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.

In 1896, a French Cartoonist Predicted Our Socially-Distanced Zoom Holiday Gatherings

Imagine that, this time last year, you’d heard that your family’s holiday gatherings in 2020 would happen on the internet. Even if you believed such a future would one day come, would you have credited for a moment that kind of imminence? Yet our videoconference toasts this season were predicted — even rendered in clear and reasonably accurate detail — more than 120 years ago. “My wife is visiting her aunt in Budapest, my older daughter is studying dentistry in Melbourne, my younger daughter is a mining engineer in the Urals, my son raises ostriches in Batavia, my nephew is on his plantations in Batavia,” says the caption of the 1896 cartoon above. “But this does not prevent us from celebrating Christmas on the telephonoscope.”

This panel ran in Belle Époque humor magazine Le rire (available to read at the Internet Archive), drawn by the hand and produced by the imagination of Albert Robida. A novelist as well as an artist, Robida drew acclaim in his day for the series Le Vingtième Siècle, whose stories offered visions of the technology to come in that century.

“Next to Zoom Christmas,” tweets philosophy professor Helen de Cruz, Robida also imagined a future in which this “telephonoscope” would “give us education, movies, teleconferencing.” As early as the 1860s, says the Public Domain Review, Robida had “published an illustration depicting a man watching a ‘televised’ performance of Faust from the comfort of his own home.” See image above.

Though Robida seems to have coined the word “telephonoscope,” he wasn’t the first to publish the kind of idea to which it referred. “The concept of the device first appeared not long after the telephone was patented in 1876,” writes Verity Hunt in a Literature and Science article quoted by the Public Domain Review. “The term ‘telectroscope’ was used by the French scientist and publisher Louis Figuier in L’Année Scientifique et Industrielle in 1878 to popularize the invention, which he incorrectly interpreted as real and ascribed to Alexander Graham Bell.” The goal was to “do for the eye what the telephone had done for the ear,” though it wouldn’t be fully realized for well over a century. When you raise a glass to a webcam this week, consider toasting Albert Robida, to whom the year 2021 would have sounded impossibly distant — but who has proven more prescient about it than many of us alive today.

via Helen De Cruz

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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.

Futurist from 1901 Describes the World of 2001: Opera by Telephone, Free College & Pneumatic Tubes Aplenty

Just shy of 120 years ago, “the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning” told America what would change by the far-flung dawn of 2001. C, X and Q gone from the alphabet; “Air-Ships” in the skies, strictly for military purposes (passenger traffic being handled by “fast electric ships”); strawberries as large as apples; university education “free to every man and woman”: these are just a few of the details of life in the coming 21st century. We for whom the year 2001 is now firmly in the past will get a laugh out of all this. But as with any set of predictions, amid the misses come partial hits. We don’t get our “hot and cold air from spigots,” but we do get it from air-conditioning and heating systems. We don’t send photographs across the world by telegraph, but the device we all keep in our pockets does the job well enough.

Written by a civil engineer named John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. (presumably the son of Smithsonian Curator of Mechanical Technology John Elfreth Watkins, Sr.), “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” ran in the December 1900 issue of that renowned futurological organ Ladies’ Home Journal. You can hear it read aloud, and see it accompanied by historical film clips, in the Voices of the Past video above.

A few years ago the piece came back into circulation on the internet (which goes unmentioned by its experts, more concerned as they were with proliferation of telephone lines and pneumatic tubes) and its predictions were put to the test. At the Saturday Evening Post, Jeff Nilsson gives Watkins (once a Post contributor himself) points for less outlandish prophecies, such as a rise in humanity’s life expectancy and average height.

Watkins describes his sources as “the most learned and conservative minds in America.” In some areas they were too conservative: they foresee “Trains One Hundred and Fifty Miles an Hour,” but as Nilsson notes, today’s “high-speed trains are traveling over 300 mph. Just not in the United States.” Americans did lose their streetcars as predicted, but not due to their replacement by subways and moving sidewalks — and what would these experts make of the streetcar’s 21st-century renaissance? When Watkins writes that “grand opera will be telephoned to private homes,” we may think of the Met’s current COVID-prompted streaming, a scenario that would have occurred to few in a world yet to experience even the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. But then, the future’s defining quality has always been its very unknowability: consider how much has come to pass since we last posted about these predictions here on Open Culture — not least the end of Ladies Home Journal itself.

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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.

