Flair Magazine: The Short-Lived, Highly-Influential Magazine That Still Inspires Designers Today (1950)

All magazines are their editors, but Flair was more its editor than any magazine had been before — or, for that matter, than any magazine has been since. Though she came to the end of her long life in England, a country to which she had expatriated with her fourth husband, a Briton, Fleur Cowles was as American a cultural figure as they come. Born Florence Freidman in 1908, she had performed on herself an unknowable number of Gatsbyesque acts of reinvention by 1950, when she found herself in a position to launch Flair. Her taste in husbands helped, married as she then was to Gardner “Mike” Cowles Jr., publisher of Look, a popular photo journal that Fleur had helped to lift from its lowbrow origins and make respectable among that all-powerful consumer demographic, postwar American women.

The success of the reinvented Look “allowed Cowles to ask her husband for what she really wanted: the capital to start her own publication, which she called ‘a class magazine,'” writes Eye on Design’s Rachel Syme. “She was tired of spreads about the best linoleum; she wanted to do an entire issue on Paris, or hire Ernest Hemingway to write a travel essay, or commission Colette to gossip about her love affairs.”

During Flair‘s run she did all that and more, with a roster of contributors also including Salvador Dalí, Simone de Beauvoir, W. H. Auden, Gloria Swanson, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jean Cocteau. In Flair‘s debut issue, published in February 1950, “an article on the 28-year-old Lucian Freud came liberally accompanied with reproductions of his art—the first ever to appear in America.”

So writes Vanity Fair‘s Amy Fine Collins in a profile of Clowes. “Angus Wilson and Tennessee Williams contributed short stories, Wilson’s printed on paper textured to resemble slubbed silk.” What’s more, “The Duke and Duchess of Windsor opened their home to Flair’s readers, treating them to their recondite and entertaining tips. A more futuristic approach to living was set forth in a two-page spread on Richard Kelly’s lighting design for Philip Johnson’s glass house in Connecticut.” Feature though it may have the work of an astonishingly varied group of luminaries — pulled in by Cowles’ vast and deliberately woven social net — Flair is even more respected today for each issue’s lavish, elaborate, and distinctive design.

“If a feature would be better in dimension than on flat pages, why not fold half-pages inside double-page spreads?” asks Cowles in her memoirs, quoted in Print magazine. “Why not bind it as ‘a little book’ … giving it a special focus? If a feature was better ‘translated’ on textured paper, why use shiny paper?” And “if a painting was good enough to frame, why not print it on properly heavy stock? Why not bind little accordion folders into each issue to give the feeling of something more personal to the content?” One reason is the $2.5 million (1950 dollars) that Mike Cowles estimated Flair to have cost in the year it ran before he pulled its plug.

But then, by the early 1970s even the highly profitable Look had to fold — and of the two magazines, only one has become ever more sought-after, has books published in its tribute, and still inspires designers today. To take a closer look at the magazine, see The Best of Flaira  compilation of the magazine’s best content as chosen by Fleur Cowles herself. (See a video preview of the book above.)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Fonts in Use: Enter a Giant Archive of Typography, Featuring 12,618 Typefaces

Type selection is an intensive process that requires intimate knowledge of a brand’s values, audience, competition, voice, and goals.

Fonts in Use, FAQ

Fonts in Use is a typography nerd’s dream come true.

The 10-year-old independent archive of typography has collected over 17,000 designs, each using at least one of over 12,000 typeface families from more than 3,500 type companies. Each font is contextualized with images depicting them in the wild, on everything from wine labels and storefronts to book covers, record albums, movie posters and of course, advertising of all shapes and sizes.

Fonts can create unlikely bedfellows.

The Ramones‘ iconic seal achieved its presidential look thanks to ITC Tiffany.

Other memorable appearances include the first edition cover of Italo Calvino’s experimental novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler and the titles for Hammer Film’s 1980 anthology TV series, Hammer House of Horror.

Fonts in Use’s managing editor, Florian Hardwig, describes ITC Tiffany as “Ed Benguiat’s 1974 revisitation and interpretation of 19th-century faces like West Old Style or Old Style Title,” noting such “Victorian details” as “large angled serifs and sharply terminated diagonals.”

The principal cast of Law & Order underwent several changes over the show’s 20-year run, but Friz Quadrata remained a constant, supplying titles and such necessary details as location, time, and date.

