Fleur Cowles, Alphonse Mucha, Theophile Steinlen and a 100 Year old Rooster… Or what I found in a dusty Milanese bookshop

You’ve gotta love a woman who describes herself as “rough, uncut, [and] vigorous”. (I like it almost as much as my favourite: “mad, bad and dangerous to know”…). A woman who says of herself, “I’ve worked hard, and I’ve made a fortune, and I did it in a man’s world, but always, ruthlessly, and with a kind of cruel insistence, I have tried to keep feminine”.


Fleur Cowles, (born as Florence Freidman – yes, I probably would have preferred Fleur too), was the founder of a very short lived magazine called Flair. The magazine, which Time described at its launch as “a fancy bouillabaisse of Vogue, Town & Country, Holiday, etc.,” was celebrated not only because of its design and editorial production by European art director Federico Pallavicini (né Federico von Berzeviczy-Pallavicini – LOVE that name. I want one like it…) but also because of its lavish production. It was the resulting cost of production that killed the magazine, since the expensive special costs (for cover cut-outs for some issues, for example) could not be supported in the long run. Contributors included Saul Steinberg, Salvador Dalí and many writers and artists who subsequently became well known. The first issue featured Auden, Cocteau, Lucian Freud, Tennessee Williams, Angus Wilson, and many others as contributors


I thought of Florence, er, Fleur, when I was thinking about how hard it is to put together a magazine of the best artists, the best authors, the best of … everything. While Flair is stupendous (I have a bound copy of its 12 or 13 issues at home), it was not the first magazine of it’s type. Perhaps that honor goes to…


Cocorico was a French magazine first published in 1898. It was produced by the artist Paul Emile Boutigny and had 63 issues, each of them illustrated by the best artists of the day … artists like Mucha, Willette, Roubille and Steinlen. Like Flair, Cocorico had a relatively short life-span….


In a very dusty corner of a very old Milanese shop, I found a complete, bound, set of Cocorico. It’s pristine, it’s complete, and it’s coming home with me… And while I imagine that Monsieur Boutigny would be scandalized that I intend to take apart this volume and sell the Mucha’s and Steinlen’s by the piece, I think he might just nod his approval – in a rough, uncut and kind of vigorous manner no doubt!


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