Before Creating the Moomins, Tove Jansson Drew Satirical Art Mocking Hitler & Stalin

Much of the world has only recently discovered the Moomins, those lovable hippopotamus-like figures — given, it must be said, to moments of startling brusqueness and complexity — created in the 1940s by Finnish artist Tove Jansson. In forms ranging from dolls and school supplies to neck pillows and cellphone cases, they’ve lately become a full-blown craze in South Korea, where I live. Like any massively successful (and highly merchandisable) characters, the Moomins overshadow the rest of Jansson’s oeuvre. Hence exhibitions like Tove Jansson (1914-2001) at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, which “aims to rectify the fact that less attention has generally been paid to her range as a visual artist.”

That description comes from Simon Willis’ review of the show in the New York Review of Books. “In October 1944, Tove Jansson drew a cover for Garm, a Finnish satirical magazine, showing a brigade of Adolf Hitlers as pudgy little thieves,” Willis writes. These drawer-rifling, house-burning caricatures “were not unusual for Jansson, who had been belittling Stalin and Hitler in the magazine since the early days of World War II.” But “peeking out at the chaos from behind the magazine’s title,” there was also a “tiny pale figure with a long nose”: a proto-Moomin making an appearance the year before the publication of the first Moomin book. (And even he was forged in mockery, having first been drawn by Jansson, so the story goes, as a caricature of Immanuel Kant.)

Having started contributing to Garm, according to the official Moomin web site, “in 1929 at the young age of 15 (her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson had worked for the publication since it started),” she kept on doing so until the magazine folded in 1953.

“During that period she drew more than 500 caricatures, a hundred cover images and countless other illustrations for the magazine.” In them, writes Glasstire’s Caleb Mathern, “angels appear on battlefields. Reindeer prepare to rain TNT. An effete, undersized Hitler cries instead of eating slices of cake. Jansson even impugns Stalin’s manhood with an oversized scabbard/undersized sword joke.” To the young Jansson, the best part was the chance, as she later put it, “to be beastly to Stalin and Hitler.”

Even after the success of the Moomins, Jansson continued to draw on the imagery and emotions of war: “The first time we meet young Moomintroll and his Moominmamma in The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945), they are refugees, crossing a strange and threatening landscape in search of shelter. Moominpappa, meanwhile, is absent, as fathers often were during the war,” writes Aeon’s Richard W. Orange. In the next book “the world is threatened by a comet that sucks the water out of the sea, leaving an apocalyptic landscape in its wake.” With the Cold War heating up, the allegory would hardly have gone unnoticed. Like all master satirists, Jansson went on to transcend the solely topical — and indeed, so the increasingly Moomin-crazed world has demonstrated, the boundaries of time and culture.

via Aeon/Moomin

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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.

Al Jaffee, Iconic Mad Magazine Cartoonist, Retires at Age 99 … and Leaves Behind Advice About Living the Creative Life

Apart from Alfred E. Neuman, there is no Al more closely identified with Mad magazine than Al Jaffee. Born in 1921, he was around for more than 30 years before the launch of that satirical magazine turned American cultural phenomenon — and now, at age 99, he’s on track to outlive it. Just this week, the longest-working cartoonist in history and inventor of the Fold-In announced his retirement, and “to mark his farewell,” writes the Washington Post‘s Michael Cavna, “Mad’s ‘Usual Gang of Idiots’ will salute Jaffee with a tribute issue next week. It will be the magazine’s final regular issue to offer new material, including Jaffee’s final Fold-In, 65 years after he made his Mad debut.”

Over these past six and a half decades, Jaffee has drawn praise for his wit and versatility. But all throughout his career, he’s also managed to combine those qualities with seemingly unstoppable productivity. “I am essentially a commercial artist,” Jaffee says in this brief twopart interview from OnCreativity. “I will not try to save time, ever, on my work by going through it quickly and just getting it done. I have to be as satisfied with it as the person who’s going to buy it from me.”

When an assignment comes in, he continues, “I will not deliver it until I am satisfied that I would buy it.” This requires a clear understanding of the client’s needs — “you are there to solve their problems,” he emphasizes — as well as the willingness to turn down not-quite-suitable jobs.

