R eferred to me by photographer Andy Anderson, Edward Leida is the Design Director at Town & Country. Following an award-winning 23-year tenure as the Design Director of W, Leida was selected to lead the 2011 redesign of Town & Country for his deep understanding of and alignment with the brand and for his vision for taking Town & Country into the future by retrieving a past rooted in craft and quality and infusing it with with feeling and a renewed appreciation for life in all its beauty.
The redesign landed on newsstands with a new logo, gorgeous serif typography playing counterpoint to the sans serif logo, and page after page of photography that supports the goal of bringing Town & Country back to its roots. Which in translation means the images celebrate an authentic beauty and extol the ‘real’ and the essence of their subject rather than an unattainable depiction that conveys little of the actual experience.
This return to what I think of as the soul of life is happening at all levels of our culture. That it’s found it’s way up to and a voice within the pages of a magazine that chronicles the lifestyles of the affluent is no surprise—the unique experience is a privilege of wealth. What is new, it seems, is that the authentic moment is now a sought after commodity. And I wonder if this might signal the completion of a turn, if something that makes us aware of our shared human experience isn’t finding its way into new strata. As Edward says “Beauty is for everyone.” And now, even those who can have anything want something real.
I was honored when Edward agreed to an interview with POP. His interview was conducted entirely over the phone during which I enjoyed getting to know someone deeply inspired by his work and who possesses that rare balance of genuine humility and deep confidence, intelligence and wisdom that comes from a life lived as one of the greats in his chosen field.
Without giving away too much, I will just say a humble thank you to Edward for his time, kindness, and a wonderful interview.
POP: What were the goals of the redesign?
Here was this old vestige of publishing with such a rich history. It was supposed to be a vehicle that represented all that was beautiful and great, everything of quality that one should embrace and be aware of. It had sort of lost its identity along the way. My intention as a creative director was to redesign it, create a renewed interest in and focus on the photography and bring back and celebrate tradition and quality and remove anything that seemed transient. I wanted to reflect how great Town & Country’s content had been at one point and marry it with great typography.
It is also a traditional vehicle that celebrates typography. We sought out fonts from new, younger typographers that harken back to a time when typography was celebrated.
POP: Why were you selected for the redesign of Town & Country?
A lot of people told the powers that be that they should hire Eddie. I was recommended, had a meeting and as I usually do, I created a dialogue with my clients. I bring show and tell and not my portfolio. I start thinking of ideas for the magazine, whether I’ve had a brief with the EIC or not.
Town & Country has been around forever and I looked at how things changed and my trained eyes and mind have seen where it’s been. As a visionary, I’ve prided myself on knowing where to take things. I really think about what the vehicle and brand are and needs to be. It was easy for me to know what was needed, whether it was what the EIC wanted to do or not. They saw the layouts that I did. The reaction was overwhelming. It was a series of department pages I did and a series of features which included images of Andy’s (Anderson) that set the tone. And that was it. They said, “Here are a few feature stories we’re doing and to do a few mock-ups.”
I presented what they wanted to see without any kind of brief. But this is what good creatives do. I remember one of the T&C staff asking me, “How do you know how to design a magazine if you don’t know what the content is, you haven’t worked here?” I was stunned!
You have to be a visionary. You look, gather, collect information…do due diligence and then distill and generate ideas. I’ve been researching Town & Country for years, consciously and unconsciously. I’m a creative and a visionary and this is what I do. I have created all of my life and have had the honor and pleasure to have designed and collaborated on some of the best magazines in the world…and here I am.
With the design of Jane, Details and W, the thing I’m not sure people understand is that you are going into uncharted waters. There’s no map. You go out on a limb. My decisions are very careful with the brand in mind. It’s in my DNA and the way I’ve filtered all those years of looking at magazines and what was missing or needed. Politics, history, music, trends—all of these things and more have always informed my creative decisions.
The process made me get acquainted with myself and my mind works and how I make decisions. I had met with Jay Fielden, the EIC, and he talked about what he wanted to do. I thought it was great and showed him what I’d done. I’ve always done that. Before I sign a contract. I can’t shut my brain off and I start solving problems right away. It’s not the best way if you don’t sign the contract.
POP: How did the new logo evolve?
We did a lot of research into what logos had been historically. We had 165 years of legacy. Many of them alluded to the typography I was planning to bring to the redesign. The italicized traditional typefaces were already part of the DNA when I started doing the redesign.
When I embarked on the logo redesign, I proposed a large, tall sans serif font. We explored the history again and looked for sans serif fonts and found that in the 30’s there was a typeface that made an appearance. It had been here for many years and we decided to take it and re-draw it. It was done in house by an editor here, Ash Carter, who is now a writer on our masthead and had experience working with a typographer.
