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Alexey Brodovitch, the Great Man of Art and Design Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2022

Alexey Brodovitch was a famous photographer, designer, and instructor. His most prominent work was in the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar where he had been an art director for a quarter of a century. This incredible work for the magazine left its significant trace in the development of the whole designer culture in the world. The importance of the designer’s work to the evolution of design practice is considerable. In the following paper, I have my goal to observe the creative work of Alexey Brodovitch, and his role in the development of the world’s art and design. Analyzing his creativity, it becomes evident that all the inimitable works by the great man of art and design, Alexey Brodovitch, feature his main working principles, which are innovation, unconventional approach, and futuristic ideas.

Speaking about the context in which this designer genius developed his talent, his biography, and its historical background should be analyzed. Alexey Brodovitch was born in 1898 and lived a very long life of success and acknowledgment. He died in 1971. Brodovitch was born to the rich family of a medical doctor father and an artist mother. This outstanding man of art is a Russian-born person and the first part of his life passed in Russia. Later, on the reason for the revolutionary events in the country, he along with his family had to leave it. Brodovitch’s working experience started in Paris where he as an immigrant had appeared face to face with the problem of finding money for him and his young wife. This situation was very new to him as in Russia the family had been very wealthy. Brodovitch’s first work was somehow connected to art; however, it was a very modest beginning. He had to paint the houses. Still, Alexey was a very talented man, and very soon he managed to find success in the area of art and design. The atmosphere for men of art in Paris was the best one in the world those days. The art and designer elite of the world was gathered in the city. They all had a great spirit of ideas’ intercourse and creative cooperation.

On 24 March 1924 Brodovitch managed to accomplish his first success among the wide public. His poster work on the topic of Le Bal Banal won the first prize in the very prestigious competition of those days in Paris (Purcell, 2002). The work was just striking with its fresh spirit and innovative approach. The very interesting fact is that Picasso himself won only second place in these competitions. Brodovitch’s posters were placed all around the Montparnasse next to the drawing by Picasso. Alexey Brodovitch was proud of this great success until the end of his days.

During his working activity period, Brodovich had a lot of projects and initiatives. However, their most successful work of his was in graphic design. Alexey Brodovitch became one of the most successful designers of commercial art in Paris. In 1934 Alexey Brodovitch started his work for Harper’s Bazaar in New York which became his biggest success in life. In this project, he managed to fulfill his purpose to make the magazine vague just as he was hoped to. The editor of the magazine Carmel Snow explained that she saw a new beginning for the magazine in the creative abilities of Brodovich:

I saw a fresh, new conception of layout technique that struck me like a revelation: pages that “bled” beautifully cropped photographs, typography, and design that were bold and arresting. Within ten minutes I had asked Brodovitch to have cocktails with me, and that evening I signed him to a provisional contract as art director (Tomkins, 1994).

Alexey Brodovitch was very excited about this offering and he even attracted his students to the project (by the time Brodovitch was also a successful instructor). Among his students, the task was given to create the most unusual pictures and illustrations for the magazine and the more unconventional and unusual the result appeared to be the better it was. This approach brought Brodovitch success, and he continued at his position in the Harper’s Bazaar for an unbelievably long period of twenty-four years. This vast period proves his great success. To maintain his design approach ever fresh and ever-innovative and well-timed, Alexey Brodovitch made regular trips to France to invite his friends-artists and photographers to assist him in the creation of the magazine’s design. As a result of this vast work by the most talented men of the art of the whole world, Harper’s Bazaar was always a cutting edge in the field of fashion and design. Among those significant masters of design and art, who helped Brodovitch to accomplish his goal, were Marc Chagall, Raoul Dufy, A. M. Cassandre, Jean Cocteau, and Leonor Fini. The reason for Brodovitch’s work for the magazine success was in his ability to combine the unfailing elegance of his illustrative works with the most innovative and unconventional ideas (Grundberg, 1992). One of the most incredible Brodovitch’s ideas for the Harper’s Bazaar’s design was in depicting the magazines’ illustrations as if they were the film frames. This was done to make the women readers of the magazine feel like the film characters living the life of luxury and sophistication depicted in the magazine. To strengthen this effect, Bordovitch used illustrations where the faces of the models were not seen or only some parts of their bodies were shown. Thus, for every reader, the opportunity to feel as if the model, shown in the picture, was offered (Appadurai, 1996). This was by far the greatest reason for Bordovitch’s great success among the public and the magazine’s owners.

The other extremely successful work by Alexey Brodovitch was his typeface. He created it in 1949 for Portfolio (Purcell, 2002). The idea for the publication of this great work came from Frank Zachary who was a famous art director those days. Together they decided to create a magazine that would focus both on art and design, and would still represent the design in a special way as an outstanding category of the primary magazine’s focus (Zachary, 1999). This idea fascinated Brodovitch as in Harper’s Bazaar his creative genius was limited within the topics of fashion and ladies’ interests. The idea of a new magazine captured him. Portfolio set Brodovitch free from those classic principles that he had to follow while working with the Harper’s Bazaar magazine and allowed him to create the most unconventional designer works. In Portfolio Brodovitch’s graphic imagination ran just wild. He created the forms and solutions which were futuristic for the 1940s and 1950s, thus, making a great leap of progress in the area of design in the twenty’s century. Brodovitch’s work for Portfolio was simply sorted of magic as it was the mixture of every possible and impossible style and conception. The response to his work was very impressive; however, Portfolio only lasted for three issues as its administration did not want it to feature advertisements and thus faced financial problems which stopped this ingenious, one-of-a-kind project.

Concluding on everything that has been mentioned so far, it should be stated that the historic, cultural, and social significance of Alexey Brodovitch’s work is very impressive. Their most outstanding achievement of his is the work for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar where he created for almost a quarter of a century letting the women readers of this magazine live a magic fairy-tale and cinematic reality of the magazine. The other great work of his, which became a very significant milestone in the development of design in the twenty’s century, became his cooperation for the creation of Portfolio magazine, where he created the most unconventional and innovative design solutions for that period. And yet another significant work of Alexey Brodovitch became his poster on the topic of Le Bal Banal, which he remembered to the end of his days as the most important event in his life when he was even able to triumph over the ingenious Picasso. All the works by Alexey Brodovitch feature a few major peculiarities: innovation, unconventional approach, and futuristic ideas. Analyzing Brodovitch’s creative path it becomes evident that this ingenious man of art had a very significant role in the development of the world’s design. And nowadays, when we find pleasure in the way some great fashion magazine is illustrated and accomplished, it is good to remember that this is also the achievement of Alexey Brodovitch. And finally, he left a great trace in the world’s design as a successful instructor, raising a new generation of incredibly talented art masters.


Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. United States: States: Minnesota Press.

Grundberg, A., and Bruce, C. (1992). After Art: Rethinking 150 Years of Photography Selections from the Joseph and Elaine Monsen Collection. United States: University of Washington Press.

Purcell, K. (2002). Alexey Brodovitch. London, UK : Phaidon Press.

Tomkins, C. (1994).The World of Carmel Snow. United Stated: Upjohn Institute.

Zachary, F. (1999). Kerry William Purcell and Edward Dimsdale. United States: States: Minnesota Press.

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