Art Direction, Redesigns

Hollywood Noir

06.20.08 | 1 Comment

HL, or Hollywood Life is a hybrid celebrity/fashion magazine—two topics that leave me colder than a mafia hit man doing wet work in Anchorage—but it’s hard not to be seduced by HL’s stunning redesign, which premiered this month.

What makes HL so spectacular is the photography, and what makes the photography so good, is lie upon lie upon lie. Most images are shot in a lush black and white, the lighting is self-consciously film noir, the fashion is distinctly classic, and the hair styles and makeup are vintage Ingrid Bergman—making HL feel like an artifact from the 30s or 40s.

Now, some would feel that a modern magazine should trade in the vocabulary of its own era—that a look back is an attempt to paint pages with an unearned authority, and anyway, isn’t the whole retro thing played? HL deserves to be excused from all such quibbles. This baby is so well done, and the pages are so beautiful I found myself just looked moon-eyed at spectacular spread after spread.

While there are some color pages, I love that the rich vocabulary of black and white is explored so thoroughly and its use is so intrinsic to the publication’s voice. I love that the tawdry celebrity culture ala the Sun, Star, and Us that we expect from anything with a whiff of fame is vanquished in favor of not just retro style but with the whole 40s studio-system attitude. It’s hard to believe these photos weren’t shot under the supervision of image-cops, as they once would have been.

I also love the large two-color newsprint section, in which the magazine runs meaty articles, and that the art director can pull off pages that are a bit more contemporary too. A jittery comic strip runs for several pages but would never have seen print back in the day. It still seems part of the HL whole.

The typography breaks one of my tenants—don’t set italics all caps. Italics were originally designed when capitols and meniscuses were not used together, and the original italic fonts did not include an upper case. Italic majuscules have always been a retrofitted and somewhat awkward addition to modern italic typefaces. Strained in design, most are just obliqued versions of Roman forms even when the l.c. letters themselves are quite cursive. And, there is no historical president for setting Italics that way. Now, I admit that insisting that you can’t use a typeface a certain way because people didn’t used to use it that was is a bit like insisting that flammable is not a word (which, by the way, it isn’t). Times change and usage and style change along with it, but that doesn’t make it right. Not in my book, anyway.

Nevertheless, I can’t hate HL’s Typography, even though there’s lots of Ital. all-cap, and too much all-cap, period. Instead the design comes off as artfully artless, both elegant and naïve, as if McSweeney’s typography was superimposed on a fashion book. Except for the reliance on caps, the type is quite understated. There are few designed headlines and none that aren’t either black or reversed. HL could have been set in lead.

HL has never met an opportunity for product placement it didn’t like, which may be necessary to fund the imagery for this relatively low-circulation glossy. For example, if you read the caption for the photo below, you learn that Christina Ricci is wearing a Givenchy black and taupe cotton jersey and silk top. Looks nice, where can I get some of those?

1 Comment