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Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design: Cipe Pineles

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John Clifford, author of Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design, profiles designer Cipe Pineles, who was the first female art director of a mass-market American magazine.

1908–1991 | born: Vienna, Austria | education: Pratt Institute

Became the first female art director of a mass-market American magazine

Inducted into the New York Art Directors Club and elected to its Hall of Fame as the first woman

Hired fine artists to illustrate mainstream magazines

Today, women make up around half of the graphic design profession. But when Cipe Pineles was looking for her first design job, prospective employers were interested in her portfolio—until they learned that the unusual first name belonged to a woman.

She eventually became an assistant to Condé Nast’s art director Mehemed Fehmy Agha in 1932, and would expand her role there over the next 15 years. Designing for magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, she learned all about editorial design, art direction, and European modernism. Agha pushed her to consistently outdo herself and to find inspiration in fine art. She became art director at Glamour in 1942, the first female to hold that position at a major American magazine.

She moved on to be art director at Seventeen, a magazine for teenage girls edited by Helen Valentine. While competing titles saw young women as frivolous husband hunters, Seventeen considered its readers smart and serious. By commissioning fine artists like Ad Reinhardt, Ben Shahn, and Andy Warhol to illustrate articles, Pineles rejected the idealized style typical of magazine illustrations at the time, and exposed her audience to modern art. As an artist herself, she was a hands-off art director. Her only request: that the artists produce illustrations that were as high in quality as their gallery work.

Figure 1 Seventeen cover, photograph by Francesco Scavullo, 1948

Figure 2 Charm cover, 1954

In 1950, Pineles became art director at Charm, a magazine targeting a new demographic: working women. She designed fashion spreads showing the clothes in use—at work, commuting, and running errands. “We tried to make the prosaic attractive without using the tired clichés of false glamour,” she observed in a later interview. “You might say we tried to convey the attractiveness of reality, as opposed to the glitter of a never-never land.”8 Her work helped to redefine the look of women’s magazines, while also furthering women’s changing roles in society.

Beginning in 1961, Pineles worked independently for such clients as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. From 1962 until 1987, she taught editorial design at Parsons School of Design, and directed the design of the school’s publications. Her approach to teaching was to focus on content, not style. During a career of many firsts, Cipe Pineles led with her work and she led by example.

Figure 3 Spread from Seventeen, illustrated by Pineles, 1948

Figure 4 Fashion spread from Charm, 1957

READ: Cipe Pineles: A Life of Design, by Martha Scotford; Women in Graphic Design 1890–2012, edited by Gerda Breuer and Julia Meer

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