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Salute to the style heroine and taste-maker – ‘The Best of Flair’ (2014)

Dear readers, getting some style or fashion references nowadays is just pretty easy, especially in the digital age that we are living in, with millions of photos available from social media pages of different people, whether those who are a Pitti-Uomo sprezzatura or accidental nobody-comes-insta-style-star, one can almost got trillions of great dressing idea for men by simply scrolling your Instagram, interestingly, back in my early career days working in high fashion retailing in the early 1990s, the way for me to acquire the most updated styling looks and fashion information, is either from fashion TV shows or magazines (and trend books too), I do adapt the habit of buying fashion magazine only until almost 10 years ago when the fashion industry and the overall trend changed, I began to shift my interest to interior design magazine (or sometimes ‘Vanity Fair’) instead, then I eventually stop buying any magazines in the last two years; until something happened recently to reignite my craving of getting a copy of ‘Vogue Australia’ (only this!) a couple of weeks ago due to the reason that it’s the special edition which collaborated with film director Baz Luhrmann, and, actor Austin Butler, who was featured on the cover of the magazine for promoting their glamorous movie 'Elvis’. Now, I started to rethink about the craving and the flame of passion about getting a copy of fashion magazine in almost two decades ago, and how surprisingly such craving has vanished only in the past decade, and I started to wonder why?

I studied my habit about getting vintage magazines whenever I visited Paris, and how that kind of ‘style hunger’ symptoms that occurred to me that I can’t stop to flip and dig into the piles of dirty old magazines that even nobody cares that sits at the sidewalk of those vintage book stores, sells at a nobody-cares-how-much a copy, then it dawned on me that the purpose of those fashion magazine in the past, are purely (or mostly) an artistic expression of the fashion editors and artists themselves, to showcase their unique and sophisticated taste, and bringing the most magnificent work-of-art and even art de vivre to their discerning and high end readers, from haute couture to entertaining, of course, time changes so as the fashion, but I always appreciate about how ‘genuine’ it was about the fashion magazine that printed in the past century, staying truth to the fundamental principle of putting style, elegance and the quality of the content out there, compare with the ones that are circulating in our time; and frankly, for the most part, I find the vintage fashion magazines rather intrigues me more (as of now). While most of the fashion / style people know about the big editor or fashion journalist names like Dame Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld and etc., I am recently more intrigue with one that it has rarely been talked about, however, when I started to discover more about her remarkable work, my ‘style hunger’ craving starts to reignite again, and she is the late style Grand Dame, Fleur Cowles, and her legendary style and fashion magazine named ‘Flair’, and, the luxurious coffee table book ‘The Best of Flair’.

This style Grand Dame doesn’t simply have one skill on her sleeves, but she’s certainly multi-talented from editorial to writing, even drawing and interior decorating as well! Having great taste and a pair of discerning eyes that can pick up and appreciate beautiful things. Born in New York City and worked as an editor mostly in her life, the Grand Dame founded her own magazine titled ‘Flair’ in 1950s, it did make a sensation back then due to the costly production (which the price surpasses the back-then ‘Life’ magazine at USD20 cents, vs ‘Flair’ sold at USD50 cents), which derives from the superb quality, design and the intriguing inserts inside which the Grand Dame specially designed for, on top of that, the content of ‘Flair’ was contributed by some of the most elite, famed and influential intellectuals (W.H. Auden, Angus Wilson etc.), artists (Jean Cocteau, Lucian Freud, René Gruau etc.) and writers (Simone de Beauvoir, Clare Boothe Luce etc.), as the result, each copy of ‘Flair’ is a shining bible of style, fashion and literature for readers who are affluent, and obsessed with high fashion, art of living, style, and even intellectual knowledge in their everyday life.

This distinctively precious magazine only survive for one year, with total of 12 issues printed for its entire existence, as I did some research online, this magazine was financed by the Grand Dame’s third husband, Mr. Gardner Cowles, Jr., who is the publisher of his family’s Look magazine, and due to the extremely high cost of the production, ‘Flair’ actually lose money with estimated lost of US$2.5 million back then (which I guess it has contributed much pressure in their relationship too that later ended in divorced in 1955.) Now, you may ask why did I lay out all these information about this forgotten magazine and its Founder? And what’s that related to refined menswear and lifestyle?

Indeed ‘Flair’ magazine is a passé of our time now, and seemingly it has nothing to do directly with menswear; the truth is something about the work of the Grand Dame and this magazine is somehow valuable that reminds me about the principle and foundation of what a sophisticated and elegant fashion magazine should be – a genuine artistic expression, as Fleur always has a very strict standard about how she defines elegance and how much she guarded that in her body of work. Nowadays, a copy of vintage ‘Flair’ has become a precious and rare collector piece for literature and art (also style) connoisseurs (by the way, she did dedicate a copy for men too!), while not everyone might like to get an old and wore-out magazine however interested with the delicious and beautiful content of this legendary magazine, then the sumptuous copy of coffee table book titled ‘The Best of Flair’ might be up to your alley.

Published by Rizzoli back in Sept 2014, this luxurious copy serves as a compilation that gathered the most essential and beautiful content of this legendary magazine throughout its 12-issues ‘Flair’ history, including its unusual design effect like the cutouts and insert booklet, imitates exactly the original magazine back then, and I am now comparing this deluxe coffee table book with the original magazine back in the 1950s here,

I was amazed, thrilled and feeling inspired by having both precious copies at my hand, while experiencing the quality (both the paper and the content), the elegance and authenticity from the original one, comparing with the impeccable, clean and luxurious copy from the modern one with an updated production, which ignites me the kind of craving over the fashion magazine back in a decade ago, it also reminds me another thing: behind the glamour and beauty, it’s a history of an unsung heroine of style and fashion, the conviction and strong will of the Grand Dame herself, to push the water uphill, to realize her dream and make it from fantasy to reality no matter how challenging (and sometimes even painful) that is, and requires certain sacrifice from her, the bravery and innovation is respectable and remarkable when one is so devoted into his/her own artistic pursue.

The point is, I have been writing MMD my own for more than five years, and I have no idea what the future of MMD (or even my own luxury fragrance project) will take me, and I sometimes do contemplate if I will share the similar fate like the ‘Flair’ magazine (apparently MMD lives longer than ‘Flair’; and only if it’s going to be a legacy, then I will consider that I have done my job well.) that vanishes like a star-crossed lover, but I always tell myself this: always put the qualitative and sophisticated content out there, that’s the foundation of creating something great and memorable, and I do hope, you, my dear readers, will feel the same way after following MMD for all these years, and I am truly thankful to have you all along in this style-searching journey with me.


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