(from a forthcoming book by Steve Heller and Veronique Vienne)
a little background
i became, after extensive on-the-job training, and with mixed results, a production artist at the new york times magazine, then a designer at self, mademoiselle, and GQ.
to this day i am not sure what the differences are between creative director, art director, and designer. all i know is that like mel brooks as the 2000 year old man has said, i have known and worked with “the great and the near great.” bea feitler, marvin israel, alexander liberman, and david bowie. wait! i think there’s a story there, and i have several more.
eine kleine kidnapped
when did most people start using cell phones? it was a year before that. i had been visiting budapest, where i got food poisoning on a train. i had planned to travel from there to prague, but a cab driver told me there was “nothing good to eat” there. so there i was on the train bound for paris (where i could be fairly sure of a decent meal) in the dining car, drinking egri bikaver (bull’s blood wine), the only nourishment i trusted. the train stopped at vienna, and on the platform i spied two austrian yuppies in armani suits, and carrying cell phones, board the train, where they sat at the table behind me. i am, ordinarily, a shy flower. but after a bottle or two i just might talk to a stranger. i asked them if i could pay them “anything” to borrow a phone. i hadn’t checked my new york answering machine in days, as at that time hungarian phones were rotary, and couldn’t make the required beeps to access it. this i did, and found out that i was being offered a huge ad campaign, a solo exhibition, and a first class trip to tokyo.
this was superfantastic wow news and i had nowhere to kvell. i told the austrian yuppies.
they turned out to be art directors from an agency called “dangerous” in salzburg. i should have known—they were wearing those design-y glasses. i had a postcard with my drawings on it. clearly impressed, they started yakking in german. i said “what—you got a big ad job for me?” they asked me my day rate. i was incensed. “day rate? day rate? i am not a prostitute or a photographer! i am an illustrator!” we settled upon a day rate of a thousand dollars, plus airfare to paris. i got off the train with them in salzburg, where hundreds of japanese tourists were attending what seemed to be a permanent mozart festival.
they checked me into a fancy hotel. the next morning i met them at 8:00 a.m. for sacher torte and viennese coffee. my schedule was all typed up. i designed a new identity and name for a company that made things like hang gliding equipment out of rip-stop nylon. i called it “far out.” i went to dinner with one of the art directors and we had the following conversation:
AD “what’s it like?”
LR “what’s what like?”
AD “to be a new york jew. is it like the woody allen movies?
LR “not exactly. i come from a long line of anti-semitic jews”
AD “oh. you know, i have never met a jew before.”
LR “really? i wonder why. and by the way, i gotta get outta here before you make a lampshade outta me. but danke schoen for the wienerschnitzel, wolfgang!”
i bring brush lettering to japan
i had an exhibition at the ginza art space in tokyo, owned by shiseido. i then took a side trip to kyoto, where i stayed at a small cheap ryokan. two art directors from shiseido tracked me down there. they wanted me to do some brush lettering (?!) for a sign for a cosmetics store called “color message.” a big rush job. i said i’d be delighted but i was stuck in kyoto and had no art supplies and didn’t even have a table in my tiny room. they said they’d fix everything. they showed up a few hours later with brushes, ink, and the huge white paper i’d requested. they asked the lady who owned the ryokan if we could use the table in her dining room, where i proceeded to get ink all over the floor. she threw us out, they paid her off, and we took a taxi to a fancy hotel. i walked into the lobby, covered in ink, holding my wet drawings like a pizza. the two art directors rented us a room by the hour. they drank beer while i finished the work, and then paid me in yen, which i counted in the bathroom, clueless. to this day i have no idea if all those yen equaled ten or ten thousand dollars.
when i returned to tokyo two days later, “color message” was already a store.
a close call in california
or, how i almost became an art director
i knew someone who was friends with the founder of esprit. they were looking for an art director, so they flew me first class to san francisco for an interview. i was picked up at the airport on a motorcycle. i was wearing a very short skirt. by the time we got to the office, i looked like i’d been raped in a wind tunnel. you know that robert palmer video? well, esprit was an army of perfect, wholesome blonde girls in black cotton dresses and sneakers. there was a gym, an organic cafeteria, and other perks, if you consider those perks. even before the interview, i knew i’d never be their art director. not if it involved kayaking.
when i worked for the cocaine-addled art directors at fiorucci circa 1978, they paid my trip to their headquarters in milan where they put me up at the trendy hotel diana for 3 or 4 days, and then… well, it’s a good thing i make friends easily. i ended up living with my new boyfriend in a transvestite bordello, and designed everything from bathing suit fabric to shopping bags and in-store displays. i counted the millions of lira in the bathroom, clueless.