Friz Quadrata should be equally familiar to Dungeons & Dragons players of a certain age and fans of Garden Wafers, the packaged cookies from Hong Kong that are a staple of stateside Asian markets.

Artist Barbara Kruger‘s distinctive text-based work places overt commentary in white italicized Futura on red bands on top of black and white images.

Futura was also the face of a tourist map to Berlin during the 1936 summer Olympics and author David Rees’ tongue-in-cheek guide How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.

Comic Sans may not get much love out in the real world, but it’s well represented in the archive’s user submissions.

You’ll find growing numbers of fonts in Cyrillic, as well as fonts familiar to readers of ChineseJapaneseKoreanArabicGreek and Hebrew

Newbie Netflix Sans keeps company with 19th-century sans Bureau Grot, a favorite of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

Fat AlbertTintorettoBenguiat CaslonScorpio, Hoopla and Saphir are your ticket back to a far groovier period in the history of graphic art.

Spend an hour or two rummaging through the collection and we guarantee you’ll feel an urgent need to upload typographic examples pulled from your shelves and cabinets.

Fonts in Use welcomes such submissions, as long as type is clearly visible in your uploaded image and isor wasin use (as opposed to an example of lettering for lettering’s sake). They will also consider custom typefaces which are historically significant or otherwise outstanding, and those that are available to the general public. Please include a short description in your commentary, and whenever possible, credit any designers, photographers, or sources of your image.

Typography nerds are standing by to help.

Begin your explorations of Fonts in Use here. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the Staff Picks are a great place to start.

via MetaFilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hokusai’s Iconic Print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” Recreated with 50,000 LEGO Bricks

For those with the time, skill, and drive, LEGO is the perfect medium for wildly impressive recreations of iconic structures, like the Taj MahalEiffel Tower, the Titanic and now the Roman Colosseum.

But water? A wave?

And not just any wave, but Katsushika Hokusai‘s celebrated 19th-century woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

As Open Culture’s Colin Marshall pointed out earlier, you might not know the title, but the image is instantly recognizable.

Artist Jumpei Mitsui, the world’s youngest LEGO Certified Professional, was undeterred by the thought of tackling such a dynamic and well known subject.

While other LEGO enthusiasts have created excellent facsimiles of famous artworks, doing justice to the curves and implied motion of The Great Wave seems a nearly impossible feat.

Having spent his childhood in a house by the sea, waves are a familiar presence to Mitsui. To get a better sense of how they work, he read several scientific papers and spent four hours studying wave videos on YouTube.

He made only one preparatory sketch before beginning the build, an effort that required 50,000 some LEGO pieces.

His biggest hurdle was choosing which color bricks to use in the area indicated by the red arrow in the photo below. Hokusai had taken advantage of the newly affordable Berlin blue pigment in the original.

Mitsui tweeted:

I tried a total of 7 colors including transparent parts, but in the end, I adopted the same blue color as the waves. If you use other colors, the lines will be overemphasized and unnatural, but if you use blue, the shade will be created just by adjusting the light, and the natural lines will appear nicely. It can be said that it was possible because it was made three-dimensional.

Jumpei Mitsui’s wave is now on permanent view at Osaka’s Hankyu Brick Museum.

via Spoon and Tamago and Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold the Steampunk Home Exercise Machines from the Victorian Age

The pandemic has resulted in a lot of people reinventing their fitness regimens, investing in pricey items like Mirror and Peloton bikes to turn homes into home gyms.

Personally, we’re saving our pennies until some Etsy seller replicates the mechanical therapy systems of Dr. Gustav Zander (1835–1920).

From the mid-19th century through WWI, these machines were at the forefront of gym culture. Their function is extremely similar to modern strength training equipment, but their design exudes a dashing steampunk flair.

If the thing that’s going to help us work off all this sourdough weight is going to wind up colonizing half our apartment, we want something that will go with our maximalist thrift store aesthetic.

We might even start working out in floor length skirts and three piece suits in homage to Zander’s original devotees.

His 27 machines addressed abs, arms, adductors—all the greatest hits—using weights and levers to strengthen muscles through progressive exertion and resistance. Specially trained assistants were on hand to adjust the weights, a luxury that our modern world has seen fit to phase out.

Just as 21st-century fitness centers position themselves as lifesavers of those who spend the bulk of the day hunched in front of a computer, Zander’s inventions targeted sedentary office workers.