Of course Jaffee said all this in his younger days, back when he was only 96. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a man in his hundredth year would decide to step back from his workaday schedule (his Fold-Ins alone number nearly 500) and focus on the projects from which commercial exigencies might have distracted him. “I do fine art for my own amusement,” he say in this interview. “We should all feel free to amuse ourselves that way and just hang everything we do up on the refrigerator.” But he also expresses the wish to “create a couple more things before I kick the bucket.” This after, as he puts it to Cavna, “living the life I wanted all along, which was to make people think and laugh.” Now Jaffee’s younger readers have the chance to think hard and laugh harder as they catch up on era upon era of his past work — not that, strictly speaking, he has any older readers.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Author Imagines in 1893 the Fashions That Would Appear Over the Next 100 Years

The world of tomorrow, today, has been the promise of so much futurism of the modern industrial age, in times that now seem quaint to us from our digital perches. Today’s self-appointed visionaries can’t seem to imagine life on Earth a hundred years from now. They pour their resources into interplanetary ventures. But even if some contingent of humanity goes on to colonize the solar system and beyond, there will always be a role for fashion, even in the austere environs of deep space.

Still, if predicting the future of humanity is a risky proposition, given the number of unpredictable variables at play, predicting future fashions may be even more fraught with peril. Trends don’t come out of nowhere—they draw, self-consciously or otherwise, from the past. But which pasts end up in the latest season’s collections might be anyone’s guess. Unlike technology, in other words, fashion doesn’t appear to follow any sort of linear trajectory from invention to invention.

“Fashion,” writes W. Cade-Gall in an 1893 article in the Strand Magazine, “is thought a whim, a sort of shuttlecock for the weak-minded of both sexes to make rise and fall, bound and rebound with the battledore called—social influence.” All of this will be remedied almost fifty years in the future, the author assures their readers. “It will interest a great many people to learn that Fashion assumed the dignity of a science in 1940.” Cade-Gall’s sci-fi satire is not, perhaps, the most serious attempt at predicting future fashions, but it may rank as one of the most amusingly literary.

The article, “Future Dictates Fashion” (read online here and at the Internet Archive) purports to describe the contents of a book, discovered by “an elderly gentleman of our acquaintance,” from one hundred years in the future, or 1993, a time, as you can see in the drawing at the top, in which the 18th century has come roaring back, with what appears to be a tricorner hat perched on what appears to be the head of a man smoking a pipe and wearing an ankle-length skirt. Cade-Gall describes the scientific system of fashion in detail, with each historical period acquiring both a “Type” and a “Tendency.”

The period between 1915 and 1940, for example, the last one listed in the future fashion history book’s table, is said to be of the type “Hysterical” and the tendency “Angustorial.” Cade-Gall not only invented the word “angustorial” and this clever story within a story (which turns out to be a dream) but also illustrated the fashions of the imagined 20th century, with the conceit that these are printed plates from the future. Readers familiar with the costume designs of the Bauhaus school might see the 1929 illustrations as somewhat uncanny.

Other fashions look like the kind of thing David Bowie might have worn onstage in the early 70s, and some are clearly portmanteaus of different eras and their qualities—from the “bizarre,” “ebullient,” and “hysterical” to the “severe,” “opaque,” and “latorial,” a word, like “angustorial,” that Cade-Gall made up for this occasion. The descriptions of these fashions are as detailed and ridiculous as the illustrations. “Taught by the Darwinian theory” in 1930 we learn, “society discovered whence its tendency to baldness originated. They had recourse by degrees to flexible tiles of extraordinary cut.”

 

The hairpiece innovation followed some indecision over mens’ pants ten years earlier, which led to a period of knee-breeches. “Trousers, which had been wavering between nautical buttons and gallooned knees—or, in the vernacular of the period, a sail three sheets in the wind—and a flag at half-mast—were the items sacrificed.” It’s all in good fun—more a send-up of the overly-serious meaning attached to clothing than an attempt to look into fashion’s future. But imagining a 20th century dressed the way Cade-Gall imagines it might make us pine for a more ostentatiously (if impractically) dressed past—or a more ebullient and latorial future, whether on Earth or gallooned amongst the stars.

via JF Ptak Science Books/Public Domain Review

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

An Animated Leonard Cohen Offers Reflections on Death: Thought-Provoking Excerpts from His Final Interview

A month before Leonard Cohen died in November, 2016, The New Yorker‘s editor David Remnick traveled to the songwriter’s Los Angeles home for a lengthy interview in which Cohen looked both forward and back.

As a former Zen monk, he was also adept at inhabiting the present, one in which the shadow of death crept ever closer.

His former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, had succumbed to cancer earlier in the summer, two days after receiving a frank and loving email from Cohen:

Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

The New Yorker has never shied from over-the-top physical descriptions. The courteous, highly verbal young poet, who’d evinced “a kind of Michael Corleone Before the Fall look, sloe-eyed, dark, a little hunched” was now very thin, but still handsome, with the handshake of “a courtly retired capo.”