POP: You went looking for fonts with a vintage reference. Is it easier to find them now?
I made an effort to seek out transitional fonts for T&C. Fonts that harken and reference old-style typography but designed by newer typographers that I have either worked with in the past like Hubert Jocham and others that I recently discovered.
I have historically been a snob about using only the classics but since my redesign of Details Magazine, I have come around to embrace some of the NEWER typography and the results have not only been exciting but in some ways, but timeless.
I find Contemporary typography to often be anemic, flat-lined, and not have much of a pulse. It doesn’t really motivate or move you in any way. The exclusive “SANS” experience leaves one in a bit of a coma. There is a lot of that going on in the design world. It’s what designers have done to re-embrace the 70’s in a way, the era of the space age. Helvetica everything. It’s a reductionist approach and a trend with a lot of younger designers. Especially in corporate identities.
With the resurgence back to all things traditional, American brands have returned. Classicism is coming back. It has stoked the fire a bit and helped motivate me to go ahead with my instincts which historically have been to marry both worlds.
My belief and taste is that type and the vehicles I create and have historically designed should err on the side of being traditional and have them living in the same space with modern typography and design elements. Sans serif in entirety doesn’t make your heart race. One needs contrast, counter-point to create some excitement. It was carefully considered.
POP: It seems like the perfect time and place.
Town & Country was the perfect vehicle and I was the perfect candidate to rebrand it. It was an interesting confluence of things and a natural choice for me to be chosen because it speaks to the way I have lived my life in the design world. Always trying to bring the traditional and modern worlds together, have them co-exist and most importantly, celebrate beauty. “Beauty is for everyone.”
POP: Do you want to talk about the pacing? Flow? Tempo? Did the grid change?
Overall, the sensibility was that the Town & Country brand be identifiable. It’s very, very clear what you’re going to get when it comes to this. We strive for an element of surprise. Everything has been energized. Everything was considered so the pacing and the flow design themselves. Each issue is a convergence of several individually crafted pieces that have been put together. Each piece that goes in is as well crafted as the last one. Lasting quality. Not completely disposable.
There’s nothing really unusual about the grid. For the front of the magazine, the directive was that we would have Style Spy and Out and About followed by a few very broad departments with each leading to another. It was designed to show the entire palette of typography available to the magazine. The goal was to see, read and feel the language I have imposed. Every one of the fonts used in the magazine is on display in the front, designed and showcased right away.
POP: Has the role of photography in the pages of Town & Country changed with the redesign?
We are trying, not unlike the history of the magazine, to hire some of the best photographers.
When trends started changing, it was like the empereror’s new clothes. Town & Country had lost sight of celebrating adventure and what the planet and the world has to offer. The beauty within it. Nature, food and the inhabitants of our great planet. All of these things we’re all dying to look at and experience in a way that makes us feel good.
The idea has been to find photographers who show us that we should be celebrating the planet and the beauty it embodies. Intrinsically good, and beautiful and very simple. Portrait and food photographers who show objects for the beautiful things that they are.
There is an overriding sensibility that we’re experiencing now. Instead of making imagery that is exclusive, the trend is to make photography that is inclusive. We want to make an experience that is shared, that makes one want to be there or feel they are. The way it’s been done is to make it very natural—less setting up. You prepare but want to make it as real as possible. The provocative is gone. But this has been going on for years. Jeff Wall’s beautiful, real environments. Eggleston was doing this forty years ago.
We are getting to a place where we are more design conscious with regards to objects and clothing. Because we’ve been keeping it real, natural, we are ready to embrace this. And you can apply it to home, cooking, and travel. Photographers who look at things for what they were or create some illusion – we’re seeing this for what it is. Fake children. Fake homes. We want to feel our kids, our sweater as our peripheral and limited vision sees it.
It’s a good time for it. People are learning to change the way they see. I love it because it’s real. I appreciate the vastness in land, the earth, nature. What better way to spend my time?
This has basically been the push—trying to think of ways of doing that with all the talent out there. We’re still in the midst of culling and finding that talent. Still making steps towards building our stable. Always ongoing.
POP: What happens to the aspirational and what are these images tapping into?
It’s infinitely powerful. I don’t know the formula. No one knows just how powerful this trend in imagery is. The bloggers know. I’m addicted to them. There’s 30 – 40 of them that I’ve bookmarked. When I do look, it’s a terrible addiction. I see the most beautiful places, food and automobiles. It doesn’t make you covet. It resonates. It’s primal. You will experience something visceral because you appreciate Porsche, light on orange. I think yes, it will become more and more a given. It will become more and more a part of our language.
