The Iconic Designs of Lorraine Louie

January 19, 2023 § Leave a comment

I enjoyed Dan Kois’s New Yorker celebration of those iconic surrealist Vintage Contemporaries covers by Lorraine Louie that defined the era of paperback fiction in the 1980s and ‘90s.

From the 1984 début of those first seven books, the Vintage Contemporaries design attracted immediate attention. It felt perfectly of the moment, a snapshot of the mid-eighties. If you’re a book collector of a certain age you can close your eyes and see it now. The author’s name in a box at the top, white print against a boldly colored block. (The font is a modification of Kabel, a German typeface from 1927.) A dot-matrix rectangle floating to the left. The orb in the bottom left-hand corner. The illustration in the center, often a collage, with the slight uncanniness of computer graphics.

And the title, in all caps, each letter casting a shadow on the page. 

Even with a range of authors represented—Raymond Carver, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, Jay McInerney—it’s hard not to associate the VC covers with a certain type of book: vaguely experimental, a little dreamy and waggish. Kois is introduced to the series through Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, noted for taking place across one office worker’s expansive ride up an escalator.

It also must have done wonders for discovering authors, knowing that they all belonged to this curated club. If you liked Carver’s stories, perhaps you’ll like Hannah’s Airships. And the design likely spurred a collector’s impulse among those who were more than casual readers.

The popularity of BookTok and similar social-media trends seems to encourage a return to appreciating design and the book as an object. Perhaps that will influence decisions on book design going forward, if it hasn’t already.

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