The industrial society that created this new breed of laborer also ensured that the Swedish doctor’s contraptions would garner accolades and attention. They were already a hit in their land of origin when they took a gold medal at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

The flagship Therapeutic Zander Institute in Stockholm expanded, with branches in London and New York City.

The New York Times described the latter as giving the “uninitiated observer an impression of a carefully devised torture chamber more than of a doctor’s office or a gymnasium, both of which functions the institute, to a certain degree, fills.”

Surely no more tortuous than the blood lettingblistering, and purging that were also thought healthful at the time…

See more of Dr. Gustav Zander’s exercise machines here.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. This month, she appearsas a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Eden Project Built a Rainforest Ecosystem Inside Buckminster Fuller-Inspired Geodesic Domes

Buckminster Fuller had a difficult time as an inventor in his early years. “Having been expelled from Harvard for irresponsible conduct,” notes The Guardian, “he struggled to find a job and provide a living for his young family in his early 30s.” Despite later successes, and a later reputation as legendary as Nikola Tesla’s, he was often, like Tesla, seen by critics as a utopian visionary, whose visions were too impractical to really change the world.

But his body of work remains a testament to an imagination that rises above the trends of industrial design and engineering. After a period of decline, for example, Fuller’s geodesic domes experienced a revival in the early 2000’s when “aging baby-boomers across America” began “building dream homes in the shape of geodesic domes.” Meanwhile in Cornwall, England, a few years ahead of the curve, Dutch-born businessman and archaeologist-turned-successful-music-producer Sir Timothy Smit broke ground on what would become a far more British use of Fullerist principles.

In the late 90s, Smit started work on an enormous complex of geodesic biomes called the Eden Project, a facility “akin to a quintessentially Victorian creation: the English greenhouse,” which reached its apex in the famed “Crystal Palace” built for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. These were buildings “born out of a playful, decadent imagination—yet in their architecture and design they often opened new pathways for the future.” So too do Fuller’s designs, in an application melding Victorian and Fullerist ideas about curatorship and sustainability.

Looking like “clusters of soap bubbles” the Eden Project slowly rose above an exhausted clay pit and opened in 2001 (see a short time-lapse film of the construction above). Each of the two huge central domes recreates an ecosystem. The Rainforest Biome allows visitors to get lost in nearly 4 acres of tropical forest and includes banana, coffee, and rubber plants. The Mediterranean Biome houses an acre and a half of olives and grape vines. Smaller adjoining domes house thousands of additional plant species. There is a performance space and a yearly music festival; sculptures and art exhibitions in both the indoor and outdoor gardens. The facility has hosted well over a million visitors each year.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, the Eden Project began planting redwoods, introducing a forest of the North American trees to Europe for the first time. Next year, it will begin drilling for a geothermal energy project to turn heat from the granite underground into power, an undertaking that, unlike fracking, will not release contaminants into the water supply or additional fossil fuels into the air and could power and heat the facility and 5000 additional homes. In 2018, the project began construction on Eden Project North, in Morecambe, Lancashire, with buildings designed to look like giant mussels and a focus on marine environments.

Eden Project International aims to build unique facilities all around the world, “to create new attractions with a message of environmental, social and economic regeneration” and “to protect and rejuvenate natural landscapes.” None of these ambitious expansions use the geodesic domes of the original Eden Project, but that is not a reflection on the domes’ structural soundness. Many other transparent uses of Fuller’s design have encountered difficulties with water tightness and heat flow. The Eden Project’s domes use innovative inflatable, triangular panels instead of glass to solve those problems. Fuller surely would have approved.

The project also represents a poignant personal vindication for the Fuller family. Fuller “vowed to dedicate his life to improving standards of living through good design,” The Guardian writes, after his daughter Alexandra died in 1922. In 2009, his only surviving child, Allegra Fuller Snyder, then 82 and Chairwoman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, visited the Eden Project. “Of all the projects related to my father’s work,” she remarked afterward, “I would say that this is the one I am most aware of as being a powerful, comprehensive project…. My father would have been just thrilled. He would feel that it is a marvellous application of his thinking.”

