London publishing house Weidenfeld & Nicolson (W&N) celebrated its 60th anniversary by issuing a specially designed, limited edition run of nine of its best-known titles, including Lolita, The Color Purple, The World According to Garp, and The Reader. To create the covers, W&N bypassed all the best known book designers and turned to of all places an advertising agency – Fallon.
Although not a typical assignment, Fallon embraced the task with enthusiasm. Mark Elwood, creative director of Fallon Design and partner at the agency, says that Fallon saw it as “a great opportunity to showcase the department’s passion for craft and design above and beyond traditional advertising briefs.” Fallon’s entire design department and all of its art directors were put to work on the job. Ultimately they presented 30-40 cover ideas, and W&N chose the concept by senior designer Monica Pirovano.
Pirovano’s idea featured a plain unbleached paperboard cover (no dust-jacket wrapper) with a die-cut window that exposed portions of the lavishly illustrated endpaper inside. The die-cut shapes and specially commissioned endpaper illustrations reflected the spirit of each work of fiction. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, for example, used a die-cut finger as a symbolic reference to the Russian authoritarian regime and an endpaper collage with constructivist themes and iconography.
Interestingly, in some ways, the raw board cover took W&N full circle to the launch of its first publication in 1949. The anniversary covers look both contemporary and retro. With World War II just ended in 1949, Lord George Weidenfeld and Nigel Nicolson (son of the Bloomsbury Group grandee Harold) set out to launch a new magazine in the UK. The pair expected England’s wartime ban on paper for periodicals to be lifted, but just as they were about to print the first issue, they learned that the government was extending its ban on new magazines. A lawyer suggested to W&N that they could get around the restriction by printing the magazine’s content between two hard covers and calling it a book. To make it seem even more credible, he suggested publishing some real books as well. The magazine was short-lived, but the book publishing side thrived and resulted in some of the most memorable novels of the past 60 years.