“I’m a true believer that every step we take in life is an essential part of the overall journey.”
I don’t swoon over just any dame. Maybe Barbara Stanwyck or Eartha Kitt might make me stammer, but they’re not longer with us. But Ivy Baer Sherman gets my fangirl-ish heart beating because she’s everything a dame should be, and more. Smart and stylish, Ivy got inspired (as we all do) and she followed through (as we all don’t). With talent, dedication and courage, she launched her own magazine. Not just any magazine, but a publication where each issue is stunning, tactile work of art that will never see the bottom of a birdcage.
Ivy Baer Sherman is the founder/editor of Vintage Magazine — the recipient of several awards for content and design. Her magazine is the offspring of her love for FLAIR, the magazine and the noun. Inspired by Fleur Cowle’s pioneering vision, Vintage is a celebration of print, offering a tactile romp through history — fashion, food, art, architecture. Rather than just slobber on about how fabulous Ivy is, and how squeal-inducing her gorgeous magazine can be, I thought the most coherent thing to do would be to let Ivy speak for herself in a straight up, sober interview.
Dametown: First off, congratulations and hosannas. Vintage Magazine is just beyond. It really is an anomaly among magazines, among anything in print really. How did Vintage come to be born?
Ivy Baer: I happened upon a beautiful exhibition of FLAIR in 2008 — presented by Parson’s at their little gallery on 14th Street. Walking into that room filled with displays of this magnificent magazine was a transcendent experience — the graphics…so imaginative, so magical…and so remarkable given the design tools available in the early 1950s. The room displayed all 12 issues (the magazine ran for one year 1950-1951) and was absolutely blown away. Going against the adage about how to never ever judge a book, I immediately judged this magazine by its exquisite covers, entranced by the stunning die cuts that offered glimpses into the splendid wonders awaiting within. I left that show keenly attuned to the physical draw of a magazine; how powerful the lure of beautiful design can be, of ink on paper, the tactile experience. Highly inspired, I left that show determined to create a publication of equal beauty and creativity — celebrating the possibilities of print and graphic design — bringing history to life — via today’s artists and writers. I wanted to create such a magazine for a 21st century audience, thinking if Fleur Cowles achieved such remarkable effects using the graphic design tools available in the 1950s – imagine what could be done with the tools on hand today.
Not one to listen to naysayers – that is, to the chorus of “print is dead” – I donned my headphones, turned on the Bach, et voilà…Vintage Magazine.
Dametown: Do you have issues of FLAIR at home?
Ivy: Upon leaving my former job to follow this flight of fancy, my wonderful boss presented me with the red-boxed Flair — needless to say now a cherished treasure. I also have original FLAIRs framed along a wall in my apartment.
Dametown: Of course, I completely get why you’d be inspired by the FLAIR exhibition. (I mean, people would be insane not to be. FLAIR is amazing.) But of all the people floored by what they saw, YOU took action – in an era where everyone was saying print was dead. Tell us more about why and how YOU took it upon yourself to create your own modern-day version of FLAIR.
Ivy: There are certain “cris de coeur” that I heed unconditionally – among them “Wear a mask, it saves lives” or “Don’t text and drive” or “Do unto others as you’d like others to do unto you.” But “Print is dead” is not, in my book, an unconditionally heed-worthy “cri “of any sort.
Beautiful magazines have always inspired me. I took a course during my Barnard College days on avant garde writers; the literary/art magazines in which their work was often published were wondrous to behold – tactile, design-daring, alluring – among them Tristan Tzara’s DADA; This Quarter, published in Paris by poet Ernest Walsh and Scottish suffragette Ethel Moore; Bauhaus edited by Walter Gropius and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – I remember how thrilling it was to lay eyes on these publications for the first time; I wrote my paper for that course in the form of a such a magazine. I’m also inspired by the history of magazines – George Plimpton editing The Paris Review; Fleur Cowles putting her art-full touch on FLAIR; Gloria Steinem birthing Ms.; Eunice and John Johnson founding Ebony – these stories are exciting to me – the challenges and the coming out on the other end.
Dametown: Before you jumped off the cliff into your dream project, what were you doing pre-Vintage?
