In celebration of Women’s History Month, Cooper Hewitt is dedicating select Object of the Day entries to the work of women designers in our collection.

A pioneer of graphic design in New York City, Louise Fili is known for stylized, retro-inspired work that strongly favors Art Deco motifs. Her work is lauded for its creative use of typeface and her designs are deeply inspired by her summer trips to France and Italy. Fili’s distinct aesthetic can be seen in her design for the book cover of The Lover, author Marguerite Duras’ autobiographical novel set in pre-war French Indochina. The story of a 15-year-old girl and her affair with a 27-year-old Chinese man, The Lover is a coming-of-age saga that considers the moral, social and political implications of the author’s taboo relationship. [1] Fili lets the controversial youth of the novel’s subject serve as the cover’s focal point—she features a picture of young Duras around the age of her notorious affair. Her eyes reach out, innocent yet experienced, a small smirk forming on her painted lips, alluding to the seductive nature of the words behind the cover. The cover employs the use of only three colors and uses a thin red sans-serif font lettered and designed by Craig DeCamps set against a grey shadow [2] The effect is powerful: the image and typography beckon the reader forth, as if to question the fine line between girlhood and womanhood. This cover speaks to Fili’s talent for subtlety, drawing the reader in without the need for bold graphics and bright colors.

After moving to New York City to finish her degree at the School of Visual Arts, she was hired by legendary designer Herb Lubalin in 1975. It was under Lubalin’s tutelage that Fili experimented with typography as a central focus in book cover design. [3] In 1978, Fili left to become the Art Director at Pantheon Books. [4]  Fili’s cover for The Lover was so successful that she was given complete artistic license to design books as she wished. In the ensuing years, she created over 2,000 book covers, continually proving her words, “…a book jacket needn’t shout to capture someone’s attention.”[5]

Amanda Kogle is a candidate in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered at Parsons The New School of Design jointly with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is a Master’s fellow in the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design department.

[1] Brian Mastroianni, “On a Pedestal.” Duras’s The Lover thirty years later, The Paris Review, April 27, 2015, http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/04/27/on-a-pedestal/.

[2] Liz Danzico, “Reputations: Louise Fili”. Eye, Spring, 2014, http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/reputations-louise-fili

[3] Meggs, 62.

[4] Meggs, 62.

[5] Danzico.

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