative industry?
PN: They can find zines such as Off the Rails, a magazine grown out of a creative agency. It is classic in its structure, but showcases a selection of artists, photographers, poets, and musicians linked to contemporary youth culture. Tunica, based in New York, covers illustration, photography, and features articles, fiction, and interviews providing alternatives to the contemporary art community. The design, colors and covers are visual ideas coming from the web. UK based magazine Ansinth is appreciated by creatives interested in contemporary fashion and aesthetics.The magazines Karen and I decide to include in mzin have a scope of photographic and visual apparatus’, and are printed on quality paper. When I look at their design, it has to please my eye and make me say ‘This is something I have not seen before’. I spend hours leafing through a zine with no editorial relevance, to look at its advertisements. My brother tells me ‘these are pictures’, but not to me. Images convey meaning. Content is in the form; you cannot separate the two.
EC: In one of your interviews, you affirmed that you wanted mzin to be a vehicle through which you could curate and host conferences, exhibitions, and events to resemble a gallery. How did you move from theory to practice?
PN: In designing the store, I looked at contemporary gallery practice. I created a neutral environment through white walls and wooden shelves. The idea behind the arrangement of the magazine’s was to highlight their covers, treating them as works of art. We do not have a section dedicated to each discipline, as seen in bookstores. Our clients, who are professionals and come to the store regularly, know where to find what interests them. We shift the covers regularly. We keep past issues in the shelves. Over the years, we have staged over one-hundred events. We present releases of creatives and publishing houses from Leipzig, Spector Books to name one, and from overseas. We organize exhibitions related to book launches. When we presented Zang Pat Phuwut (4’33’’), a self-published book investigating the theme of visualization of sound in 1980s comics, we exhibited the loose pages of the volume across the walls of the store. At the moment, we are working with a textile designer, who will present an edition of carpets, in March.
EC: Your website is a tool used to inform and communicate with your customers. The ‘conference section’ lists a series of events and conferences dedicated to graphic design and visual culture. Are these related to mzin or do they speak to a broader audience?
PN: The conference section refers to events that I am involved in outside of mzin. Since 2014, I have been curating Die Designers, a design festival in Leipzig with conferences and lectures on graphic design and visual culture. The section helps me keep track of them over the years. It informs people of what I am doing. This is reflected by the font I chose for the website; it reminds me of a typewriter.IMAGE GALLERY