Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Sanguine Penguin













Q: Why don’t penguins’ feet freeze?

A: Because they’re wearing Manolos!


I needed something light today after such a heavy week. I wasn’t the only one. Dear Dave Hill was so displaced by our imminent descent into cultural and political infancy that he couldn’t even write fiction! Would that members of Government could be similarly afflicted and spare us the bilge that oozes from the dark recesses of their deranged minds. I’ve completely lost the plot. Ah, now I remember. Penguins and Manolo. What a gorgeous image that is.

Penguin, the nice people who used to make books with distinctive orange and white covers, have hired in some artistic heavyweights to re-drape their Classic range. The celebrity cobbler himself has been engaged in this no expense spared bonanza to celebrate 60 lovely years of bringing us cheap cheer. When the world seems like such an ugly place, there is only one thing to do – redecorate!

Blahnik is one of five designers who have created fetching new coats for some of our favourite old friends, chintzing up Madame Bovary. In a charming return of the compliment, he references Sex and the City, the TV show which makes sense of Barefoot in the Park, i.e. New York feet had no reason to be before Manolo,

My cover is a picture of a lady with a man's hands stretching from behind a curtain to touch her lovely bottom. She is dressed in a wonderful chiffon peignoir, or dressing-gown, and mules - like the slippers ladies put on before they went to bed in those days’.

That body, surely the svelte silhouette of Carrie Bradshaw, and those lumbering hands – could they be anyone else’s inept paws but Big’s? I don’t recall shoes playing a huge part in Emma Bovary’s downfall but, if she were alive today, I am certain that she would have a chronic shoe weakness.

Sam Taylor-Wood’s photograph of her friend and muse, writer Harland Miller, graces the cover of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. It looks like an outtake from a Bryan Ferry photo shoot for one of his seventies covers albums. It’s tame and timid and misses the point completely. Why is it that artists who choose to work in film don’t have to be very good at it? Fitzgerald characters are never hangdog or contrite as this rather recherché image suggests. Dick Diver is anything but reflective. This was, after all, the jazz age. Personally, I’d rather have seen what Tracey Emin could conjure here.

Not one but two Dostoyevskys are repackaged for the Pollock inspired gift wrap paper set. Crime and Punishment got the plain brown bag treatment from Fuel partners Stephen Sorrell and Damon Murray with a good deal more thought going into the explanation than the design itself,

'The central character in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, is constantly questioning both his psychological and physical boundaries. This is reflected in our approach to the "cover" - made from the same material as the inside stock, it is as fragile and open as the pages. The design echoes the tension and intensity of the writing, the back-cover optical illusion being a visual representation of Raskolnikov's battle with the voice of his conscience.’

That they put the word cover into inverted commas suggests that they may have questioned the very concept of a book cover, which is, to be fair a designer’s job, duty even. You could argue from the same standpoint whether or not butter needs a cover. You might get a challenge or two from butter consumers mind.

It would take an architect to truly challenge the purpose of covers and their relationship with books and, inter alia, readers. It does seem that architects generally have dispensed with the ‘form follows function’ rule. This is fine. Just because buildings cost a lot of money and people have expectations of being able to inhabit them, doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, pointless even. In fact, the juxtaposition of book and building does seem to bring out the imp in most architects. I think especially of Peckham Library and the marvellous central conceit that the books are inaccessible to anyone with a disability. In this spirit, Ron Arad has housed The Idiot in a Perspex box. Truly innovative.

Paul Smith managed to find time in his demanding career designing ties to rebrand Lady Chatterley’s Lover for a whole new generation. The result is a splendid object of which any one of us would thrilled to spend an idyllic half hour juggling on the 38 bus. Smith enthuses,

‘As a designer of clothes, I work with fabric, so I had the idea of creating a silk cover. Every part of it is associated with my trade: the title, Lawrence's name and the Penguin symbol are all embroidered. The pubic hair is made up of little silk-embroidered lilac and purple forget-me-nots. It is very beautiful. We were allowed to choose the typeface, so it is all very much in keeping. We are very familiar with making brochures and catalogues, and so on, but this is the first book I have ever designed’.

Lovely. My heart is warm now. The books will sell for £100 each, instead of the usual 6d.



Penguins by www.mainstreetgallery.net

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