Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cover Girl

Once in a while, you find someone so talented it takes your breath away.  I recently stumbled onto a blog called My Book Covers, a compilation of jacket designs by Random House designer Megan Wilson. I was absolutely gobsmacked by her utterly arresting visual style and had to find out more about her ASAP.

When I contacted her about doing this post, she wrote, "I will be blushing madly if you go ahead with this." (Blush away, Megan.) 

A selection of her book jackets is below. To see her complete collection of covers, click here.

Away we go...

I adore the stark simplicity of these two covers. The triangular motif adds a sharp tension to the delicacy of the artwork. 
(Vintage Classics. Photograph by Katherine Wolkoff.)

(Vintage Classics. Painting by Philip Taaffe.)

What does she add to an unforgettable photo like this? Restraint. Result? Perfection.
(Vintage Books. Photograph by Slim Aarons.)

I own this Beaton book and totally admit that I bought this edition because of the cover. It was a win-win situation as I also fell for the man inside.
(Alfred A. Knopf. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.)

I love how Megan chose to abut the soft, muted portrait up against the dramatic black border. It gives the cover a slight sense of unreality (and if you've read the book, you know that's exactly what the story's about).
(Vintage Books. Painting by Meredith Frampton.)

These next two covers kill me with their elegant fragility, so appropriate for Forster's novels.
(Vintage Classics. Wallpaper design by C. F. A. Voysey.)

(Vintage Classics. Design for woven silk by Anna Maria Garthwaite.)

Her style is wide-ranging... 
(Anchor Books.)

...and not without wit.

Oh, Noel. You're in good hands.

This one I find haunting.

This one feels very "Mad Men." 

The pink here reminds me of a Laduree macaroon.
(Vintage Books. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.)

I own this book in its plain gray Persephone cover; when I saw this new edition a few months ago, I almost bought it again just for that portrait. The colors! (But I didn't. Did you read my last post?)
(Persephone Books, London. Painting by Sir James Gunn.)

Megan also has another blog called Ancient Industries, of which I'm a huge fan. If you don't know it, you are in for a treat. (And it appears that her online shop is nearly up. Yippee.) 

The book covers whetted my appetite, but I still hankered to know about the woman behind the designs. Fortunately, Megan agreed to give me a bit of dish. It follows.

Megan, can you tell us a little about yourself? Start from the beginning.

If I can talk in terms of pop culture, my father was Don Draper, a Madison Avenue ad exec in the early 1960's...
...and by the time my (identical) twin and I came along in 1965, my mother was stuck in the suburbs with four children, crashing her station wagon into trees with us kids rolling around in the back. We had an old English sheepdog and all sorts of long-haired animals and my mother had a pash for decorating (cue "Please Don't Eat The Daisies.")
This then evolved into "The Ice Storm"...
...and my mother, in a fit of pique, looked at the NY Times real estate section and found two houses for rent far, far away. One was in Seville, Spain; the other in a little village near Henley-on-Thames, England.

How fabulous! Which one did she choose?

Well, she decided that learning a new language on top of everything else might be the final straw so she chose England. Because it was 1972 and you could move to a foreign country with four kids in tow and no visible means of support, she did just that.

Where did you live?

We moved to Holland Park which was still very shabby and bohemian. The houses in our square were pink, purple, orange, lime green, several abandoned, some lived in by squatters. I have strong memories of the dark insides of these houses and their overgrown gardens.

At this point, the story becomes more like "Hideous Kinky"...
...as my enterprising mother illegally sublet our house (with sheepdog thrown in) and took us off to Menorca, Spain for the entire summer, every summer. She was still young enough to enjoy herself, and we twins remember being dumped with strange non-English-speaking Catalans in the evenings, and hitchhiking to the beach during the day. 

Megan, that's quite an eccentric childhood!  I think you have enough material to fill up a book, not just the cover. Tell me some more. 

Well, my mother somehow managed to send us to quite posh schools (Putney High, followed by Godolphin and Latimer) all against the backdrop of imminent deportation and expulsion due to late fees. Occasionally, packages would arrive from Don Draper back in the States. Eventually, she managed to become much wealthier than my father by buying houses, getting them into glossy mags and then flogging them, but this was before the really big real estate money began. After that, I went to Chelsea, then St. Martins School of Art which was seriously good fun. The soundtrack to those days would be The Specials, The Smiths, Madonna and your friend Belinda.