Photoshop perfect. Aspiring to something that is impossible. People don’t look human. Now there is this—the pendulum is swinging the other way. You have something to compare it to. People are being left to be who they are.
Environments, locations, food, clothing, objects. Leaving them for what they are and celebrating what they are. There is a visual language for everyone. I’m kind of glad it is happening. It is a reflection of values and protecting the planet and seeing what mother nature has created and stop screwing with it. And look at who we are and who our neighbors are and the food we ingest and how beautiful it is. And how much is taken for granted. All these things.
At W, I got to see some extraordinary imagery. Most of the time, it was illustration. A lot of it was very real and I loved some of the illustration. I would get the chills if I loved what I saw. But it faded away. I am a sensualist and love looking. This new work stays with you and I love looking at it over and over again. Relax and enjoy.
POP: You’ve published five issues now. Any features or issues that particularly capture what you are doing with the redesign?
The December issue is especially of interest to me because I directed the concept for this one story with photos by Gentle & Hyers. We got so excited by the images, to celebrate the birds that have graced our tables. The geese, chickens, quail. To shoot portraits of birds. Food still-lifes that evokes and illustrates the qualities and things that make you want to celebrate life.
POP: You are assigning photography for a broader range of editorial than at W. What has been challenging?
It’s broader in some ways and in other it’s not. W was very much a lifestyle magazine. We helped define what was considered beautiful and what wasn’t. It was much more of a wide-open experience, a greater range. More avant-garde. Celebrating photography done by fine art photographers. The difference here is that I’m not trying to make photographic history here. It’s not really a fashion magazine. When you are in the fashion world, you intrinsically have the DNA built into the magazine that assumes risks will be taken and images will be provocative. The directive here is to make it beautiful. I want people to celebrate the experience that I’m laying out.
At W, a wider net was cast. What’s interesting at Town & Country is that you don’t have to go far to find beauty. You don’t have to create it, it’s built into it. It is made easy for people. If we show it for what it is, if it’s crafted.
POP: Do you think the photographers who will be successful need to be able to see and reveal this?
Past photographers did this. There were some things that didn’t get revealed. But you go back to that photo and keep looking and finding more. The intention has to be to reveal the simple beauty, the essence of it. When you capture it, whether it’s a photograph of the chill of altitude in the mountains, the smell of the grill, the bouquet of an 18-year-old Scotch without any artifice added, nothing topical has been added. No additional veneer. It’s being shot as it is. We’re not adding any glycerin to the tomato. Hands, knife, grease. You would never show that before. You wouldn’t show the fat.
POP: You’ve said you are looking for new talent. What are you looking for? And where do you look?
I look for photographic talent everywhere.I’ve looked as far as Russia. When I look for talent these days, I’m just looking for a combination of things that go back to things mentioned earlier—tradition, modernism, beauty and contrast.
POP: How has the role of photography evolved over the years and decades in Town & Country?
Photography has always been important, but typography hasn’t. This is really the issue. But as I said to my EIC, about 15 years ago I was at the Union Square Cafe at the bar having dinner seated next to a gentleman reading the WSJ. Just because it’s in print people believe it. You put the black type down and it’s legitimized. One day I’m going to understand this and use it to my advantage. When you use black type, it legitimizes things. It’s true. If you don’t have a sensitivity to print, you are at a loss. The two work hand in hand.
More important question, why isn’t typography as important? It contributes infinitely to the success of a magazine and what it’s trying to do. And it’s good to be sensitive to it. Photography is a given—we have to look at pictures.
Typography is an extremely abstract art form but infinitely powerful. To quantify it is an exercise in futility because it embodies elements that normally are impossible to measure. Symmetry, tension, balance, space, contrast, scale and texture are all of the properties that typography possesses and if used well and wisely, the power it can telegraph can be extraordinary.
That’s why an unconscious connecting of the dots takes place when people look at typography—it’s not as obvious. It resonates infinitely with people, but no one can quantify it and unfortunately, it gets short shrift. People don’t understand it and might not, but people are understanding it more. It’s extremely powerful and sits back almost second to an image.
At W, it was a vehicle that was so artistically centric and celebrated creativity to the nth degree. The part of its DNA was for me to generate beautiful, provocative, almost fine-art design explorations. All of them were crafted and special. Nothing was trying to shock people.
I’m hoping that there is a renewed interesting in typography because of the interest in Americana and how we got here with certain brands. However, it will be difficult because of computerization. Everyone can be a designer or typographer now. But when people set out to do some design on their own, if they’re really passionate they need to do due diligence and see what and who came before them. My students they are young and eager to get things done and to get things on a page. I was the same, but took some time to look at who the greats were. I wanted to be great so I wanted to imitate the greats.
It is the same thing with photography. It sounds so corny, but it’s true.