I’ll be researching the image on the front cover of an Esquire magazine, titled ‘The Masculinisation of the American Woman’ Issue no. 376 (March, 1965), the Verna Lisi cover in a photo shoot showcasing the iconic blonde caught mid-shave. I found the image in a book by Richard Hollis called ‘Graphic Design, A concise History’ (2001). The reason I chose to study this advert was because it stood out as a piece of graphic design, how the place of women in society has changed since 1965. The Dimensions of the cover were as follows: 1/1 (single page) – 200 mm width, 276 mm length.
The cover was made from a photograph, with a collaboration of words through offset lithography by George Lois, whose works were engagingly simple and direct. Lois went on to design over 90 covers for Esquire magazine in the 1960s. He used powerful photographs and photomontages, usually by Carl Fischer, to make brief editorial statements about the United States. The art director tells the article in Esquire at the time, George Lois, whom they say, created some of the most memorable covers in the magazine’s history. Lois’s commentary is stark about the commercial pressures he felt at the time (but got away from).
This piece on the adman and art director George Lois is interesting. It’s about the history of feminism, in an odd sort of way. ‘It was really pre-feminism, but if you were back then you could see it coming. You could see women getting stronger; you could see women not taking any more shit. There wasn’t a full movement but it was happening. They interpreted it as masculinisation. It was a little bit of an insult but back then — it was way back in ’65 — nobody took it as an insult. ’ (Selling Sex And Axe Murderesses: George Lois’ Esquire Lady Covers)
Pictured is Italian actress Virna Lisi, the famous actress made a dent in Hollywood comedy as a tempting blue-eyed blonde starring in ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ (1965), ‘Not with My Wife, You Don’t! ’ (1966), and ‘Assault on a Queen’ (1966) with Frank Sinatra and she is pictured in a change of scene here. Although possibly semi-naked as depicted from the tops of her shoulders and looking as groomed as ever, she’s using her index finger to pull the skin on her face taught whilst the other hand is just beginning to shave at the cheekbone, taking a little bit away from the sizeable amount of shaving foam that’s lathered all over her face.
My eye did not follow around the photo to one key feature, in-fact I immediately looked at the magazine cover as a whole. The image of the Hollywood actress shaving completely fits the page on a barely visible plain black background. The colours are warm tones and the image immediately stands out because of the outright obvious – an extremely good-looking woman with a colossal beard of shaving foam on her face. After the initial shock and interest, it quickly becomes humorous before my attention is drawn to the unnecessary amount of eye make-up that she is dressed in.
Then again, perhaps it was necessary for her feminine features to have emphasis put on them, as the idea behind the photo was that she was in her prime as far as beauty was concerned whilst taking part in a day-to-day masculine task. The inside article named ‘Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man’ ‘… this cover of the beautiful Virna Lisi taking it off was done before the hoopla about the women’s movement had caught the public’s eye. The movement wanted liberation from women’s traditional roles. Like any Greek male, I wondered where it would take us. Was there a point where sexuality equality would end and confusion begin?
Sometimes the best way to draw attention to a trend on the horizon is with a cheeky cover. ’ ‘The ad guys hated it. It was too edgy. They were worried about losing clients. ’ (George Lois). ‘I wanted to capture a woman being manly and still beautiful,’ he says. ‘It was a spoof of the whole idea of a glamorous Hollywood. ’ All he needed was a woman willing to do it, And then Lois found Virna Lisi, an Italian actress who was in town filming Assault on a Queen with Frank Sinatra and who thought the idea was terrific. So terrific that she wanted to be shot right away. That afternoon, they did. Before she could change her mind. George Lois designed a classic series of covers for Esquire that reflected controversial issues of the times such as the war in Vietnam, the assassinations in America, politics, race relations, the women’s movement and America’s obsessions with sex, dope and doom. The great adman created covers that were statements that force-fed an irresistible taste of the great magazine’s content. ” (Yale University Press) The editorial team were confident selling the magazine just on the image so they shot this photo to catch the eye of consumers, they would pick up the issue and immerse themselves in the story out of pure curiosity.
How much influence advertisers have on the editorial content and the variety of means by which they apply their power, it’s always about sales and the idea that blue eyes and blonde hair sells, what hasn’t changed is that this method still works to sell magazines. The only problem the ad guys had in 1965 was that the woman was shaving, entering the male realm, but was still under the gaze. ‘Esquire is aimed at an audience of smart, discerning men who want more than cheap thrills from a magazine, men who appreciate great writing, as well as great fashion.