And now you live in New York City.

After three years designing book covers -- my office was in the Michelin Building on Fulham Road (very nice) -- I came here to New York for two to five years...and that was back in 1991. Hence the constant harking back to England, where my twin still is as well as various family members. 

Any last words?

No, I don't draw the pictures (you'd be amazed how many people ask this) and yes, one should judge the book by its cover.


Lee said...

Ahhh, so now I know who it is that entices me to buy books merely because of their covers! What a brilliant designer and conversationalist Megan is (with a very interesting background to boot).

Courtney said...

She is quite the character herself! I LOVE this post. Darling girl.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love her already! What an interesting person she is.
..."and yes, one should judge the book by its cover"....?!....THANK YOU!!

pve design said...

Kudo's to you for uncovering the cover girl.
I wonder what your book cover would look like.
I for one, can hardly wait for that day to arrive.
Nothing like a bit of encouragement from a fan.

Mary said...

Such a wonderful discovery and post....it is so refreshing to hear a young woman recall a unconventional childhood and not blame her mother for issues she may have. Sounds like Megan rolled with the punches and took the best from the experiences! Love that !

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am so often seduced by book covers these days! They have taken the place of sorely missed record album covers for me. Megan's designs are a perfect example of why this is! Just perfect designs for each book. Thanks for the introduction and wonderful interview!

JMW said...

Thank you for this entry. From her book designs to her commentary, quite delightful. Some of my favorite books and films listed as well (The Ice Storm is fantastic).

Michelle Parks McCourt said...

Fantastic post!

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

I so love reading about and/or listening to other people's life stories.

Thank you for bringing this one to me today!

fascinating in a gypsy way

Tricia said...

Megan's a keeper! Sincere thanks.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

A great post- I love the-you can judge a book by its cover. they do entice- I have a couple of these & now,I think I might like to get all these for my niece for her birthday! I have been following both these blogs since you added them to your list some time ago-thanks for the intro. la

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

I'm so glad everyone likes this post. Megan is indeed a talented and fascinating woman!

Unknown said...

As a graphic designer I always judge a book by it's cover, guilt free at that :) Thanks for sharing Megan's story!

Rue said...

Hi Lisa :)

Such an interesing person! I love those book covers.

About the mention.. You're very welcome :)


Anonymous said...

I just finished reading both of those Persephone books! I loved this post. It's great to know a little about the designer behind those incredible covers.

RobtW said...

A great post. Many thanks -- and thanks on behalf of Amazon for orders of a couple titles.

A Super Dilettante said...

What a literary feast in here! Designs for book cover is a true lost art. People don't design them any more these days. I'm fascinated by the old book covers designed by Dora Carrington and books from Hogarth Press...especially the ones they did for Virginia Woolf's novels.

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

I'm in awe as I am busy trying to design my first book cover as I write this. I used to live just a stones throw from the Michelin building...wonder how many times our paths crossed? I'm about to attend my own daughter's art show and graduation from St. Martins at the end of this month...I'll be thinking of Megan while I'm there (and doing my best to get the latest St. Martins grad to help me on the book).

Love following your blog and seeing the world through your eyes Lisa!

Bart Boehlert said...

I bought the Nancy Mitford book based on the cover - delicious.

Unknown said...

Perfectly under cover...love all about Megan's story and I can only tell you, I love books and books with great covers even more. I did a post a while back just on that! (Books, Friday, April 17)
; Victoria

vicki archer said...

Fantastic interview - loved the way she described her childhood and the pics of the films, xv.

Clarity said...

Riveting post.

I adore Beaton's work too, whom I discovered in our library at Putney High School for Girls! it is a small world ... :)

Aaron Vance-Borland said...

The Mitford book is one of my favorites. So nice to meet the designer. Please convince someone to publish all of Mitford's books, and do the covers! Madame de Pompadour is the only other of her books in print. Can you believe that? This is a serious issue!

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