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Friday, October 20, 2017

George Lois

The "What's the big idea?" man.
If you are, or want to be, a doctor, bricklayer, electrician, or engineer, and you've never in your life heard of George Lois, you'll probably do just fine. But if you plan to be a photographer, designer, illustrator or virtually any other kind of artist, you need to know who this guy is. George Lois, though now retired at the age of eighty-six, was an artist who managed magazine covers. During his long career as an commercial artist he created an amazing and innovative style which led him to become the art director of Esquire magazine, where he created over 92 covers between the years 1962 and 1971. There is no one who works for a magazine design who does not know of him. The legendary George Lois is very simply the most creative, prolific, astute advertising communicator of our time.
A guy whose job it was to make people famous--people like Tommy Hilfiger, for instance.
George Lois was born in the Bronx in 1931, the son of Greek immigrants. Upon graduating from high school, he received a basketball scholarship to Syracuse University, but he chose to attend the Pratt Institute instead. Lois attended only one year at Pratt, before he was drafted by the Army to fight in the Korean War. After the war, he worked for a time at CBS and then several different advertising agencies. In the years to follow, he developed what he called "The Big Idea." He claims to have created the “I Want My MTV” campaign; helped create and introduce VH1; named Stouffer's Lean Cuisine frozen food line; and developed marketing and messaging for Jiffy Lube stations.
Though Lois' actual contribution to the design of many product and corporate logos has been disputed, there's pretty solid evidence for his hand in these and dozens of others.
George Lois also created the initial advertising campaign to raise awareness of designer Tommy Hilfiger ($200,000 and twenty days). Other clients have included: Xerox, Aunt Jemima, USA Today, ESPN, and four U.S. Senators: Jacob Javits of New York, Warren Magnuson of Washington, Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, and Robert Kennedy.
George Lois' first ad at an advertising agency came in 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers decided to move to the west coast. However no player had the guts to pose for his American Airlines ad. So, Lois donned a Dodgers cap and became a baseball athlete.
"Must" reading for any
would-be graphic designer.
In the mid-1950s, New York was traumatized by rumors that Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, would soon move the franchise to La-La land. It’s always advantageous when you can tie an ad with some-thing happening in the news. So for an American Airlines destination ad, Lois showed a Dodger peering west with the headline "Thinking of going to Los Angeles?" He tried to get one of the players to pose for the ad, but every-one chickened out. So he posed for it himself, casting his eyes westward. He plastered an airline logo over his lower face to keep the message authentic. Within days, bookings on American to Los Angeles took off the very next day. Alas, the treacherous O’Malley did, indeed, depart for the west coast taking with him (among others) Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider. No one remembers which airline they took.
Virtually all George Lois Esquire covers had a current events tie-in.
A whole library on how to use
friends to influence people.
George Lois was the great master of the conceptual magazine cover, especially Esquire in the 1960s. When Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title, Lois depicted him as the martyred St. Sebastian, with arrows sticking out of his body (above). Lois also persuaded celebrities such as Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Jack Nicholson (nude, no less), Tom Cruise, and Dustin Hoffman. Between 1962 and 1971, Esquire featured one remarkable cover after another, each conceived and designed by Madison Avenue’s 'king of covers'," George Lois. Esquire covers are icons of the age, acidic critiques of contemporary society, politics and manners that subverted the conventions of mainstream magazines. It was a chronicle in its golden age, a critical period of American social and political turmoil, and the legacy of a remarkable graphic designer and communicator.

Controversy sells. Richard Nixon looks as if he were being prepared by a pit crew of morticians for open-casket viewing.
The period when Harold Hayes was the editor of Esquire was called the "Golden Age of Journalism." George Lois recalls, "Everyone said I had the {guts] to do the covers. The covers were easy to do. Harold Hayes had the [guts] to run them. Every few covers we'd lose five or six advertisers. But we'd pick up other advertising. I'd say, 'Harold, this one is going to get us in big trouble.' He would smile and gleefully nod, 'Yeahhhh'."

The controversial New York logo. Did he or
didn't he name the magazine and design its
distinctive logo?


The conceptual phase of an
Esquire's Warhol cover.

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