Saturday 27 September 2014
Meeting Janet Froelich

Sometimes a good question is more important than a good answer. While everybody can have an answer, questions make you pause and reflect. Janet Froelich’s questions make us doubt and they make us think. They make us smarter and more creative. Her thoughtful, »Could it be…? « tends to trigger a chain of thought that in turn leads to new and interesting queries.

Janet Froelich is one of few American women we’ve met to without hesitation call herself a feminist. »It’s not something I think a whole lot about, it’s part of who I am and how I see the world.« In fact, she began her successful career at a feminist publication, Heresies, when she – after 10 years as an abstract painter – swapped solitary hours in the studio for all-nighters and collective discussions about photos and headlines. At the time, in the 1970s, art direction was not a high status profession. She says they called it commercial art and in the world of fine arts, from which she came, that was perhaps the least well-regarded thing there was. »I mean it’s not like it’s art«, Janet might say of her work.

We meet for the first time in 2009, at a fancy hotel on Union Square where we are supposed to have breakfast together. The music is loud and our waiter tells us it is impossible to lower it, right before he pours coffee into a cup full of tea. Janet is polite but strict when she draws his attention to his mistake and asks for a new cup. In one fell swoop she demonstrates her abilities as a leader in her way of deftly taking charge of the situation. We’re impressed. To us, Janet Froelich is the epitome of a professional woman in New York. Elegant, cool, friendly and appropriate.

Ever since she was a girl, Janet Froelich has had a powerful drive, a competitive spirit and a will to always do better. She says she doesn’t know where it comes from, but over the course of our conversation she draws parallels between athletics and the professional world and says that everybody should be involved in sports at some point in their life. That is where you hone your competitive instinct, set clear goals and learn to lose. The latter is something she thinks women are often less good at. In part due to the fact that it was more common for boys than girls to grow up with sports, at least in her generation.

Over that breakfast, she tells of a fresh start in her career. She is beginning a new job that week; after 22 years as art director and creative director at The New York Times Magazine and T Style, she is moving to Real Simple, a lifestyle publication for working women. She is full of anticipation and yet again, we are impressed.

Janet Froelich was born in Brooklyn and raised in the suburbs of New York. She studied fine art at Cooper Union and later pursued a M.F.A. at Yale. It wasn’t until she came into contact with and worked for Heresies that she found her calling in graphic design. With bare-bones qualifications she got a job at the Daily News Magazine, which in time lead her to the position of art director at The New York Times Magazine, and later The New York Times Style Magazine .

The New York Times magazines have won countless prizes under her leadership. Her style is visually strong and extremely catchy, but always intelligent and elegant. Janet tells us that the big difference between The Times magazines and Real Simple is that while the first is a supplement in a newspaper, the latter is sold on the newsstand, which has presented a big challenge. It seems paradoxical to us that The Times Magazine would be a publication not intended for the newsstand, since we feel we would be drawn like magnets to each and every cover if we saw it on the shelf. The endless variations on the T in T Magazine, by various creators is genius and brings out the collectors in us.

Our meeting with Janet Froelich planted a seed. Once back in Sweden we don’t quite know what to do with our project, but Janet’s interest and questions have made us confident that this is important. We are egged on by her urging that something concrete must come of our informal meetings with nine of the world’s foremost (female) designers in New York.

Another idea that takes root is Janet’s thoughts on women and athletics. When we get home we start working our bodies, spending more time at soccer fields, boxing rings and gyms. It turns out to be surprisingly easy to compete with men in the only realm in which there are biological differences in the basic conditions for success. When we take on the men at local gyms doing push-ups, we feel that competing on equal ground in design should be easy.

– Samira Bouabana, Angela Tillman Sperandio, 2013

Preface: Hall of Femmes: Janet Froelich, 2013
Editor: Sarah Clyne Sundberg

Buy the book here.
Buy the poster here.