Esquire has a heritage of top-class writing. Every month the magazine combines top quality journalism with original celebrity coverage and great photography. The Esquire Man is a discerning consumer of modern luxury, contemporary culture and good living. He wants to be informed about every aspect of modern life — from buying a suit or a car to choosing the books he needs to read and the music he needs to listen to — and not get bogged down in a sea of information. Every month the magazine is designed with all these elements firmly in mind. ’ (http://www. esquire. u/advert/en/) Esquire magazines write about culture, art, fashion, grooming, technology, cars, food, health, personalities, interviews, business and politics with the average sex of the reader being male and the average age bracket being between 25 and 45 with an above average income. The place of women in American society and politics has changed greatly since 1965. The feminist movement rose to prominence in 1965 and has changed over the decades. The image of a woman shaving for the cover of Esquire marked the rise of a change in cultural differences.
Upon the magazine issue being released, the front cover did not go down well with the general American public. Women were have said to have been disgusted by the image, the men were confused by it and the graphic designer had initially had trouble finding anyone who would even pose for it. Marilyn Monroe’s agent was quoted saying ‘Shaving!? You must be mad! ’ and Kim Novak’s publicist supposedly put the phone down on him, stated by George Lois in an interview with Esquire magazine about the back story of the famous 1965 cover (May 2008).
Although in the beginning this may not appeal to everyone’s opinions at the time, it was a piece of work that would mark an enlightening change for everyone later on. A remake of the cover was made in May 2008 by Fabrizio Ferri for Esquires seventy fifth anniversary, which starred the singer Jessica Simpson in replace of Virna Lisi, but she sports her typical 60’s look and the magazine cover contains considerably more text on it. ‘We shot this image to catch your eye so you will pick up this issue and immerse yourself in the most gripping story you will read this year. It’s on pg 102. (Esquire Cover, May 2008) This is published along with 3 other article previews, so I would say that Esquire are no longer as confident selling their magazines on image covers alone these days! People’s opinions on the remake are mixed; fans of the original dislike the reinvented cover for reasons such as what it portrays. The original was about catching the buyer’s attention at the rare site of a beautiful woman partaking in a masculine task to show the start in a changing era.
The 2008 cover shows much more flesh and the cover is sold through highlighting a semi naked star. It’s a good example of a magazine owning up to the classic “bait and switch technique”, where a big hit photo, in this case a half naked Jessica Simpson, points only to a small article – the actual point being to attract readers to other larger stories inside. ’ Bravo, Photo editor (2008) However, one thing stayed the same between the two versions of ‘The Masculinisation of the American Woman’ covers. In the original, 1965 version Virna Lisi used a Gillette Super-Speed razor that they bought at a nearby drugstore.
In the 2008 recreation, Jessica Simpson used a Gillette Super-Speed razor that the designers had to track down on eBay, I found this rather amusing, perhaps that should have thought a little bit further into it’s overall significance. ‘Esquire Magazine’ (May 2008) Fans of Jessica Simpson and people who have never seen the original Virna Lisi cover, think that the May 2008 reinterpretation was a brilliant representation of her and the obvious remark about attracting you to pick up the magazine was both humorous and clever.
However it doesn’t detach me from noticing the obvious changes in cultural differences from how the woman was portrayed in the original post modernism George Lois cover to how Jessica Simpson is being sold on the recent cover. What people find as being acceptable then and now is tremendously different and has come a long way in 45 years. What would the people who were outraged at the Virna Lisi cover think if the 2008 issue was released then?
Although it is still odd to see a woman of today with shaving foam all over her face, it’s not quite enough to make someone consider purchasing the magazine so they have to add to it with partial nudity and advertisements splashed across the front – but did it work? One person review the magazines and came out with this statement. ‘Oh my goodness they’ve ruined what is a so-called “homage” to Virna Lisi! I was so outraged I just had to buy a copy! You’ll remember that the cover then from 1965 was about the masculinisation of the American woman.
The cover on the recent issue is then clearly the desperation of an American publication. I just don’t understand. ’ (http://publish. wordpress. com/2008/04/11/omgwe-shot-a-stupid-cover) The opinion above does largely relate to my own, with the exception of her anger making her buy the issue. The idea of a praise cover is good idea if the images weren’t completely contradicting each other. I believe it was an excuse to exploit a famous name to sell more magazines rather than to pay tribute to a cover that will remain in history for all the right reasons.