In addition to an album, You Want It Darker, to promote, Cohen had a massive backlog of unpublished poems and unfinished lyrics to tend to before the sands of time ran out.

At 82, he seemed glad to have all his mental faculties and the support of a devoted personal assistant, several close friends and his two adult children, all of which allowed him to maintain his music and language-based workaholic habits.

Time, as he noted, provides a powerful incentive for finishing up, despite the challenges posed by the weakening flesh:

At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.

He had clearly made peace with the idea that some of his projects would go unfinished.

You can hear his fondness for one of them, a “sweet little song” that he recited from memory, eyes closed, in the animated interview excerpt, above:

Listen to the hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the hummingbird

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the butterfly

Whose days but number three

Listen to the butterfly

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the mind of God

Which doesn’t need to be

Listen to the mind of God

Don’t listen to me.

These unfinished thoughts close out Cohen’s beautifully named posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, scheduled for release later this month.

Dianne V. Lawrence, who designed Cohen’s hummingbird logo, a motif beginning with 1979’s Recent Songs album, speculates that Cohen equated the hummingbird’s enormous energy usage and sustenance requirements with those of the soul.

Read Remnick’s article on Leonard Cohen in its entirety here. Hear a recording of David Remnick’s interview with Cohen–his last ever–below:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 for her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Provocative Art of Modern Sketch, the Magazine That Captured the Cultural Explosion of 1930s Shanghai


“With its newspapers in every language and scores of radio stations, Shanghai was a media city before its time, celebrated as the Paris of the Orient and ‘the wickedest city in the world.'” So British writer J.G. Ballard remembers the Chinese metropolis in which he grew up in his autobiography Miracles of Life. “Shanghai struck me as a magical place, a self-generating fantasy that left my own little mind far behind.” Born in 1930, Ballard caught Shanghai at a particularly stimulating time: “Developed on the basis of ‘unequal treaties’ successively instituted after the First Opium War in 1842,” writes MIT’s John A. Crespi, Chinese port cities like Shanghai “experienced a welter of technological and demographic changes,” including automobiles, skyscrapers, rolled cigarettes, movie theaters coffeehouses, and much else besides.

Such heady days also gave rise to media that reflected and critiqued them, and 1930s Shanghai produced no more compelling an example of such a publication than Modern Sketch (时代漫画, Shídài Mànhuà).

Among its points of interest, writes Crespi, “one can point to Modern Sketch’s longevity, the quality of its printing, the remarkable eclecticism of its content, and its inclusion of work by young artists who went on to become leaders in China’s 20th-century cultural establishment. But from today’s perspective, most intriguing is the sheer imagistic force with which this magazine captures the crises and contradictions that have defined China’s 20th century as a quintessentially modern era.”

Published monthly from January 1934 through June 1937, the magazine first appeared on newsstands just over two decades after the collapse of China’s dynastic system.  The modernization-minded May Fourth Movement, nationalist Northern Expedition, and purge of communists by “Generalissimo” Chiang Kai-shek were even more recent memories.

But the relative stability of the “Nanjing Decade” had begun in 1927, and its zeitgeist turned out to be rich soil for a wild cultural flowering in China’s coastal cities, none wilder than in Shanghai. To the reading public of this time Modern Sketch offered treatments of material like “eroticized women, foreign aggression — particularly the rise of fascism in Europe and militarized Japan — domestic politics and exploitation, and modernity-at-large,” writes Crespi.

The magazine’s attitude “could be incisive, bitter, shocking, and cynical. At the very same time it could be elegant, salacious, and preposterous. Its messages might be as simple as child’s play, or cryptically encoded for cultural sophisticates.”

Sometimes it didn’t encode its messages cryptically enough: as a result of one unflattering depiction of Xu Shiying, China’s ambassador to Japan, the authorities suspended publication and detained editor Lu Shaofei. Not that Lu didn’t know what he was getting into with Modern Sketch: “On all sides a tense era surrounds us,” he wrote in the magazine’s inaugural issue. “As it is for the individual, so it is for our country and the world.”

As for an answer to the question of whether the strange and tense but enormously fruitful cultural and political moment in which Lu and his collaborators found themselves wold last, “the more one fails to find it, the more that desire grows. Our stance, our single responsibility, then, is to strive!”

You can read more about what project entailed, and see in greater detail its textual and visual results, in Crespi’s history of this magazine that strove to capture the everyday reality of life on display in 1930s Shanghai — “though I sometimes wonder,” Ballard writes, “if everyday reality was the one element missing from the city.”

via 50 Watts

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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 or on Facebook.

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