With summer now in full swing, outdoor celebrations and festivities are often centered on the picnic. Seemingly ordinary, the right food, accessories, and people can easily transform this common activity into a fabulous event.
For only one year, from February 1950 to January 1951, New York socialite Fleur Cowles published her magazine, Flair. With multiple husbands and friends in high places, Cowles utilized Flair as an expression of the new post-WWII wealth among the country’s elite. Every issue exhibited a signature, die-cut cover that revealed its first colorfully illustrated page. Centerfolds, bound-in books, and half-cut pages energized articles and fashion spreads. Dedicated to good ole American “Vacationtime,” the June 1950 issue portrayed summer leisure as simple, fun, and always fashionable.
The issue’s cover depicts a summer sunset. Bright orange font sharply contrasts against the navy “sky” of the cover, and the cobalt of the presumed “sea.” The circle of the sun is cut out, revealing an image of a rocky outcrop and a woman on horseback. Turn the page and Cowles’ words pop: ‘Vacationtime and we Americans are on the go . . . rediscovering what our country looks like under the summer sun.” The next page’s colorful collage includes an image of a family relaxing with food and drink over a game of croquet.
Flipping through Flair, one easily reaches the centerfold, a section dedicated entirely to picnicking. Four early American paintings illustrate “American Picnics,” with the tag line, “Americans traditionally celebrate picnics.” Open the pages to find four photographed and exactly arranged suggestions for picnics. In addition to picnics for children, for the family, and “for two,” the “elegant picnic” assures the reader that “a Sunday picnic no longer suggests a full-scale banquet under the trees, served by hired help.” Phew! Don’t relax too much: a picnic would never be complete without “quilted Vinyleen plastic cushions” and “superabsorbent Masslinn dinner-sized lobster napkins.”
Flair, June 1950 Centerfold [detail], The “Elegant Picnic.”
Related titles from the Smithsonian American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library collections:
Artist files, Fleur Cowles.
Bengal, Rebecca. “A Beauty of a Magazine.” Print. February 2010, 62: 1, 48-53.
Flair. New York: Cowles Magazines, 1950-1951.