Learn more about the Eden Project, which reopens December 3, here. And learn how to “create Eden wherever you are” with the project’s free resources for gardeners at home.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Discover the Cyanometer, the Device Invented in 1789 Just to Measure the Blueness of the Sky

English astronomer and physicist James Jeans’ 1931 essay “Why the Sky is Blue” has become a classic of concise expository writing since it was first published in a series of talks. In only four paragraphs and one strikingly detailed, yet simple analogy, Jeans gave millions of students a grasp of celestial blueness in prose that does not substitute nature’s poetry for scientific jargon and diagrams.

Over a hundred years earlier, another scientist created a similarly poetic device; in this case, one which attempted to depict how the sky is blue. Swiss physicist Horace Bénédict de Saussure’s 1789 Cyanometer, “a circle of paper swatches dyed in increasingly deep blues, shading from white to black,” Sarah Laskow writes at Atlas Obscura, “included 52 blues… in its most advanced iteration,” intended to show “how the color of the sky changed with elevation.”

Saussure’s fascination with the blueness of the sky began when he was a young student and traveled to the base of Mont Blanc. Overawed by the summit, he dreamt of climbing it, but instead used his family’s wealth to offer a reward to the first person who could. Twenty-seven years later, Saussure himself would ascend to the top, in 1786, carrying with him “pieces of paper colored different shades of blue, to hold up against the sky and match its color.”

Saussure was taken with a phenomenon reported by mountaineers: as one climbs higher, the sky turns a deeper shade of blue. He began to formulate a hypothesis, the Royal Society of Chemistry Explains:

Armed with his tools and a small chemistry set, he trekked round the valleys and beyond. As his trips carried him ever higher, he puzzled about the colour of the sky. Local legend had it that if one climbed high enough it turned black and one would see, or even fall into, the void – such terrors kept ordinary men away from the peaks. But to Saussure, the blue colour was an optical effect. And because on some days the blue of the sky faded imperceptibly into the white of the clouds, Saussure concluded that the colour must indicate its moisture content. 

At the top of Mont Blanc, the physicist measured what he deemed “a blue of the 39th degree.” The number meant little to anyone but him. “Upon its invention, the cyanometer rather quickly fell into disuse,” as Maria Gonzalez de Leon points out. “After all, very little scientific information was given.”

The tool did, however, accompany the famed geographer Alexander von Humboldt across the Atlantic, “to the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, and South America,” writes Laskow, where Humboldt “set a new record, at the 46th degree of blue, for the darkest sky ever measured” on the summit of the Andean mountain Chimborazo. This would be one of the only notable uses of the poetic device. “When the true cause of the sky’s blueness, the scattering of light, was discovered decades later, in the 1860s, Saussure’s circle of blue had already fallen into obscurity.”

via MessyNessy/Colossal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Trips on the World’s Oldest Electric Suspension Railway in 1902 & 1917 Show How a City Changes Over a Century

Today we take a ride on the world’s oldest electric suspension railway—the Wuppertal Schwebebahn in Germany.

Actually, we’ll take two rides, traveling back in time to do so, thanks to YouTuber pwduze, who had a bit of fun trying to match up two videos discovered online for comparison’s sake.

The journey on the left was filmed in 1902, when this miracle of modern engineering was but a year old.

The train passes over a broad road traveled mostly by pedestrians.

Note the absence of cars, traffic lights, and signage, as well as the proliferation of greenery, animals, and space between houses.

The trip on the right was taken much more recently, shortly after the railway began upgrading its fleet to cars with cushioned seats, air conditioning, information displays, LED lighting, increased access for people with disabilities and regenerative brakes.

An extended version at the bottom of this page provides a glimpse of the control panel inside the driver’s booth.

There are some changes visible beyond the windshield, too.

Now, cars, buses, and trucks dominate the road.

A large monument seems to have disappeared at the 2:34 mark, along with the plaza it once occupied.

Fieldstone walls and 19th-century architectural flourishes have been replaced with bland cement.

There’s been a lot of building—and rebuilding. 40% of Wuppertal’s buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII.

Although Wuppertal is still the greenest city in Germany, with access to public parks and woodland paths never more than a ten-minute walk away, the views across the Wupper river to the right are decidedly less expansive.

As Benjamin Schneider observes in Bloomberg CityLab:

For the Schwebebahn’s first riders at the turn of the 20th century, these vistas along the eight-mile route must have been a revelation. Many of them would have ridden trains and elevators, but the unobstructed, straight-down views from the suspended monorail would have been novel, if not terrifying.

The bridge structures appear to have changed little over the last 120 years, despite several safety upgrades.