Ivy: I served as Director of Publications at Friends Seminary, a Quaker independent school in New York City of which I am an alumna. I worked at Friends for 10 years and left to found Vintage Magazine. It was hard to leave, but Vintage called…and my wonderful, understanding boss presented me with the beautifully boxed and bound reissue of FLAIR as a parting gift.
Pre-pre-pre-Vintage, with my Barnard English degree in hand, I went on to take several art/graphics courses at Parsons School of Design at a time when cut and paste meant you were working with a sharp blade and rubber cement. I worked as a production manger in a photography studio and learned about the art of photography and retouching (the retouching community, back in the day, was so fascinating – it was an elite group, kind of like magicians, sharing amongst themselves their secret formulas for retouching color chromes), fashion shoots, on-set merchandise styling – an invaluable education. I’m a true believer that every step we take in life is an essential part of the overall journey.
Dametown: A lot of women our age want to pursue projects, but too often fear gets in the way. For you, what was the scariest part(s)?
Ivy: The Vintage Magazine journey has been exciting and joyful from the beginning – no scary parts – challenges, yes, design challenges that add to the thrill of it all (for our architecture issue cover – how to create the perfect feel and format for Chip Kidd’s multi-layered “homage to linoleum” cover, or, in the same issue, how to capture, on the page, the subtle textures and intricate stitching of Daphne Taylor’s sublime quilts )—hard parts, yes, the financing involved (to take advertising or not to take advertising? – that remains the thorny question – to date Vintage does not take ads) – but no scary parts. I set out with full concentration on the magazine I aimed to create, and with an untold number of eyes focused on (the demise of) print, I knew it was a ripe opportunity to show what print can do and be.
Dametown: What are Ivy’s unique qualities/experience/resources that help you make this incredible magazine where each issue is a cherished treasure rather than ‘just’ a magazine destined for recycling?
Vintage Magazine aims to bring history to life by way of today’s writers and artists; Vintage also aims to shine a bright light on the art of printing and the collaborative process of putting together a magazine.
Upon setting out to create each issue I never know where I will end up – this element of surprise energizes me and gives Vintage its sparkle. Sometimes an artist’s work will come to my attention, or there will be an author I’ve wanted to work with, or a theme comes to mind – once things like that happen, the issue starts to take form.
In the case of our architecture issue, I knew of Daphne Taylor’s quilts, and wanted to feature them; I’d often passed the distinctively shaped Novogratz residence on West Street in Manhattan and contacted Chicago-based paper engineer Shawn Sheehy about constructing a crazy-tall pop-up version for the magazine. Having opportunity to work with renowned book cover designer Chip Kidd on what would be his first magazine cover was exciting, my only stipulation for the cover was that it would allow for Vintage’s signature open spine (to reveal to readers the structure of a publication) – he came up with the linoleum idea…which determined for me that I’d present the magazine as a Vintage house tour, walking readers through from the floor up. And what house would be complete without a library? – thus Lisa Birnbach’s piece on the history of libraries and Gary Giddins’ article on W.R. Burnett – an author whose books are no longer in print – which we designed as a handheld/stand-alone book using reproductions of the original covers.
Vintage Magazine’s graphic designer, Regis Scott, has magic fingers – making any wild idea I offer appear on the computer screen, print-ready. And the expert team at Puritan Capital, a distinguished printing company in New Hampshire, furthers the magic, transforming these digital files into physical objects of beauty.
I consider it a true privilege to work with—and learn from – the resplendent community of artists, writers, photographers, stylists, printers, die-cutters, binders who bring their talents to the pages of Vintage.
What an honor to work with Barbara Nessim – an artist noted for her pioneering work in digital design and illustration, and as one of the few women employed as a full-time illustrator during the 1960s (she was also once upon a time roommate with Gloria Steinem, the two are close friends) – whose cover will dance you into our forthcoming music issue…Stay tuned!
Dametown: I love that when I asked you about your special qualities you focused on the network of friends and wonderful relationships you’ve built over the years. That’s certainly a huge advantage to our being “vintage” women of a certain age. Speaking of vintage, I was so thrilled to see you at the Manhattan Vintage Show last year. How large a part do vintage clothes and artifacts play in your life?
