This prompted me to search out the charismatic black and white imagery of Ali’s photographer and best friend Howard L Bingham as well as work from the Life photographers Flip Schulke and Neil Leifer.
These images led me to George Lois’s iconic Esquire covers which, across a turbulent era of political and racial unrest in the 60s, document the boxer’s Islamic conversion and name change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and his subsequent global success in and out of the ring.
It’s not just the appeal of Ali that has made putting together this collection so enjoyable. His far-reaching image has given me the opportunity to pursue my passion for 60s design, print and packaging. In 1998 I made the most of a coast-to-coast road trip through the US, taking every opportunity to search through book stores and junk shops. Here, I found the well-turned pages of a Sports Illustrated Magazine from the 60s, for example, far more appealing than a glossy signed photo.
From documenting Ali’s controversial refusal of the Vietnam draft to fighting tooth decay with Frank Sinatra, dedicating his shoe polish to heroes such as Evel Knievel, and endorsing pest control, Ali’s persona spans several decades right up to modern-day Apple ‘Think Different’ billboards and Adidas campaigns. In my opinion, he set the precedent for the celebrity brand endorsements of today. As the roach trap campaign says “they’re beautiful … ’specially since my picture’s on the box”.
It is the boxing writer Thomas Hauser who best summarises the Ali persona for me: “Muhammad Ali has gone through more periods and assumed more identities in his life than any other person I have ever known. Manchild, con man, entertainer, poet, draft dodger, rebel, evangelist, champion. You name it; he’s done it. But if I had to put a label on him, it would be as a symbol of the 1960s … and Ali, along with Robert Kennedy and the Beatles in the persona of John Lennon, captured the 60s to perfection … in a rapidly changing world, he influenced rather than simply reflected his times.”
Dominic Mallin began his career with Jones Knowles Ritchie. After five years he became a freelance brand and packaging designer, recently working with Landor, Brandopus and Elmwood. He is currently setting up Mallin Design and lives in London with his fiancée Laura McEwen, a theatre designer. mallindesign.com