Jul 4, 2014

The Elegant and Stylish Jazz Covers of Wire Magazine, 1987-90

In 1986, Paul Elliman took over as art director of jazz and new music magazine Wire, and gave it a complete and powerful redesign, stripping it down to minimal color and typography, big, bold, stylish photography (most of it black and white), and large swaths of white space. It stood in stark contrast to the what was popular in magazine design at the time. This was when US magazines used color and graphics that made them look like the print equivalent of Will Smith’s clothes on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and much of the UK publishing scene was heavily influenced by the colorful and pop-ish New Wave designs of Neville Brody and Malcolm Garrett.

I fell in love with the design of Wire, so much that I made a pilgrimage to England in late 1987 in large part to pay a visit to the Wire offices and meet Elliman and see if I could absorb (aka “steal”) some of his graphic design stylings. Needless to say, there were several subsequent music supplements published in The Village Voice (and art directed by myself) that were rather shamelessly “inspired” by Wire‘s far superior design. Imagine my surprise when I got to the Wire offices expecting to find a big, slick apartment. The Wire art department consisted entirely of Elliman, working away in a small, cluttered space, surrounded by layouts and bits of type. A lot of his Wire design stemmed from the fact that his type house had a limited range of available typefaces, and he could only order one round of type per story, so there was no changing display typography once it was speced. At the time of my visit, Elliman was designing the February 1988 Billie Holiday cover, and I still have vivid memories of watching him add a small strip of type of the letters A-N at the bottom of the page for no other reason that it looked cool (and no one at Wire would tell him different).

Elliman was succeeded at Wire in 1988 by Lucy Ward, and together they crafted a series of some of the most beautiful and remarkable magazine covers of that (or any) era, timeless designs that still look strikingly contemporary today (and you can’t say that about many magazines published in the late 80s!). Now, thanks to the Wire magazine archives, you can access the complete Wire cover collection, from 1982-2014.

(Thanks to Stack, the independent magazine distribution service, for alerting us to the Wire archive.)

(Above): October 1987. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Michael Woolley.

July 87 Elliman

July 1987. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Nick White.

April 87 Elliman

April 1987. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Anton Corbijn.

Feb 88 Elliman

February 1988. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Herman Leonard.

April 88 Paul Elliman

April 1988. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Mark Lewis.

Dec 87 Elliman

December 1987. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Mark Lewis.

March 88 Elliman

March 1988. Art director: Paul Elliman, photograph: Steven Tynan.

May 89 Lucy Ward

May 1989. Art director: Lucy Ward.

Nov 88 Lucy Ward

November 1988. Art director: Lucy Ward.

Aug 88 Lucy Ward

August 1988. Art director: Lucy Ward, photograph: Coneyl Jay.

Oct 88 Lucy Ward

October 1988. Art director: Lucy Ward, photograph: Rob Clifford.

Feb 1990 Lucy Ward

February 1990. Art director: Lucy Ward, photograph: Gino Sprio.

Further information:
See the complete set of covers from the Wire magazine archives, 1982-2014.