Among my cherished objects are sepia-toned photographs of my maternal grandmother and grandfather, Anna and Isidor Cheynovitz. My grandparents were apart for seven years as they made their way to the United States from Europe during the fraught years leading up to World War II. During these years they sent each other these picture postcards – each of them dressed beautifully in the fashion of the day – my grandfather suited and dapper, my grandmother elegant in an exquisite coat and hat, or striking in a scalloped dress with hanging beads. I was drawn to these images from the time I was little, to the stories behind them, to the life of my grandmother, with whom I was very close, and of my grandfather, for whom I am named; the images also represent for me the lives of family members that perished.
A great part of my interest in vintage clothes is thus about honoring the lives of my grandparents…and about remembering, never forgetting, times and cultures past.
On another note, there is also great joy in wearing vintage couture – brilliantly crafted works of art. Among the favorite pieces in my wardrobe, a blue and white coat and dress in herringbone pattern with distinctive stitching by Ronald Amey c. 1960s – Amey was renowned for mixing fabrics, textures and patterns in unexpected ways. Another is a Marguery Bolhagen dress and cape. Bolhagen, a disciple of Charles James, was noted for the divine architecture of his creations – a commingling of structure and flow. Beneath the precisely aligned lines and cut of the striped cape lies a solid charcoal-hued dress with a stiffly pleated skirt…but if you lift the hem you will find a bright burst of pink floral fabric! – wearing it sets me a’swaying…just sayin’.
And for the record, rare that you’ll find me on any given day without an armload of Bakelite.
Dametown: As one “older woman” to another, what are the advantages of taking on projects or pursuits at this time in our lives? What are the benefits of being “une femme d’un certain age”?
Ivy: I have to say that I’m quite unable to pinpoint the moment when I somehow crossed a threshold into what society is quick to term “older-women-hood.” It seems it was a seamless glide! I haven’t had to change a thing – not the way I dress, nor the colors I’ve always colored my hair; my interests and activities remain keen and varied. Career-wise, I started a grand new venture – founding Vintage Magazine – and, as “une femme d’un certain age”I continue to dream of ever more possibilities ahead.
Neither snow nor rain nor age should keep one from adventuring, wondering and taking on new endeavors. I have many role models whose example shaped this credo – my mother, proud teacher, who yet proves that there is always something to teach and always something to learn; my elegant grandmother who remained active in her community well into her nineties – her determination, fortitude and dignity inspire me to this day. And as a cultural/moral/intellectual force, need I say more than RBG?
I think that it’s crucial to be proud of who you are at your core – and to realize that every experience you have throughout life – whether challenging or breeze-easy– gets you to where you are today. If you’re not satisfied with your current path, then pivot. The benefits of “femme -d’un -certain -age-dom” are the compilation of these life experiences – thus with each new year our perspective broadens as we look out from a more elevated platform.
I’ve always been a firm advocate of age diversity – a commingling of generations – in the work environment and beyond. I know that I bring a lot to the table from my vintage vantage point…while at the same time I continue to gain skills and accrue wisdom from colleagues and mentors of all ages.
Dametown: One last question. Ivy, do you have a podcast, or plans for one?
Ivy: I’d love to do a Vintage podcast – make it an aural extension of the magazine. It’s been on my mind a lot…would be interested in collaborating with someone. Open to suggestions.
Dametown: I’m putting it out right and here and now…Ivy, I’d love to create a podcast for and dames and damery with you. We’ll be in touch. 🙂
Of course, you absolutely NEED to the your hands on some back issues of Vintage Magazine. Luckily, you can be on the lookout for the upcoming issue of Vintage, which is focused on music and features, among other things, a brief history of musical theater with Alan Cumming in all the roles; a piece on the history of the cabaret by Lisa Birnbach; a behind-the-seams (yes, seams) look at NYCB’s The Nutcracker; author Gary Giddins on the jazz photographer of Herman Leonard. The cover artist is the remarkable Barbara Nessim — a pioneer in computer graphic design — and a true female force in the 1960s/70s/80s world of advertising design.
Photo credit: Victoria Jackson PhotographyNYC