the ultimate magazine; bold, adventurous, short lived, never forgotten………
Fleur Fenton Cowles (January 20, 1908 – June 5, 2009) founded the amazingly imaginative, versatile, innovative Flair magazine in 1950. She died aged 101, said that Flair, the magazine she edited more than 60 years ago, should and would be her obituary. Flair was a short-lived, loss-making, exhilarating project, meant to showcase the persona Fleur had invented for herself. Media professionals and students have admired it ever since its 12th and last issue appeared on US newsstands in January 1951. By then, Flair had served its purpose for Fleur, becoming in its single year of existence, "a lifetime passport .….. it still opens doors to writers, painters and designers".
She understood early in the popularisation and feminisation of American newspapers the connections between print, fame and advertising, and the hunger for ideas - she was never short of those: "I have an idea a minute."
In Washington she met Gardner "Mike" Cowles Jr, temporarily at the Office of War Information but more usually occupied in the family publishing business. She upgraded her name to Fleur, and Mike and Fleur married, both for the third time. She was at last in the right place to be who and what she wanted. She joined Look magazine, which Mike had founded, as associate editor and oversaw a redesign, adding fashion and food and inventing the formula for later newspaper colour mags. Circulation increased, and so did advertising.
She wrote a fashion column for the New York World-Telegram; she worked in a Boston ad agency. Her first husband, Bertram Klapper, owned a firm making wooden cores for shoe heels. Her second, Atherton Pettingell, an ad executive, had been her boss. She was better at copywriting than he was, and together they set up an ad agency for New York's luxury businesses, including Helena Rubinstein cosmetics.
The couple travelled the world with access at state residents, royal palaces and the most fashionable artists and film stars at the time. But she wanted her own magazine. It had to have flair, she kept saying - and there was its name. Postwar Manhattan had a huge pool of magazine talent, energised by designers and graphic specialists who had fled Europe. They had ambitious ideas of what a magazine could be, which had to be something new, something never executed in mag. world, drawn from surrealist collages, Japanese ephemera, memories of 1920s stencilled fashion plates, and the pop-up and pull-out books from childhood dressed in innovative layouts.
Nothing was too good for Flair, which promised "the best things, the first things, uniting its readers in an aristocracy of taste", and delivered them, with food, fashion and the arts besides. The magazine was on sale every month from February 1950 for 12 issues, loosing money like running water, Mike scrapped it. Fleur never forgave him.
She coined the word ‘heptitude,’ which meant being knowledgeable about food, dress, and living. People were dazzled by the new magazine……Everyone who counted was talking about it incessantly. Of course, people also thought the magazine would send Mike Cowles to debtors’ prison, it was enormously sumptuous.. Every pundit in town was scrambling to weigh in with an opinion about the magazine that promised, in its editor’s letter handwritten in gold ink, to “give direction and fullness to life.”
Strutting hatless in a behatted era in exclusive tailored suits, with huge horn-rimmed glasses and a trademark Russian emerald ring. She was Fleur Fenton Cowles.
Enjoy a collection of Fleur's best of Flair published through Cartago.