Ken Burns on William Segal

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William C. Segal(1905-2000) is not as well known in the design world as his magazinecontemporaries Alexey Brodovitch or Alexander Lieberman. His name doesnot appear in so much as a footnote in any design history textbook. Yethe had an equal influence on fashion magazines during the late fortiesand fifties. Segal was founder and managing director of ReporterPublications in New York City, as well as writer, editor, publisher andart director of its stunning periodicals, Men’s Reporter, American Fabrics and Gentry.

Men’s Reporter was the voice box of men’s’ fashion. AFwas an elegant “trade” magazine that combined articles on fine art andcommercial textile manufacture aimed at elevating the oft disparaged“rag trade.” Gentry was a general interest quarterly male lifestyle magazine that owing to its special graphic effects rivaled the likes of Esquire for intelligence and Playboy for inventiveness.

Segal may not be well known in design annals because he hireddesigners to work on projects, so he assumes the appearance of a clientrather than a creator. For Segal design was not an isolated,specialized activity, rather it was a part of an entire process.

If the term “auteur” applies to graphic design, then Segal’s totalparticipation in all aspects of his magazines – from editing, to sellingads, to doing layouts – has certainly earned him the distinction ofdesign auteur.

One of his notable collaborations was with Alvin Lustig,who designed his home (below, second), his offices in the Empire StateBuilding, and his magazines (see two covers above and below top). Andlater this month and next, PBS,which has exclusive rights to Ken Burns’s films, is bringing two ofhis documentaries, “William Segal” and “In the Marketplace,” totelevision for the first time. (Viewers should check local listings forbroadcast dates.)

These short and intimate movies about Segalthat Burns and his colleagues made from 1992 to 2000 were mostly meantto be seen within Mr. Segal’s personal and professional circles. Theywill focus on his artistic (as painter and poet) and spiritual life (asa confidant of G.I. Gurdjieff, the Greco-Armenian mystic whoseself-named esoteric movement wed the wisdom of the East and energy ofthe West).

“In the last decade of his life he and filmmaker KenBurns collaborated on an interior trilogy. The film includes segmentsof Segal in his art studio and garden discussing the creative processand the intimate personal and spiritual relationship between the artistand the work of art. It also includes a segment on Vezelay, inspiredby the magnificent basilica at Vezelay, France. There he and Burnsprobe the eternal question of individual identity and the obstacles ofseeing, searching and being.”

Or you can read my essay on Segal and Gentry in “The Graphic Design Reader.”

mens reporter


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