Traffic is a trailblazing fashion publication based in San Jose, Costa Rica. I was fortunate to spend some time with the magazine's co-founder and creative director, Juan M. Durán, who graciously shared a glimpse into his world along with insights into the fashion scene at large in Costa Rica.
Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Interview date: January 15, 2015
Through the wonders of AirB&B, our first night on the road was spent basking in laid back chic at the “Art House” abode of Juan and Oscar. It didn’t take long to realize that (apart from being serious contenders as Costa Rica’s cutest couple) these guys are real movers and shakers in San Jose’s rising creative class
Juan M. Durán is co-owner and creative director of Traffic, a stunning and truly pioneering fashion lifestyle magazine based in Escazú, San Jose. Though still in its first year of publication, Traffic is impressively “legit”—printed 25 x 36cm on luscious paper stock with an elegant matte finish, it immediately evokes aesthetic and tactile parallels to Número and i-D. But beyond the beautifully crafted execution, content reigns supreme. Rather than focusing solely on foreign designers and faraway trends, Traffic has set a new precedent by seamlessly integrating Costa Rican designers and capsules of local culture within each editorial spread. The result is an accessible yet equally inspired vision, one that surprises and delights from within the walls that readers know best while still transporting them to exotic and aspirational escapes.
Among the internationally acclaimed photographers to have graced the magazine's pages are Szymon Brodziak of Poland and Mexico's Santiago Ruiseñor and Freddy Koh. To no surprise, the magazine has been very well received so far, and the fifth (bimonthly) issue is currently underway.
Below are some excerpts from my interview with Juan about the birth of Traffic, the journey thus far, and his vision for a well-curated Costa Rican aesthetic.
VV: How did you get into the magazine industry?
JD: My early background is the advertising agency world. While I was working for one agency, I had the opportunity to take on a freelance job for Casa Galería, which is a Costa Rican luxury lifestyle magazine. Not long after, they made me an offer to come on full-time. It’s been six years since then, and now I have my own editorial house with two other partners.
VV: How was Traffic born?
JD: After five years working for Casa Galería, I had reached a plateau and was no longer learning. I would come up with ideas and pitch them to the team, and while they would agree I was always under close supervision. It came time to do my own thing. One evening over a couple glasses of wine the administrative director at CG (and also a close friend), Gabriela, got to talking about some ideas. I shared with her my vision for a luxury tourism and culture magazine, and we had a huge brainstorm session. By the end of the night, she had decided to come with me and do it. About 15 days later we quit our jobs and formed Welcome, which is a luxury lifestyle magazine. After we had put out two or three issues, a very well known Costa Rican model and businesswoman named Leonora Jiménez appeared. She had seen Welcome and had always dreamed of launching a (Costa Rican-based) fashion magazine but did not have the expertise to do it herself. She partnered with Gabi and I and that is howTraffic was born.
VV: What is the central concept that Traffic embodies? What does it aim to do that other publications in Costa Rica are not accomplishing?
JD: The idea was to create a high-end fashion magazine like Número or Vogue but in a tropical way, for Costa Rica. To have a good title, but also to teach people, to show them visually what works. If you can educate people on how to have a well-trained eye, it creates a better country, a better pace, a more visually fluent society. So on one hand we wanted to do this, and on the other hand of course we wanted to make it profitable commercially speaking.
Size and design are hugely important to us. We wanted a big format, but we are also very focused on quality contributors. The way I see it is that right now, we are not even close…but still, we are trying to make a change in the industry here. Finding models in Costa Rica is crazy (difficult); finding good photographers here is crazy; great stylists are almost impossible to find; but we want to change that.
I believe you have to pay attention every single day to what’s happening out there around the world in order to have an educated eye. You have to know what the best are doing, and only once you’re there can you start to innovate. While other people in the industry here don’t seem to understand that, for us these are the basics. We know we’re going to get there with time. And so far, the magazine has been very well received.
VV: How do you strike a balance in the magazine between making it relevant to Costa Rican people while adhering to very high standards for the look and content?
JD: Part of the commercial balance is about featuring stores that have a presence here in Costa Rica; these are the people who advertise. The idea is that we can help make sales for our ad clients while sharing an artistic vision. Here in Costa Rica, we don’t have Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabana, Prada, or any of the great luxury brands that are also very expensive; nor do we have a developed industry for great local design that is in any way affordable. So it’s about saying to the reader: this is cool, and you can find these items and be part of these trends and have lots of options and ways to engage with the fashion industry with the resources that you have.
VV: Who are your main ad clients?
JD: Mango, Max Mara, OVS, Zara, Pull & Bear, Forever21—these are all global chains with a presence here in Costa Rica which are consistent ad clients for us. We also run ads for national department stores, jewelry stores, and local designers and boutiques. Sometimes we even partner with our clients to shoot the ads they will run in the magazine—it just depends on the relationship. To stay profitable, we also do corporate imagery separate from the magazine for some clients, which typically has an editorial angle but is of course commercial in nature. Overall, it’s a very organic and case-by-case approach.
VV: Who are some of the Costa Rican designers we should know about?
JD: For me the best Costa Rican designer is Daniel Moreda. He started as a fashion student in New York and eventually went on to work on a line with Oscar de la Renta. His designs are gorgeous and his tailoring is impeccable. Another is Marcelle Desanti; her designs for women are very tropical and influenced by a Caribbean spirit. There’s a jewelry designer here called Ana Gutiérrez who has three stores and is well known for her amazing pieces. And of course, all of these designers have been featured in Traffic.
VV: We have already talked a bit about the rising creative movement happening in Costa Rica right now and its new generation of creators and entrepreneurs. How does Traffic fit in with this movement?
JD: I do think there’s a creative “muse” in the air right now, but don’t think it’s that active or powerful yet… Costa Rican people have a tendency to be a bit lazy. But this is because we’re not perfectionists, we are satisfied, we are happy. Costa Rica is known as one of the happiest countries in the world. It’s amazing actually, with all the problems here and being in the midst of a huge political crisis. And it’s a good thing! But only to an extent. On another level it’s negative, because it prevents us from developing and evolving.
Traffic can be found on the shelves of Casa de las Revistas, the predominating magazine shop in Costa Rica, along with Spoon, a popular cafe and eatery throughout the country. I couldn't be more excited to follow the evolution of the magazine as it breaks new boundaries in latin america and becomes a known title around the world.
It comes as no surprise that Juan is also a tremendously talented fine artist. His paintings, typically acrylic on canvas mixed with other media such as watercolor and oil paint, embody a modern yet equally enchanted sprit. They portray women who are dreamy and bright while strong and intentional—a perfect parallel to Traffic’s own aesthetic, the stories on its pages, and the Costariqueñas who read it.
See more of Juan's art here.