In Conversation with Armour Magazine
Written by Poppy Livingstone
April 18, 2023
Since 2012, Armour has served as the beating heart of Washington University’s arts and fashion scene. Now approaching its thirtieth issue, the biannual print magazine’s incisive articles and daring photoshoots have reached ever-more inspiring heights. With themes such as Iconoclast, Imbalance, Play, Taboo, and Consumption serving as guiding lights, Armour’s team has long been one of Off The Cuff’s biggest muses. Last week, I sat down with Editor-in-Chief Leena Bekhiet to discuss the fluid and hardworking nature of Armour’s remarkable community.
Off The Cuff: A few months ago, Faith Phillips released a piece called “The Rising Muse: Jonathan Anderson and Taylor Russell” on Armour’s website. What are some of Armour’s muses?
Armour: Definitely our alums. It’s so important to highlight all the talent that comes in and out of this club. It’s really about making a community you can reference back to once you graduate: we’ve fostered a network of Armour alumni that you can find a job through, get lunch with, or just be inspired by. We make a huge effort to feature past team members on our Instagram and website through alum spotlights, to show where they’ve ended up. And literally every single time they’re doing something incredible, and incredibly impactful, in the art scene. It’s really inspiring to reference back to them. Aside from our alums, some of our muses are our models. They’re so committed, and have so much love for Armour. The fact that they keep showing up, time and time again, every single year, is so wonderful.
Off The Cuff: Armour’s alumni includes visual designers at IBM, Google and the New York Times, as well as wildly successful entrepreneurs and freelance artists. Why does Armour attract and create such driven creatives?
Armour: Since WashU is such an academically driven school, it can be hard to break out of that mindset and find a good creative outlet. At the same time, having such a smart student body drives us to find creative people that can fuse really varied interests. So we have this incredibly interdisciplinary community, with incredibly multifaceted visions and focuses. For example, we might have a staff member who’s a business major and comp-sci minor, who has a secret passion for graphic design. More often than not, after working on Armour, it’s the creative fields that they end up thriving in. Armour cultivates a space where creative passion can grow and ideas can become reality, where people can explore such wild parts of their mind. Once you’ve been in an environment like that, your potential and motivation is unstoppable. We give people that confidence.
Off The Cuff: I absolutely adored the story you creative directed and styled for ‘Iconoclast’, which looked at a typical St. Louis icon, The Arch, and turned it on its head. In what ways does Armour connect with your community at large?
Armour: We do a lot of community outreach. We’re constantly trying to find creatives who want to be featured on our site. And that work is so important, because in the Midwest, things can feel a little limiting. When we reach out to creative spaces in St. Louis, we try to show them that we have a community that is really excited about art. And it’s usually a no-brainer for them: passionate people always want to collaborate with passionate people. We recently covered a fashion show that was completely separate from WashU. our Director of Couture, Maxine, showed her amazing dress designs on the runway, and our models modeled looks. It was this amazing feat of networking on Maxine’s part, and the event melded Armour’s community with our broader community in a really cool way. We’re always hoping to do more of that kind of thing in the future.
Off The Cuff: In this year alone, you’ve gone to multiple fashion shows, you’ve styled and directed countless photoshoots, you’ve increased your web presence, you’ve fostered a community of over 100 staff members. With all of these duties up in the air, I have to ask: what’s the vision for Season 30?
Armour: Oh, I love this question. For Season 30, the theme is ‘Spice’. It’s all about bringing flavor to the mundane. It’s a big, broad term, so people can make whatever they want with it: they can do a deep dive into literal spices and their historical contexts, they can zoom out and look at the word more conceptually, they could explore the different flavors of life. For example, one of our shoots is called ‘Black Gold’. It’s inspired by the extreme search for black pepper in the fifteenth century, which was led by Spanish colonizers. They tore down the Native American and African and Arab communities who had spices, with black pepper being the most sought after of them all. In this editorial, we’re flipping the narrative. We’re going for extreme luxury in order to reclaim history: our models will be black, with black pepper dripping from their hands. This physical, precious manifestation of power will be literally overflowing from the hands of our community. It’ll be incredibly celebratory. I initially thought of this concept, but I passed it onto our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and she’s taking it to entirely new levels. Now, it’s a collaboration with the African Students’ Association on campus, and has this incredible utopian aesthetic. On the complete other side, we have a shoot called ‘60 Seconds of Cinnamon’, exploring the cultural phenomena of the Cinnamon Challenge in 2012. Those two shoots really show the variety of the magazine.
Off The Cuff: Let’s say, years down the line, you’re visiting WashU’s campus and you find a copy from Armour season 60. What do you hope will be in its pages? How do you want Armour to evolve?
Armour: With ‘Spice’, I was trying to really display cultural voices on campus. Being Egyptian, there are so many spices that relate to my personal identity. I think of Egyptian dishes right away. And some members of Armour really resonated with that connection. I want to give people the opportunity to be out-there, be fun, but also bring in some personal influence. In a few years or a few decades, I want to see something so weird and so empowering that my eyes are glued to the page. I want to be continuously shocked and blown away by Armour. I never want to open the magazine and expect what’s on its pages.
Off The Cuff: Our team is so inspired by your team and your work, and we can’t wait to see what comes next. Do you have anything else you want to touch on?
Armour: I just want to emphasize how excited I am about this new collaboration. I think this is just the beginning. Our magazine’s are so similar, and I think there’s this sense of mutual awe at our communities, our magazines, these spaces we’re creating.