Posted by: 06:33

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Categories: Janet Froelich, Preface, Sarah Clyne Sundberg

Wednesday 28 May 2014
Meeting the Vignelli’s

#Lella1957 USA

When we arrive at the Vignellis’ Upper East Side apartment to interview Lella, her husband Massimo answers the door. Their combined home and studio is a duplex apartment, dominated by a giant, lead window. We chat while waiting for Lella to appear – she is not entirely well. A storm rages outside and every so often a lightning strike rattles the church-like window. Later, when we listen to the tape, there’s so much rumbling at times that we can barely hear what we’re saying.

Suddenly Massimo looks up and says, »I think that’s Lella,« sensing her presence. And there she stands, on the balcony that looks out over the large, high-ceilinged room. She comes down to talk and introduces herself. Lella Vignelli is regal. Though today, at the age of 78, she is no longer working, she is sharp, impeccable and has an air of knowing something the rest of us don’t. After all these years in the US, her accent is still unmistakably Italian. Despite her health issues, she projects authority, and it’s easy to see why clients and suppliers did as she said.

Lella and Massimo Vignelli met when they were very young. They both studied architecture in Venice and later moved back and 
forth between Italy and the US, running a successful business, the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture, in Milan with big clients like Pirelli and Olivetti. When the pair settled in New York at the end of the 1960s, they, Ralph Eckerstrom and others launched Unimark International, one of the world’s biggest design firms at the time. Lella says they felt like missionaries during those first years; in the US there was much in need of designing.

The Vignellis have a holistic approach to design that they put forward in their book Design is One. Lella’s broad and impressive output proves their motto: »If you can design one thing, you can design everything.« She has turned her hand to every kind of project, from furniture, interiors, showrooms and exhibitions, to product design, silverware and clothing. When we meet, Lella wears a gray pantsuit and jewelry of her own design. The furniture we sit on is from their shared portfolio, and Massimo pours water into glasses he designed. All follows from a directive that is both prosaic and like a command from a higher sphere: »If you can’t find it, design it.«

Ever since they first met, their private relationship has been impossible to separate from their intellectual and creative partnership. In an interview with the couple, from the early 1980s, Lella says that they did compete with each other in the beginning, but that the ambition- to one-up one another in those early years was soon replaced by cooperation. They answer all questions using the pronoun »we.«

Not everyone has understood just how closely they have worked, and the couple is frustrated that Massimo has often gotten sole credit for projects that they have done together, or »for my work,« as Lella sharply puts it.

Throughout art and design history there are a smattering of couples in the same profession. Cipe Pineles and William Golden, and later Will Burtin, for example. But it is more common to find a pairing of two related professions, such as Massimo and Lella Vignelli – graphic- designer and industrial designer. The role distribution, and how the female partner, or wife, has been involved in the process, may not always be clear to others. Bertha Goudy and Edna Beilenson helped their men with typesetting, and Ray Eames took an active part in the Eames’ work as a couple.

The issue of partnership has often surfaced in our work on Hall of Femmes. For us the image of a professional creative couple has always held a certain allure – a partnership in love and work. Perhaps because we too are a »design couple,« albeit not in the romantic sense. For ten years we worked together in a seamless partnership in which it was impossible to divine who did what. In our case this never meant that one of us was obscured by the other. Do women who work in tandem with their men run a higher risk of this?

Admitting to ourselves that the Vignellis’ private relationship inte-rests us as much as their professional one feels shameful, almost taboo. Like everyone else, we’ve been taught that a designer’s actual work is the aspect important to a historical biography. To intrude into the private sphere would be messy. This seems even more loaded when it comes to women. If a woman is living with a man who is successful in her field, people’s opinions of her professional life will likely be influenced by it. Martha Scotford writes about this in her introductory essay. So, in deference to their life-long collaboration, we decided to interview the Vignellis together, although Lella is our main interest.

After the interview, Lella and Massimo walk us to the door. Mas-simo remarks how important it is that Lella get the book she deserves.
We have to agree with him on that. Lella smiles her most radiant smile and says »I never let myself be intimidated by the attitudes
of others.«

Preface from Hall of Femmes: Lella Vignelli, published  2013
Editor: Sarah Clyne Sundberg

Buy the book here.
Buy the poster here

 

 

 

Posted by: 10:56

Categories: Books, Lella Vignelli, Massimo Vignelli, Preface, Sarah Clyne Sundberg

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