Lady Madonna: A Change of Face

Vanity Fair, December 1986. Photographer: Herb Ritts. Art director: Ruth Ansel

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Ruth Ansel And a Man on a Women’s World

“I chose Bazaar because I liked it much better than Vogue– graphically, it was more sophisticated. I called cold and asked to talk to an editor. It turned out there was an opening in the art department, and Marvin Israel, the director, took a big chance on me. He wanted somebody that didn’t have to unlearn graphic design clichés. Bea Feitler, his protégé and star pupil from Parsons, had been hired a month earlier. My first few months were a disaster.”

“In 1962 Marvin was fired, and Bea and I became the art directors. We were pioneers in a way– not only were we young women but we were working as graphic design partners. Then in 1971, a new editor came in to make Bazaar more newsy and we were both fired– almost simultaneously.”

Ruth Ansel

 
 

When Ruth Ansel put Steve McQueen, photographed by Richard Avedon (also the guest editor), on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1965, it was the first time a male appeared on the cover of a women’s fashion magazine.

 
 

At first look there are obvious reasons to love this February, 1965 cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine: Steve McQueen of course, and the amazing photography of the legendary Richard Avedon. But there is another visionary manifested here, not often spoken of, especially back when this was on the newsstand: Ruth Ansel, a female pioneer in the world of graphic design.

An interesting footnote: 22 year old Ali MacGraw (pre-McQueen days) worked under Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar until she was finally convinced by a bevy of photographers to get out from behind the camera and strike a pose. And the rest is history, as they say…

“Point to an iconic magazine cover of the last 40 years, and chances are it was designed by Ruth Ansel. Since 1961, when she talked her way into the art department at Harper’s Bazaar, Ansel has defined the look of some of America’s visually influential publications. In the 1960s, her work for Bazaar captured a transitional moment in fashion and society. In the 1970s, she became the first female art director of The New York Times Magazine and in the 1980s she created the look of Vanity Fair.”

Carol Kino

 
 

Model Jean Shrimpton & actor Steve McQueen