Created by photographer Oliviero Toscani and art director Tibor Kalman in 1991 to show the world to the world. The message has remained the same: diversity is good.
The first issue got straight to the point. With a vernix-coated baby seconds after birth still attached to its umbilical cord, the issue's editorial discussed whether it was right to have "cut down 6,000 trees" to produce the magazine and how what mattered was "that your culture (whoever you are) is as important as our culture (whoever we are)".
The magazine looks at social issues by following them around the world and treating everything with the same naivety to give a glimpse of what's going on through first-person interviews and photography. The magazine has been translated into over 15 languages including Korean, Russian and Greek.
Toscani hired creative director Tibor Kalman, an amazing mind with a communicative intuition, as well as an incredible background as founder of M&Co and a creative director and "creative troublemaker" "Interview" magazine. A self-described "perverse optimist", he gladly took up the challenge.
COLORS was different from "normal" magazines in many ways, but its heart was the idea that photographs and images could convey as much information as pages of text. Graphic pictures, crisp design and clear language led some to call it the representative magazine for the "MTV generation" (whoever they were). Kalman described it as, " as mix of 'National Geographic' and 'Life", on acid".
Toscani's rule of thumb was that the magazine should use unforgettable images, Kalman wanted clearly designed pages printed on non-glossy, recycled paper and clear, fact-laden, inspiring text. Their vision created a magazine with the unique style that didn't fit into any traditional journalistic form. Each issue had a theme and was free of celebrities, news, columnists and by-lines, replacing the empty, engineered excitement of contemporary pop culture with ordinary heroes: people like the Gay Officers League in New York City, aspiring gymnasts in China or child rag pickers in India.
Then you could turn to the Yellow Pages in the back and discover ways to get involved. The “YPs" were a pre-Internet global resource of the silliest, most important and just plain interesting groups, charities, events and places to visit. They let you discover where you could adopt a goat for a family in Uganda, buy recycled computer screens from China or send used eyeglasses.
COLORS was originally conceived as a nomadic magazine that would wander the world. After being founded in New York, it moved to Rome, then Paris, before moving to Fabrica, Benetton's Communication Research Center in Treviso, northern Italy in 1997.
It is still there and the Center's young photographers, designers, writers and researchers from all over the world now put together the magazine. (Fabrica also puts together COLORS' award-winning website.)
Sometimes, COLORS gets its wanderlust back, packs it bags and heads off to discover a new place. These location issues have uncovered different sides to Baracoa (Cuba), Venice (Italy), Birmingham (UK) and the Brazilian Amazon.
COLORS has been a point of reference for many in the editorial and advertising world. Its 82 issues have received good press, bad press, fan letters, hate mail and censorship. Some have caused international controversy, but it's never been gratuitous. The magazine has always remained true to its founding idea; that there is much to discover and see, we just need to keep our eyes and minds wide open.
COLORS was a pioneer in explaining how globalization is changing our lives and one of the first media outlets that encouraged people to think globally and act locally. It has faithfully documented our changing world by highlighting the lives of the people who live in it, underlining the fact that cultural diversity is ever more important on an increasingly homogenized planet.