How One Cover Defined a Decade

The Backstory of the George Lois Esquire Covers

Famed adman George Lois is credited with founding the second ever creative agency in the world. It was there he created some of the most memorable advertising campaigns for brands like MTV, Xerox, and Aunt Jemima.

Lois is perhaps best known for his stint at Esquire where he created and set a visual tone for the publication by producing provocative covers that confronted issues like racism, feminism and the Vietnam War.

From 1962 to 1972, Lois designed 92 covers for Esquire. These covers would go on to become iconic, and after an installation at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008, a selection of these covers were added to the MoMA’s permanent collection.

When viewed as a collection, the covers Lois created serve as a visual timeline documenting a decade of American history and culture.

Lois was an idea man, and his ideas truly came alive on the covers. There was Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, celebrating the Pop Art Movement; Muhammad Ali stricken by arrows in reference to the controversy surrounding his religion; and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Virna Lisi, shaving her face which was a nod toward the growing feminist culture.

As iconic as the Esquire covers are, Lois had not intended to create the legacy he did with the publication. In fact, Lois has said his true passion was always advertising, and the Esquire covers were more or less his weekend projects.

“I was a well-known advertising agency guy, and the former editor of Esquire, Harold Hayes, he called me up. We met at The Four Seasons, and he said, ‘Could you help me try to do better covers?’ I got this Bronx accent, and he had this southern drawl, and it must have been a funny discussion. ‘You have to go outside and find a designer, a guy who’s talented at graphic design, but understands politics, culture, and movies,’ I told him, and he said, ‘Do me a favor, could you do me just one cover?’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do you one.’”

One obviously turned into another, and the visual tone Lois conceptualized more than fifty years ago is still emulated and appreciated today.

– by Katie Heine

George Lois will be interviewed by Steve Kraske here in Kansas City , Thursday, February 27, 6 pm. Tickets:

Published February 13, 2014