everyone who knew fiorucci was surprised i’d been paid at all. i know it was because they liked me. or, more likely, pitied me. personality is everything, and always has been. especially in that tiny, incestuous milanese design world. you ate, drank, slept and discoed together. money was never discussed, let alone a contract. at “torre di pisa” the cheque never came my way. never. i partied with sottsass and mendini, and babysat valerio castelli’s bambini. in exchange i had a studio in the kartell headquarters outside milan. the whole kartell cartel always ate lunch together at a workers’ restaurant in a field, where there was only one dish per day, and it was about the best food i’d ever eaten. then we’d buy watermelon from a stand.
elio fiorucci admired the vintage platform shoes i’d found at the flea market. he forced me to give them to him (a fetish?) at a party, and i walked home in his mistress’s bedroom slippers. he copied them for the store, but i never saw them again. no contract can outline these memories.
three brushes with art director greatness
alexander liberman said to paula greif, “steven meisel and laurie rosenwald are both dangerous. watch out.”
i liked that. i worked with him when i was a designer at self and mademoiselle. he was absolutely right about everything he did, and he had those special vents cut into his jacket. i felt a direct line flowing from cassandre through liberman to me, but it was just my imagination.
paul rand called me “duckie” and pinched my cheek, even after he’d seen my work.
bea feitler hired me, fired me, and then apologized to me. we worked on the dummy for “self” together in 1979. i used to call it “young hypochondriac today.”
bea was from brazil, always tan and beautiful. she wore silk shirts unbuttoned to the 4th button, with a gold chain. she told me to be creative, to not be so creative, and taught me how to blow smoke rings.
i once made a poster with art director stephen doyle, for the “classic and cool” jazz concerts at the world financial center. he said “i want to take my wasp sensibilities and your jew sensibilities and smush them together like this” (he rubs his hands together). it came out great, i think!
martha voutas, an art director i knew, knew someone who knew someone, and all of a sudden i was working for david bowie. i met him at his managers office on 57th street. he opened the door and proceeded to charm the socks off me, in spite of his still-british teeth. we discussed the project, an album cover and poster for a documentary of bowie as ziggy stardust, called, appropriately, “ziggy.’ he then ordered cheeseburgers deluxe and cokes for us. we ate junk food and laughed. then i took the subway downtown and he flew back to switzerland.
this was way before e mail. i’d fedex different poster ideas to him. he’d phone me at odd hours, and say things like this:
“you know that poster you sent me last week?”
“well, could you do something that’s like, the opposite of that?”
“what do you mean?”
“well, you know the way it is?”
“well, that’s exactly what i don’t want, so could you do something that’s as different from what you did as possible?”
“um, sure thing, mister bowie!”
so that’s how i met david bowie, genius music legend and world’s worst art director. that said, i’ve worked with several hundred horrible art directors, and not one of them can sing “rebel, rebel” worth a damn. i’m a bowie fan for ever. they ended up using a photograph, but still. i’ll dine out on that cheeseburger as long as i live.
this and that
art directors. what do they do all day? if they pick the right person for the creative job they can go home and they haven’t earned their paycheck, so they have to say no to everything. compromise, changes, torture. that’s their job!
art directors. what do they do all day? they pick the right person for the creative job and they fight to bring their good work to light. they defend their brave artistic choices to the client or editor or mister moneybags. that’s their job!
art directors don’t like surprises but i do, so i get half my work killed. literally. rosenworld: the little house that kill fees built. i teach a workshop called “how to make mistakes on purpose” so please believe me.
how many art directors does it take to change a light bulb? only one art director, but many, many changes.
the worst art directors in the world:
the one who tore my name off my 1981 bloomingdale’s bag because i wasn’t famous.
the one who tore my name of my “paris ‘89″ poster, because i wasn’t french and was jewish.
the one who didn’t pay me for my 14 pages of “issey miyake” ads when i was 22.
the one who said, “five hundred dollars? but that’s almost as much as we pay for a photograph!”
the best art director in the world:
marvin israel, revolutionary.
why? for one thing, he had been the unlikely art director of harper’s bazaar, and fought tooth and nail for the bravest images. he worked with diane arbus, richard avedon and peter beard. for another, because he broke into an art director’s office at conde nast and duct taped everything in sight. on a pile of “brides” magazines, he wrote “you wish!’ in magic marker. because he didn’t care what anybody thought of him. also, he kept pigeons.
copyright 2008 Laurie Rosenwald