Bold, brash covers for de Beauvoir’s works

Peter Mendelsund isn’t generally known as a designer who makes garish book covers. But in his recent designs for three late works by Simone de Beauvoir, he’s done exactly that. And for good reason

Peter Mendelsund isn’t generally known as a designer who makes garish book covers. But in his recent designs for three late works by Simone de Beauvoir, he’s done exactly that. And for good reason…

His covers for de Beauvoir’s memoirs Adieux and A Very Easy Death, and the novella collection The Woman Destroyed apparently reference the look of the handmade protest posters seen on the streets of Paris in 1968.

Bringing the look up to date, the lettering has the quality of freshly daubed marker pen, while the illustrations are in bright blocky colours – the messy imagery on The Woman Destroyed reminiscent of an early MS Paint application.

“I wanted a style that had a certain directness – and I liked the idea of co-opting the visual language of revolution for a writer who was nothing if not (philosophically, politically) revolutionary,” writes Mendelsund on his blog Jacket Mechanical. “Also the style is more or less temporally and geographically correct. The simplicity of the style made it possible for me, with my limited skills, to make them myself.”

This is an unusual direction for Mendelsund who, as an associate art director at Knopf in the US, has a reputation for producing some quite beautiful and elegant book covers for writers such as Michel Foucault, Roberto Calasso and Franz Kafka (whose entire works he recovered in 2010 – we reported on the series, here).

On his blog, Mendelsund writes that his work for the de Beauvoir project sought to be both brash and attractive at the same time. “I’ve certainly made ugly covers before; and I hope that I’ve made pretty ones,” he writes. “But it’s the coexistence of both attributes that makes me happy here.”

Mendelsund also prefaces his explanation of the cover direction with a smart essay on the relationship between de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, using a single photograph of the couple as his starting point. His blog is well worth keeping up with: see

In the forthcoming issue of CR, out next week, we also look at the recent phenomenon of creating ‘ugly’ design, in light of the new book edited by, Pretty Ugly: Visual Rebellion in Design.

CR in Print
The May issue of Creative Review is the biggest in our 32-year history, with over 200 pages of great content. This speial double issue contains all the selected work for this year’s Annual, our juried showcase of the finest work of the past 12 months. In addition, the May issue contains features on the enduring appeal of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a fantastic interview with the irrepressible George Lois, Rick Poynor on the V&A’s British Design show, a preview of the controversial new Stedelijk Museum identity and a report from Flatstock, the US gig poster festival. Plus, in Monograph this month, show our subcribers around the pick of Barcelona’s creative scene.

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