The Malta Independent 21 October 2021, Thursday

FIRST: A tribute to Daphne, the editor and aesthete

Friday, 17 November 2017, 08:15 Last update: about 5 years ago

In Daphne Caruana Galizia’s professional life, on one hand she was a bold investigative journalist, and on the other, perhaps less recognized side, a classy lifestyle magazine editor. As a tribute to Daphne, the editor and aesthete, First magazine spoke to Taste&Flair designer and Daphne’s long-time publishing comrade, Ramon Micallef.

Around the inside of a room in the offices of The Malta Independent, copies of Daphne's Taste&Flair magazines are stacked in piles, in a fortification-like manner. Each of these piles is not only a pile of magazines but also a pile of ideas: meals, furnishings, décor and detail, all colourfully chosen and detailed and carefully edited by Daphne over the past decade or so.

A few days after the tragic news of her brutal killing, her Pinterest account was resurfaced and shared on social media. One person posted it alongside the words '...her styling spoke of another form of politics; of hope, of belief in what this country had to offer, and ultimately, of beauty. From her ethnic inspired chandelier earrings to how she spoke about the great romanticism of unkempt gardens, Daphne Caruana Galizia was an aesthete.'

Indeed, clicking on her public Pinterest page is really like having an insight into what appealed to her aesthetically. She pinned and neatly categorised compilations of subjects that tickled her visual interest: botanical prints, pineapples, indoor plants, old chintz, shells and découpages, to name a few.

As a tribute to Daphne - the person who knew quality when she saw it - we spoke to Ramon, her long-term colleague and designer, and looked through her publications to pay tribute to her inspiration and words of wisdom when it came to quality living. 

How would you describe Daphne as an editor and colleague?

Daphne was a super-organised work machine. As a magazine editor, she had the ability to be both super-efficient and still creative at the same time. Every month, we allocated a slot to work on Taste&Flair... an incredibly short time window of 48 hours, in which we used to design the whole publication.

Needless to say, more often than not this meant a super-concentrated effort which would in itself include two sleepless nights. And yet, no matter how many times we tried to span it over more days, we always ended up squashing it all in this time capsule. For those two days, Daphne would drop off her blog (to the disappointment of her followers), and focus entirely on getting the magazine ready.

We hardly met. We had a strong email relationship based on many years of knowing and understanding each other. From an editorial side, she was incredible... she would send me proof-read text in advance, and I only recall a couple of occasions when she asked me to do text corrections. I think she was every designer's dream editor and colleague.


For how long had you worked with her and what different publications did you work on together?

I worked with Daphne on several publications. When I started off in my career, as a young 17-year old at JP Advertising, she was editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. I always used to admire her way of being able to raise three boys - who are practically the same age - and come to the office to discuss page designs.

At that time, things were different. No email meant that there had to be more physical presence: corrections and changes had to be marked and done there and then, not to mention the fact that, upon approval, everything had to go through the mechanical darkroom process before going to print.

After that, there was another period of time in the mid-1990s when she was the editor of Highflyer magazine, an MIA publication which I used to design too. I believe that this lasted for a couple of years.

In 2003, we worked on a book for her friend Matty Cremona: A Year in the Country and contemporaneously, my wife and design partner Antoinette designed another book for her, Tisjir biz-zejt taz-Zebbuga. I think that working on these two books kicked in her the idea of a food-dedicated magazine.

A year later, after regular discussions at our favourite Prego coffee shop in Valletta, we launched Taste magazine, which was immediately very well-received by the general public. Up to today, it has reached 103 issues - all of which I am proud to have designed. A couple of years after we launched Taste, she also started another two magazines: Flair, which was the sister publication of Taste, and Town. Antoinette used to work on these other two publications which were eventually integrated into the present Taste&Flair.


As the designer of Daphne's magazine, what could you say about her aesthetic?

Daphne was a very colourful person; she loved to be surrounded by artists, books and culture and the magazine represents very much her appreciation of beauty. When she started Taste, she wanted to make sure that it was not just another Sunday newspaper magazine. By then, I knew her well enough to understand what she wanted, and I remember showing her my initial design ideas and watching her eyes glow with excitement. She invested heavily in photography, always commissioning the best local photographers to give her the quality of the images she wanted. Eventually, she became more involved in this, and she used to attend the actual photo-shoots and even style them herself - turning up on set with bags of books, newspaper cuttings and other props which she felt would give an added level to the end product.


Many people imagine Daphne as the journalist she was through her online blog, but I feel that Taste&Flair showed a very different side of her. Do you agree?

I agree 100 per cent. In her blog, Daphne used to write about the things that she disliked and condemned what irritated her. In Taste & Flair, she wrote about what she loved and what she considered as beautiful. Through the magazine, the harsh critic and purveyor of truth mellowed into the softer, feminine artistic person that those who were lucky enough to be closer to her know. The blog represented her black and white side, where there was no room for anything in between. On the other hand, the magazine was a mirror of her rainbow side.


How do you feel Taste&Flair has developed over time?

When we started the magazine, Antoinette and I used to work in the same office as Daphne. We did this for a number of years, until we realised that we could very easily do what we were doing from our homes. Needless to say, the physical presence of Daphne meant that we would spend more time looking at pages and discussing design ideas. Over time, the relationship developed to one of complete trust in each other, until we reached a point where lately we would only actually meet two or three times a year, and usually not even to discuss work, but more to enjoy a nice meal, or to exchange gifts at Christmas, or so on. Taste&Flair had grown from a baby, to a child and is now living its teenage years. Like proud parents, I feel that we saw it being born and admired it growing up. I hope that we managed to give it a solid foundation but, at the same time, let it express itself over the years to always remain young at heart.


What did you learn from Daphne?

It is impossible not to learn anything from Daphne. She was a serious professional and an amazing woman. Her sheer determination to accomplish things and to do them in the best possible way is probably the thing I will always cherish. I feel blessed to have been lucky enough to be very close to her and her amazing family and friends.

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