Anyone with access to a large stash of vintage fashion magazines (thanks, public library system!) can imagine how difficult it would be to pick just one cover to highlight each month. But that’s our plan with monthly fashion flashbacks, posted on or around the first of the month. For July, this was especially challenging: Have you seen the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for the month of July just through the 1960s? Nearly every one of them is by Richard Avedon and seems to be competing against the other to be more gorgeous than the one before and after. It’s an impossible task; across the boards they’re all mired in a dead heat of fabulousness.
So we went in another direction, a little further back to 1956, when Alexey Brodovitch was the art director at Harper’s Bazaar. With his daring direction of simply “astonish me,” Brodovitch not only redesigned the look of Bazaar—he introduced its iconic Didot font logo, for one—but redefined the look of all fashion magazines. The collage illustration on the July 1956 cover is an inspiration, then and today.
In “140 Years of Bazaar,” the magazine describes how editor Carmel Snow discovered Brodovitch, then working as an art teacher in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts), when he curated an innovative art exhibition for the Art Directors Club of New York. It was a show that broke whatever rules had been established for presenting artwork at the time, with floating panels and unconventional methods of arrangement. The New York Times wrote that the presented advertisements created “A large and interesting show…for the consumer as well, who may here take stock of the barrage of subtle suggestion with which his daily life is pleasantly but insistently assailed.”
At the preview on April 13, 1934, Snow called the show a revelation, writing in her autobiography “The World of Carmel Snow,” “I saw a fresh, new conception of layout technique…pages that ‘bled’ beautifully cropped photographs, typography and design that were bold and arresting. Within ten minutes I had asked Brodovitch to have cocktails with me, and that evening I signed him to a provisional contract as art director.”
Bazaar tells the story a bit differently, but we now know that Brodovitch took Snow up on her offer. Records show he leased an apartment in the Upper East Side at 239 East 72nd Street six months later on October 10, 1934. Brodovitch inspired some of the greatest visual artists of the 20th century, with Bazaar citing his use of white space as evidence and “the cinematic quality that his obsessive cropping brought to layouts (not even the work of Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson was safe from his busy scissors).” Among the cast of international artists that worked for Bazaar under Brodovitch were Jean Cocteau, Raoul Dufy, Leonor Fini, Marc Chagall and A.M. Cassandre, the latter a popular French poster artist who dethroned Erté, until then the go-to favorite for fashion magazine cover art.
Brodovitch was sadly plagued by alcoholism and left Bazaar in 1958. He took on occasional freelance work, but his 24 years at Bazaar remain his masterpiece. Anyone with an interest in fashion should get familiar with Brodovitch’s work; Wikipedia has an extensive and readable biography, but “Alexey Brodovitch” (Phaidon Press 2002) by Kerry Williams Purcell is a must-read, and Assouline’s “Alexey Brodovitch” is a knockout, if you can get your hands on a copy.
Was this July fashion flashback inspiring? What are your favorite July covers?
Photo: Cover of Harper’s Bazaar July 1956 issue courtesy of Hearst Magazines.