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Quick Design History: Alexey Brodovitch #ThrowbackThursday

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Alexey Brodovitch (1898–1971)

Following Fashion week it seems only right to dedicate this month’s Throwback Thursday to one of fashion’s most famous graphic designers, Alexey Brodovitch. Russian born graphic designer Brodovitch is widely known for his position as Art Director at fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar from 1934-58.

During the 15 years Brodovitch worked at Harper’s Bazaar he was involved in some of their most memorable front cover designs. A theme which recurred was that of repetition, as we see in the covers below, the multiple shots of hands and repeated lipstick shades create bespoke patterns. Another constant in Brodovitch’s designs was to play with transparencies to produce somewhat ethereal imagery, reminiscent of the floating garments and opulent products advertised amongst the pages.

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An accomplished photographer and master of image Brodovitch revolutionised editorial layout. With an experimental approach he squeezed every drop of narrative from his chosen imagery and insisted on each image radiating surprise to instil intrigue with the audience;

“This disease of our age is boredom… The way to combat this is by invention by surprise. When I say a good picture has surprise value, I mean that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me.”

The use of imagery within the pages of Harper’s Bazaar often pushed the boundaries of what was common at the time. This approach to image layout spilled over into the text design with Brodovitch often adopting a modernist slant to his text boxes, allowing the theme of the issue to flow throughout the pages of the magazine. He’d often experiment with negative space and respected the use of a good photograph allowing it to sit minimally on the page without too much clutter surrounding it.

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While Brodovitch created most of his most recognisable work while at Harper’s Bazaar he was also involved in ‘Portfolio’, a notable publication which while comparatively short lived was hugely influential in American art and design—featuring Charles Eames, Paul Rand and Saul Steinberg amongst others. Unfortunately while the rich content of Portfolio attracted a keen readership it wasn’t able to support the cost of maintaining the printing and circulation and thus was discontinued.

With his devotion to print, in all its forms, Brodovitch devoted a lot his time throughout his career to passing on all he’d learnt to the next generation of designers, teaching at his ‘Design Laboratory’ in New York from 1936-59.

His rigorous approach to teaching was sought after by all who wanted to break into the magazine industry—however his teaching style wasn’t for everyone as he demanded the work submitted to be interesting and would become quite riled if it didn’t meet his definition of the word.

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Another of Brodovitch’s notable publications was his book ‘Ballet’—a photobook which contained pages of beautiful photographs of the ballet, all taken by Brodovitch himself. The photographs were dramatically different to what would have been used commercially at the time. They spoke to the movement of dance, through manipulation they seemed to jump and dance setting entirely new standards for the time (1945). His knowledge of art direction and print radiated throughout, producing a truly remarkable piece of work.

15324359146031Aside from his Art Direction and publication work, Brodovitch was a keen typographer known for often using Bodoni in a lot of his work. He also designed his own typeface ‘Al-Bro’ an abbreviation of his full name, Alexey Brodovitch. The letterforms took a form similar to the editorial work of Brodovitch—full of movement with curved serifs and ornamental dots producing an elegant typeface.

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Brodovitch’s career at Harper’s Bazaar ended after 15 years in 1958. His lifestyle led to ill health and he passed away in 1971.

Brodovtich helped pave the way for expressive editorial work and offered a different way of working with imagery, particularly within publications. After his death, his career proceeded him and he was posthumously inducted into the Art Directors club Hall of Fame as well as being awarded an honorary doctorate.

If you’d like to see more of Alexey’s work, check out a video flick through of Brodovitch’s Ballet book over on Vimeo or read further into his illustrious career on AIGA

Until next time, have a browse through our Throwback Thursday section and learn about some of the greats. 

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