Photographed by Nick Sethi

Zine king Lele Saveri is creating a new kind of old-media empire in New York City.

Brooklyn by way of Rome artist Lele Saveri rolls up to Williamsburg’s Fortunato Brothers bakery on a blue vintage Schwinn Free Spirit with a black plastic milk crate secured to the back fender. His overall appearance has an old-country, old-timey vibe—aside from the bicycle, there’s the mustache and standard- issue canvas backpack—but speak to him for five minutes and it’s clear there’s nothing contrived about his aesthetic choices. He simply subscribes to the “if it’s not broke” philosophy, which, in his case, translates to a predilection for nearly obsolete things like film cameras, printed zines, and the company of others IRL. With a rare combination of artistic talent, entrepreneurial ambition, and a laid- back attitude, Saveri is the kind of guy who’d spend all night at the bar with you, drunkenly plotting out a million-dollar idea—and then wake up the next morning and actually follow it through to fruition. 

Case in point: the Newsstand, a pop-up zine shop and hangout for independent print-media enthusiasts that Saveri and the creative agency Alldayeveryday ran for much of last year inside the Metropolitan/Lorimer subway station. “It was supposed to go for a month,” he says, setting down two espressos on a small round table inside the bakery. The fact that the installation stretched for seven was a coup considering how the powers-that-be rarely entertain lease agreements of less than 10 years. Impossible to miss, the clever reimagining of a familiar urban space took off on Instagram and made stops at Miami’s Art Basel and Los Angeles’ Art Book Fair. “I will always miss it,” says Saveri. “But projects come and go. Otherwise I get really bored.”

His latest venture is a Brooklyn art space called Muddguts, which he opened with local tattoo artist Mark Cross. The friends had been wanting to re-create the Newsstand’s energy in a more per- manent locale. They found a spot they liked but were only given a week to decide on it. Around that time, Saveri’s friend Sandy Kim mentioned that she was looking for a place to hold a zine launch, which motivated the guys to seal the deal—they already had an inaugural event. “There were two weeks between when we signed the lease and our first show,” he says. “It was very intense.”

Saveri’s ability to spin a short attention span into creative pro- ductivity started back in Italy. After a childhood spent on the same block where both of his parents were born, he was itching to see the rest of the world. “Rome is just Romans. Everyone there is from Rome. You don’t escape.” But by 20, Saveri was in London, shooting images of graffiti for fun and working in the kitchen of a fast-food restaurant for money, a job that left him stressed and tired beyond his years. On the advice of a girlfriend, he took a photography course and developed his bright, otherworldly style, eventually catching the attention of Vice magazine, which had just begun operating in Europe. For them, he shot photojournalistic stories depicting native Peruvian villagers wearing modern updates on traditional dress—think: a taxi- dermied bird hat atop a knit mask and embroidered denim jacket—as well as twilit, natural-style fashion shoots. Seven years later, he was back in Italy, helping Vice open its Milan office.

It didn’t take long for him to get too comfortable, i.e., bored. “When I was 30, I was seeing a girl in New York, and from afar, it looked like there was so much going on,” he recalls. He settled in Williamsburg with a childhood friend from Rome and was quickly recruited to revive a local billiards hall. “It was a project I decided to do entirely for free,” he says. “This man had been running it for 10 years, but he was struggling with attracting the neighborhood’s newer residents.” Saveri had never worked in a bar before, but he improvised. He organized book releases, video screenings, and a zine fair. Grand Billiards only lasted another year, but the experience energized Saveri, and the 8 Ball Zine Fair now takes place twice a year in different pool halls throughout the city. New York’s art establishment is also taking notice of his work. At the end of April, Saveri and two friends will take over the National Arts Club for “It’s an Invasion,” a group show featuring an opening-night performance by the rock band Skaters.

Saveri gulps down the rest of his espresso and suggests we walk over to Muddguts. It takes only a few minutes to arrive at the unassuming storefront on Montrose Avenue. He unlocks the padlock on the roll-up gate to reveal a slightly scuffed white- painted gallery, the current show title scrawled on a wall in pencil. “We’re trying to develop it into a space where many things are happening, not a shop window but a think tank, where you go and do things and produce stuff and get inspired to do more stuff,” he says. “We don’t dislike the digital world. We have a website, but that’s just to gather more people to the phys- ical space to buy a zine or look at art or watch a movie. In order to work toward that, we have to build tables and chairs, and that’s what we’re going to do today.” With that, Saveri hands over a stack of zines, sends me on my way, and gets back to work.