Those steampunk silhouettes are a testament to the planning—and expense—that resulted in this unique mass transit system, whose origin story is summarized by Elmar Thyen, head of Schwebebahn’s Corporate Communications and Strategic Marketing:

We had a situation with a very rich city, and very rich citizens who were eager to be socially active. They said, ‘Which space is publicly owned so we don’t have to go over private land?… It might make sense to have an elevated railway over the river.’

In the end, this is what the merchants wanted. They wanted the emperor to come and say, ‘This is cool, this is innovative: high tech, and still Prussian.’

At present, the suspension railway is only operating on the weekends, with a return to regular service anticipated for August 2021. Face masks are required. Tickets are still just a few bucks.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the Iconic Colors of the New York City Subway System Were Invented: See the 1930 Color Chart Created by Architect Squire J. Vickers

There may be no more welcome sight to a New Yorker than their own Pantone-colored circle on an arriving subway train. (Provided it’s also the right train number or letter; is making local stops (or express stops); has not been rerouted due to track work, death or injury, etc.) The psychological effect is not unlike a preschooler spotting her brightly-colored cubby at the end of a long day. Therein lies the comforting lovey—screen time, climate control, maybe a nap in a window seat on the way home….

But as every New Yorker also knows, the color-coded subway system didn’t always have such a cheerful, Sesame Street-like look. Buried beneath the MTA’s modern exterior, with those colored circles adopted piecemeal over the chaotic 1970s, is a much older system—three systems, in fact—that had far less navigable signage. “The current New York subway system was formed in 1940,” writes Paul Shaw in a comprehensive history of subway sign fonts, “when the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit), the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) and the IND (Independent) lines were merged.”

The first two lines were built by the city and leased to private owners, with some elevated sections dating all the way back to 1885. “The first ‘signs’ in the New York City subway system were created by Heins & LaFarge, architects of the IRT,” who established the tradition of mosaic tiles on platform walls. The BMT “followed suit under Squire J. Vickers, who took over the architectural duties in 1908.” The lettering and design of these tiled signs shifted, from 19th century gothic styles to 20th century art deco.

Image by Elvert Barnes, via Wikimedia Commons

When construction on the IND system began, Vickers, now architect of the entire system and its lead designer, created a color-coding system to identify each station. (See the chart above from 1930.) “The color variations within this system are subtle,” notes 6sqft. “Though they’re grouped by color family, i.e. the five primary colors, different shades are used within those families. Color names are based on paint chips and Berol Prismacolor pencils. Red stations include ‘Scarlet Red’ ‘Carmine Red’ and ‘Tuscan Red,’ just to name a few.” This level of specificity continues through each of the primary and secondary colors.

It’s not entirely clear why Vickers chose the color scheme he did. (See a subway map imagined with his color-coding system, above, by designer vanshnookenraggen.) One theory is that the system was designed to help non-English-speaking riders navigate the trains, but “there isn’t anything that we were able to find that says definitively ‘This is the reason why we are doing that,’” says New York Transit Museum curator Jodi Shapiro. The colors may have been chosen to stand out in artificial light, she speculates, and “not look dingy and have some kind of cheerful effect…. Yellow and blue are very natural colors: yellow like sunlight, green like grass, blue like water. I don’t think that’s an accident.”

Whatever the reasoning, the color-coding did not simplify signage in the rapidly expanding system, which became incomprehensible to riders when all three subways, and their different, numbering, and lettering systems, combined into an “untenable mess of overlapping sign systems,” Shaw writes. Confusion reigned into the 1960s, when Bob Noorda and Massimo Vignelli, creator of an iconic 1972 subway map, completed “the Bible” of NYC transit design, the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual. The new designers used “a rainbow of 22 different colors to assign to each subway line,” Untapped Cities writes, “and gave the routes new names.”

Colors were further simplified in 1979 when John Tauranac and Michael Hertz designed the maps we know today. To solve the problem of different routes sharing the same colors, they assigned colors based on “trunk routes,” or the portion of the tracks that pass through Manhattan. “All trains that share a trunk route are the same color”—a system that works beautifully. And it only took eighty years to get there. The frustration designers have felt over the decades can be neatly summed up in one word offered by Tauranac at a recent NYC subway map symposium: “Basta!” Or in a New York English, “Enough with all these colors already!”

via Untapped Cities/6sqft

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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