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If you Google the term “cover up” and click on Google Images, you will see a wide array of mumu-like garments, ranging from gauzy to heaviest terrycloth, to wear over a bathing suit, or for lounging.
If you look for a definition of “cover up” you will see this from Merriam-Webster: a planned effort to hide a dishonest, immoral, or illegal act or situation. : an action or a way of behaving that is meant to prevent people from knowing about something.
There is a hella lot in the news lately about coverups …but let’s not go there on my blog, okeydokey? When I talk cover, I mean BOOK COVER or BOOK JACKET or whatever you choose to call them. My own has been on my mind for the last several months, perhaps obsessively.
About six weeks ago, as soon as the copy edits of my novel were complete, my publisher, Blackstone, paired me with a very talented graphic designer and artist, Alenka Linaschke. I was asked to send Alenka images of covers I like and concepts for the cover art for my forthcoming novel, ETIQUETTE FOR RUNAWAYS.
The designer looked at my Pinterest page for this novel, and asked about typefaces I like (the pros call them typefaces, not fonts, just FYI). I thought the typeface should be something Art Deco. Then I went on, expressing further design ideas I had. I had quite a lot to say about the design. I mean, a lot. Like, probably a terrifically annoying amount.
It’s really, really important to me that the cover of my book expresses what the novel is. And guess what? Since I have always worked in design in one way or another, and I am set in my ways, I have very definite opinions about what I like. So it was a very good thing that my publishing contract allowed me to collaborate on the cover design. You know, sometimes if you ask nicely for what you want, you get it. I am learning, as I mature, to ask for more. But there I go, digressing again…
A lot of recent historical novels feature figures of women in historical settings with appropriate-era clothing, hair, etc. It’s been a popular trend to show the back of a woman’s head or figure, often partially cut off. This is so that each reader can project their own idea of how the main character(s) look.
Although there are some gorgeous covers that use this concept, I hoped that my cover would not follow that trend. I began to search for images that might suggest a vision of my main character, May Marshall. Or maybe, I thought, we should try an image of 1920s Paris, or a rural American farmhouse, or Jazz-Age New York, or a young woman in one of those settings… Of course, there are any number of possibilities.
I found an English oil portrait of a beautiful young woman the 1930s I thought would be perfect (below). I loved the way she’s turned back to face the artist, as if to say, “I’m about to do something very naughty. Want to come along?” The artist is Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn and the subject is a young artist’s model named Barbara Gibson.
After weeks of searching I found the name of the gallery in London that represents DeGlehn’s estate. Although they do license the use of works by this artist, the painting I wanted to use is, at present, unaccounted for—meaning that they do not know who owns it now nor where it is and they do not possess a high-resolution image of it. I looked through auction records and in museum collections, but found crickets. So I continued to pester the gallery until they stopped responding to my emails. So that was a dead end. I was disappointed.
I also sent some photos of the interior of the Musee Nissim de Camondo in Paris (below), which is a setting for my novel.
The gorgeous staircase is graphically interesting and has graceful lines. But I wanted my cover to have an Art-Deco vibe.
I sent Alenka some images of book covers and some Art-Deco style fonts I like. One of those covers was from Amor Towles’s fabulous bestseller, which I talked about in my last blog post, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. I loved the photograph, which captures and holds my interest, and the clean design.
I Googled and searched Pinterest for period images, then traced the holder of the copyright, if there is one. Then, in one of my own books I found some lovely antique photographs from the 1920s and 1930s by the French photographic innovator (he invented his own color film), Jacques-Henri Lartigue. I had stumbled upon a book of Lartigue’s photographs in The Strand bookstore in New York, back in my grad school days in the early 1980s, before I worked for Ralph Lauren. I remember taking it to work and that Ralph loved Lartigue’s images.
This sent me on a Google search for more of Lartigue’s work from the twenties and thirties. There is a gorgeous Instagram Page featuring his work. It turns out that in 2000, a trove of hundreds of images by Lartigue were sold by the family of his iconic muse and model, Renée Perle, following her death in 1977. Here is a really interesting article about the relationship between muse and photographer, from LONE WOLF MAGAZINE. The photo of Renée, below, is circa 1929-31, which were the years that the two were lovers. I thought it had a similar vibe to the de Glehn portrait I liked.
The blog Vintage Everyday says in a post devoted to her, “Born in Romania, Renée Perle, a Romanian-Jewish girl who moved to Paris, is famous as the first muse of the famous French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986), who is considered one of the leading photographers of the 20th century.”
The article in Lone Wolf says of Renée, “While Lartigue may have been the era’s finest documentarian, Perle remains its most alluring ambassador. It was her wide-brimmed hats, daringly modern t-shirts, seductive spirit and ease before the camera that inspired the most definitive work of his career. Renée Perle’s images are more powerful and more enduring than Lartigue’s racecars, family portraits or any of his wives. Renée continues to inspire fashion editorials and designer collections, and is widely regarded as a style icon.“
So I sent Alenka a photo of Renée that has a gorgeous, moody, Art-Deco vibe.
About two weeks after I sent all this stuff I got an email from Alenka, with three proposed cover designs. She had really done her homework, because she offered up three very different concepts. There was a lot to work with. One of her concepts used a vintage photo closeup of a young girl’s face from the 1920s. I liked the idea, and told her I’d like to try something similar with the image of Renée. Here’s the tricky bit. Photos we see on book covers are usually used by license. Many come from services like Getty Images or archives, like Conde Nast, and some come from the archives of individual photographers. For instance, the archive of the great portrait photographer of the British Royal family, Cecil Beaton, is controlled by Sotheby’s in London. I had researched Lartigue’s archive and found the foundation in France that holds the copyrights to his work. Also, there are different forms of licensing usage, and I was quoted a price for the use of the photo in only one country. I learned from my designer, however, that the publisher needed to secure the world rights to the image.
I forwarded the contact information for the Lartigue Foundation, but weeks passed and we heard nothing, and so could not move forward with the use of the image. Alenka and I both searched for something else, but since I’m obsessive I wouldn’t let it go. I sent messages to the Foundation through email, the website, their Facebook Page, their Instagram page. I was a pest. Of course, we were on a deadline and the holidays were happening and BTW, I was about to leave on a cruise for three weeks. So, a few days ago, from my hotel in Argentina, I called the Foundation and BOOM! everything fell into place. Alenka put together a fabulous design and just yesterday I had word that it was approved and I am now able to share it with you.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter (which I have yet to send), and follow along as I move toward August 18, and my publication date.