Wednesday, June 17, 2009

on gams and dames

Guys that talk about the ideal woman just don't like women. I don't want an ideal woman, I just like dames.

John Steinbeck in the July 1950 "All Male Issue" of Flair Magazine, when "handed a sketch pad and a snapshot of [a] plastic manikin" and asked by the editor "to draw his Ideal Woman in the same pose and give us his whys and wherefores."

Flair asked columnist Earl Wilson, couturier Jacques Fath and child actor Brandon de Wilde (Shane! Come back Shane!) to do the same.

I got my hands on this particular copy of Flair through eBay when I read that its editor, Fleur Cowles, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Flair counted W. H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Simone de Beauvoir, Angus Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Ogden Nash and Clare Boothe Luce, Salvador Dalí, Saul Steinberg, Lucian Freud, Rufino Tamayo and Winston Churchill among its contributors.

At 50 cents a copy, Flair's standards and elaborate art direction managed to lose the publication money at a time when print was still going strong and most magazines sold for 20 cents. According to the New York Times:
Although there were just 12 issues of Flair, published from February 1950 to January 1951, the magazine caused a sensation and is still admired for its coverage of fashion, décor, travel, art, literature and other enthusiasms of Ms. Cowles’s. It was part of the Cowles publishing empire, which included newspapers in the Midwest and, most notably, Look magazine, of which Ms. Cowles had been an influential editor.

But Flair, incorporating cutouts, fold-outs, pop-ups, removable reproductions of artworks and a variety of paper stocks of different sizes and textures, was simply too expensive to produce, even though it sold for 50 cents a copy when Time and Life were selling for 20 cents.

When Flair ceased publication, Mr. Cowles, who had financed it, estimated that it had lost $2.5 million. Circulation, less than 100,000 for the first issue, eventually doubled, but advertising did not follow, and losses were running about 75 cents a copy.

Ms. Cowles would be pleased to learn that issues are currently trending considerably higher than that, and have exploded even in the few short days since her death.

(Which is why I'm no longer buying.)

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