We all recognize the trope of the fashion magazine editor. Think Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada: opinionated; honest; a force to be reckoned with. As Vogue’s art and editorial director from 1941-1994, Alexander Liberman may not have been easy to work with—in fact, he is a controversial figure in the fashion world. He would often tear apart near-complete issues of the magazine, reinventing them right before their deadlines. Many of his colleagues have complicated opinions of him, calling him “evil” and “dreadful.” Still he remained a mentor to his colleagues and a top influencer on the images Americans were looking at during his sartorial reign.
Liberman was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1912. His first editorial job was in the art department of Vu, a weekly magazine in Paris. He began working in Vogue’s art department in 1941 after he, his soon-to-be wife, Tatiana du Plessix, and her daughter, Francine (who would become author Francine du Plessix Gray) moved to New York City to escape war-torn Russia. He became art director in 1943, and eventually worked with numerous notable editors, including Diana Vreeland and Anna Wintour. He also brought many now-famous photographers to Vogue, including Irving Penn.
At the same time, Liberman was a budding artist, focusing on painting and sculpting. This would inform his directorial decisions at Vogue. He once said, “In a curious way I felt myself superior to everybody I was dealing with and to everything that I was doing . . . because I felt that I was an artist. This gave me . . . the kind of unquestioning self-confidence you need to be a good editor or a good art director. I felt that if I chose something . . . it was right because I chose it.”
1. Alexander Liberman when he began his editorial director position, 1960.
2. Alexander Liberman in Warren, Connecticut, in 1987, photographed by Herb Ritts.
3. A 1970 steel sculpture by Alexander Liberman, on display at Storm King Art Center in New York’s Hudson Valley.
4. Photo of Liberman painting in his art studio.
5. Alexander Liberman Photographed by Arthur Elgort, published in Vogue, March 2004.
Sources: Voguepedia and The New Yorker
Image Layout: Second City Style