The one that got away


In early 2016 I was contacted by the organiser of the Concours of Elegance inviting me to create a poster for that year’s event. This is one of the most prestigious annual gatherings for classic car enthusiasts to display some of the world’s finest vehicles, which in that year was to be held at Windsor Castle.

The brief was quite loose, the only requirement being that it should feature the magnificent Vittorio Jano designed 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and a 1937 Talbot Lago T150C SS, known as the ‘Teardrop’. This was designed by the Italian Giuseppe Figoni, who also designed the 1935 Delahaye 135 chassis.

Windsor-Castle-2016In this instance it was the influence of the American poster designer Edward McKnight Kauffer that I chose to guide me through the design. Although I was very pleased with this bold new direction, it proved to be a mistake, as my illustration was rejected. But at least, I did get paid, which for a jobbing commercial artist like myself, is the main thing. The organiser chose, instead, to use the Charles Avalon design on the left. Oh, well, you can’t win them all, as I believe they say.

You can see other examples of my poster work at:


A. M. Cassandre and the modern French poster


A. M. Cassandre was born Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron in Ukraine to French parents on 24 January 1901. Although his father’s business as a wine importer required him to remain in Russia, the young Adolphe was schooled in France. In 1915 the family moved to France, and after a brief spell attending the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (he walked out after just one hour), he enrolled at the independent studio of Lucien Simon, and then the Académie Julian.

L'Intransigeant         In Paris, the young Mouron fell under the influence of the avant-garde artists working in Paris, publicising through posters forthcoming cultural events, without concession to commercialism or popular taste of the time.

To finance his studies, Mouron took a job with the printing firm of Hachard et Compagnie, where he appears to have learned his craft, albeit through turning out fairly mediocre, routine work. In time he would produce some of his best loved work with Hachard, including ground-breaking designs for the French railway catering company, Wagons Lits.

In 1922 he set up his first studio in Montparnasse and began receiving poster commissions, for which he adopted the pseudonym, A. M. Cassandre. He quickly gained recognition, and with the poster ‘Au Bucheron’ (the lumberjack), created for a furniture store and designed to run in the Métro stations, he won first prize at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs.AuBucheron

His success enabled him, in 1930, to set up his own advertising agency, Alliance Graphique, with the poster illustrator Charles Loupot, and a young printer’s representative, Maurice Moyrand. Moyrand was influential and had many useful contacts, and through his dynamism the project prospered and soon picked up a number of high-profile clients. Sadly, in September 1934, Moyrand was killed in an automobile accident, and without his leadership, Alliance Graphique limped on for another year, and then closed. But this period saw the creation of what is widely acknowledged as some of his best poster work.LeRouteBleu

It was his audacious use of elements drawn from cubism and surrealism, two avant garde art movements yet to become fully accepted in the minds of the French public, that gave his best poster designs a startling visual impact, new to commercial art of the time. Always exploring and a readiness to experiment with juxtapositions of line and form that might put the viewer at some discomfort, or otherwise charm them with a subtle wit, gave his work an enduring appeal. A certain bravery was required by his clients in commissioning new designs, that’s for sure.

In 1929, after meeting the type founder Charles Peignot, Cassandre tried his hand at designing typefaces, beginning with the upper-case display face that he named Bifur. It never quite caught on, despite Piegnot’s promotional efforts, but undaunted, Cassandre pressed on the following year to design his next typeface, Acier. This met with the same response as Bifur. However, his third attempt, after many years of research and experimentation, produced Peignot, a commercial success as well as an enduring type design.

He made a number of trips to the United States between 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition of his posters, and 1939. Whilst in the States he produced many covers for Harper’s Bazaar, as well as commissions from advertising agencies for the Ford Motor Company among others.

A short spell of military service followed his return to France, then he turned his creative resources to easel painting (with limited success) and stage design.

His final years were spent in relative poverty complicated by bouts of depression, until, on June 17 1968 in his apartment on the Avenue Rene-Coty in Paris, he took his own life.


A. M. Cassandre and the New Vintage Posters logo


For anybody interested in the niceties of these things, let me talk you through the process of arriving at the design of our new logo. I do like to renew it from time to time, just to keep me on my toes as much as anything.

