I Have Flair

One of the hiccups of my hunters and gatherers column for Spaces is that I end up buying things on my travels.  I’m fudging a bit.  I’d be buying things anyway, I just seem to run across an awful lot of good stuff to want.

Yesterday, in the interest of research, I asked a very nice man to take a very intriguing book down from a very high shelf.  Which he did.  Nicely.  Because that is how people are when they love books and they can tell that you love books, too.

I’d read a bit about Flair and it’s editor Fleur Cowles.  (It needs to be noted, that from the beginning, if your name is Fleur you are going to interesting and likely have, well, flair.)

I had not seen a issue of the magazine that existed for just one year – 1950 – 1951, nor any of Cowles’s books.  But yesterday, high, high, high upon the shelf at Spivey’s, I spotted not one, but two Flair, Annual 1953.

Once the accommodating gentleman had retrieved both ladder and book I began to carefully turn its pages.  There was a low roar in my ears and I’m sure I was a bit flushed.  What makes other people feel this way?  This was something so special.  Articles and illustrations and cut-outs and inserts.

Ok, not a cure for cancer.  Not an answer to the current economic woes.  But a very distinct voice.  “Oh,” I told the nice man, “oh, I think I need this.”  Of course he understood.

While googling, still hunting and gathering, I found a bit about Cowles and her time at Look and how she made Flair a landmark publication.

But the other thing I found (here it comes, the sort-of Kansas City connection) is that she worked for the Truman administration as a sort of media consultant on the Famine Emergency Committee.

Her task was to create publicity to help inform and mobilize American citizens to support international famine relief.  

The idea being, if Americans could cut down on cereal products by 50% on a mass scale more grains could be exported to alleviate hunger in Europe.  The victory garden was born.  Fill up on veggies, cut back on Kellogg’s.

This incredibly talented woman applied her gifts to support a much larger cause.  Which I admire.

“Straw-haired, sleekly groomed Fleur Cowles doesn’t own a hat, usually wears tailored suits, a rose, and black horn-rimmed glasses, is never without a huge (1 in.) Russian emerald ring (“It’s my trademark, it’s me, it’s Fleur — rough, uncut, vigorous”). Says she: “I’ve worked hard, and I’ve made a fortune, and I did it in a man’s world, but always, ruthlessly, and with a kind of cruel insistence, I have tried to keep feminine.” For a sampling of Fleur’s insistent femininity, readers could look to Flair.”  Time, September 12, 1949.

How could I not?
For another inspiring story of a woman using her many gifts to bring attention to an international crisis, please check  My Marrakesh.  Maryam, a human rights and democracy specialist living in Marrakesh, usually writes witty prose and shows us fabulous images of buildings and rugs and all the jewel-colored goods of her adopted home. She recently visited Rwanda and her tale is gripping and disturbing.  Please take the time to read it. 
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33 thoughts on “I Have Flair

  1. flair and fleur are the stuff of american legend- complete originals, and neither will ever be duplicated. i never knew of her work with famine relief, so thank you for adding another facet to her story.

  2. Dear Mrs Blandings,
    I would love to get my hands on ‘Flair’!!! I wish I could read every page! I will be searching ebay soon. I found your blog through ‘Peak of Chic’ and am so glad I did. Great blog , lots of wonderful info and delightful to read!!

  3. Mrs.Blandings,
    You inspired me to write my letter to Santa and ask for this book. I have been a very good girl and would love to add a little flair, to my Christmas. That is all I would want or need, that book.
    Stunning. I love her trademark. What would your trademark be? Do tell.
    Oh, and just in case you could not see it, I am not flushed, but “green” with envy for that book is my kinda diamond in the rough or in your case on the shelf.

  4. Patricia — this post took a meaningful turn I was not expecting. The sign of an excellent writer.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m envious of your latest acquisition!

  5. Patricia! What an incredible find. I know exactly how you felt when you saw it. I had the same reaction when I found “I Married Adventure”. It’s better than drugs!

  6. It is an amazing book and I am ready to settle down with it tonight to read it. I have not been able to find credits for illustrations or photos, but I will hunt again this evening. Don’t forget – Spivey’s still has another copy. Mine was $50; on-line they ranged from about 85 – up.

  7. Oh, Patricia you have done it again, this book is such a find. I am realizing I do not get out and about nearly enough to these KC spots to explore their special nooks and crannies!

  8. Flair was the most amazing and consistently odd publication, with its porthole covers and cut-out pages, et cetera. The only magazine in recent years to embrace that eccentricity was Nest.

  9. Spivey’s no longer has that extra copy; I pounced and now it is mine. Mine, all mine 🙂 And Fleur Cowles still lives, in London. There was a great profile of her in The New York Times a few years ago.

  10. That magic moment when one finds a book by accident that calls out for ownership. My “library” is outgrowing its room, but who cares-an old favorite never disappoints.

    The illustrations are beautiful.

  11. Anon – congratulations! As I was clicking around I thought Cowles was still living. She’d be on my top ten list for tea.

  12. Oh you lucky girl! I’ve been dying to get my hands on a copy. Some of the illustrations remind me of PVE’s work.

  13. I have long been fascinated by this amazing magazine. For a number of years, whenever I visited Bendel’s in New York, they had individual issues of Flair for sale. As wonderfully unique (and pricey) as they were I could never justify buying one — Manhattan is filled with too many temptations! A few years ago, an over-sized bound volume was published “The Best of Flair”. I did splurge on this and wouldn’t be surprised if it was available through any number of on-line sources. Also – several months ago I picked up an autographed copy of An Artist’s Journey by Fleur Cowles, at Charlotte Moss.

  14. Mrs. B – FLAIR and FLEUR are just beyond…suffice it to say I have experienced something approaching obsession over the last decade. It started with the publication of Best of Flair in 1996 (available today for only $180 on Amazon…less than the publication price in ’96…a bargain). Over the next few years I obtained every issue (and your 1953 Yearbook)on Ebay and other online dealers. There was a wonderful FLAIR exhibit at the Pratt Institute that a friend and I went to NY for…an uncharacteristic one-day excursion from Chicago in 2003 or 2004…was truly a must see. Was rewarded for this effort by wonderful exhibit and videa plus long conversation with random exhibit-viewer who knew Fleur in the early years. You’ve hit upon two of my intellectual/aesthetic obsessions this year: Mitfordania and now Flair/Fleur.

  15. You have Fleur’s flair. As you bring a smile to my face each morning as I read your blog, please accept the SMILE Award.

    I had never read Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse, but I found a copy in my college’s library. It was a great read…but I still pine for Cary Grant and that house.

  16. I have tagged you today so play along if you can.
    I am enjoying your blog and am a huge fan of Fleur Cowles – great post. xv

  17. there was an exhibit in nyc about 4 or 5 years ago about Fleur Cowles and her magzazine Flair – it was fascinating – i totally fell in love with her work and the short-lived magazine – the exhibition catalogue is still tucked safely in the book case – a little eye candy

  18. Whew, that was a find! If, in these uncertain times, you ever need to reseed the nest egg (hmm, awkward, seems to be my theme today…) you can always put one up on eBay.

    Don’t you wish more magazines took these kinds of pains?

    And, what a conclusion to your post. You are indeed a writer worthy of the title.

  19. Chris – ebay may be my best friend before this mess is all over. As for magazines, this is a tall order. I wish book publishers took those kinds of pains!

    And, your compliments are always so appreciated. Thank you.

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