The previous design, I felt, had served me well but had served its time, and the new website required a fresh appearance.

The art deco period of the nineteen twenties and thirties offers an abundance of possibilities in type design, and these are integral, along with the illustration, to the overall graphic composition of the advertising posters of the period.

From the start of the process I was tempted to use Gill Sans, one of my all-time favourite fonts designed by the English artist, sculptor, designer and sexual deviant Eric Gill. But I use this font many times in my promotional material, and I wanted to keep the website graphics distinctive.

French-lawn-tennis-poster       Eventually I turned to A. M. Cassandre, quite possibly the finest type designer of the early twentieth century. The text that I settled on, after a considerable amount of trawling through my library of Art Deco graphic books, came from a poster promoting the Grand Fortnight of International Lawn-Tennis in 1932. This is a wonderfully simple airbrush illustration, pared down to its essentials, with the drawing and text, which was almost certainly also hand-drawn, taking equal billing. Perfect.

I scanned the text area and opened a Photoshop file, creating a separate layer for each letter. I drew each letter using the pen tool (and I do favour Photoshop over Adobe Illustrator for this purpose), then I simply filled each letter with colour before arranging and spacing the line of text. I needed to create a couple of (simple) letters, but basically they were all there for me.

For the new website, I wanted a grey and black line of type to emphasise the colours of the posters, which I think has proven a success. Well, I like it anyway.

You can see it in use HERE

Bal De La Couture Parisienne

I love this poster. I got a real kick out of producing it, and it was one that, as an illustration, just fell nicely into place. The lines and the composition flowed beautifully in the original sketch. I am not for one moment (Heaven forbid!) suggesting that this process was easy, as there was a great deal of research went in before committing to the design. But once the concept was developed the image almost designed itself. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the girl’s face (whose gaze follows you around the room) and then it circles that area for a while following the line of the hat before being led down to the text by the broad line of the gentleman’s white scarf. The girl is clearly the star of the show and the silhouetted figure of the gentleman is very much in a supporting role. I am also pleased with the fact that there is something a little enigmatic in the expression on the girl’s face. We cannot quite tell if she is happy to be on the arm of the doubtless wealthy but shadowy gentleman. Is that expression one of comfortable contentment or is it perhaps a trifle uneasy?

I stole the idea of the yellow lights from a Toulouse-LautrecToulouse-Lautrec_-_Moulin_Rouge_-_La_Goulue poster from 1891 of the dancer La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge, shown on the right. (“If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” Who said that, I wonder?) ‘La Goulue’ (meaning, would you believe, ‘The Glutton’, real name Louise Weber) was the most famous quadrille dancer of her day and a regular performer at The Moulin Rouge, The Moulin de la Galette and other famous Parisian venues of the time, with her dancing partner Valentin-le-Décossé (seen in the foreground).

I did experiment with many different type designs before I felt that I had got it right, but I just knew when it was. The lettering is a hand drawn, original font, unique to me, although based on exsisting type styles of the period.

The text is taken from an original Bal De La Couture poster of 1925, (shown below) designed by Georges Lepape two years earlier than the date featured in my design, so the details are correct. Note the price of admission: 100 francs. It’s my guess that in 1927 100 francs was a great deal of money, so the ticket price must have pretty much guaranteed to the guests that they were unlikely to be rubbing shoulders with any of the Parisian riff-raff once they stepped inside the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.

BDLCThe magnificent art deco structure of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, opened in 1913 as a venue for contemporary music, dance and opera, in contrast to the more conservative Paris Opera. In its first season it hosted the Ballet Russes, staging the world premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring on May 29th, an event which became notorious for the ensuing riot amongst the audience.

A revival of the fashion ball has, in the last twenty years, been combined with the tradition of the debutants ball by Ophélie Renouard as Le Bal des Débutantes, in which the daughters of former celebrities, aristocrats, artists, politicians and others are dressed by haute couture and couture fashion houses in order to promote their reputations and products. This event was first held in 1992 at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, which continues to serve as the venue to this day.

You can find full details of this poster here.