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Mehemed Fehmy Agha – First Art Director

| March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

Mehemed Fehmy Agha Vanity Fair cover

Dr. Mehemed Fehmy Agha was first magazine art editor that was titled art director. Although another famous art director Alexey Brodovitch, made the biggest impact on the magazine design, Mehemed Fehmy Agha will always be remembered as a first person that pioneered innovative approaches in magazine art direction.


Story about Mehemed Fehmy Agha goes like this. Around 1928 famous publisher Conde Nast traveled to Europe to find himself a new art editor after Heyworth Campbell had resigned. At this time Mr. Nast had to fill this spot in all three of his notable publications, Vogue, Vanity Fair and House and Garden, since Campbell was art editor in all three.

Conde Nast traveled to Paris, London and Berlin, cities where Vogue had its foreign editions. In Berlin he found young Russian-Turkish artist who was, prior to his job in Berlin, working in Paris as a studio chief of French Vogue. Nast was very impressed with the interview that he had with young Agha, so much that the following morning he called his editors of Vogue and Vanity Fair, Edna Woolman Chase and Frank Crowninshield and announced them that he found a replacement for Campbell.


Mehemed Fehmy Agha arrives in the USAMehemed Fehmy Agha

In 1929, Agha came to the USA to take on a role of art director at Vogue. From the first moment it was clear that Agha was no ordinary designer. His charm and charisma together with the extraordinary educational background brought him the nickname Dr. Agha.

Agha was an exceptional artist, with strong scientific and technical skills. His typographic and photographic skills were impeccable, and he was fluent in five languages. His aesthetic skills made him the perfect person to lead Vanity Fair’s and Vogue’s design teams, and at those times these magazines were lacking good visual concept.

At this point Agha introduced a concept to the publishing world in the United States, and that concept was to integrate design into the editorial content, thus creating a role of a key figure responsible for this, art director. As Agha stated “The visual articulation of a magazine was not to be an act after editorial fact, but an integral function of the editorial process”.


Mehemed Fehmy Agha concepts

As it was obvious Dr. Agha raised the level of art direction and design was no longer regarded as decorative but as an integral part of the modern magazine.

He was a pioneer in the use of sans-serif typefaces, photo montage, duotones and full color photography which he used wherever possible. He was the first designer that spread the images across the gutter and he used full bleed images.

Mehemed Fehmy Agha Vanity Fair spread

Mehemed Fehmy Agha Vanity Fair spread

His impact was also huge on the field of fashion arts, but his work was not only notable in the fashion driven Vogue. Vanity Fair, a magazine which writes about lots of things was such a fertile playground for Agha’s concepts and one of them was pictorial feature, where pictures proved they were more than just nice images. This was the first time that pictures had a more important impact than words.

In Vanity Fair his work was influenced by European modernism. He simplified type use, used spread as a canvas on which he can paint with various elements like margins, headlines, images, white space, to create a vibrant and dynamic spread. His technical and photographic knowledge led him to work in a high technical way with photographers and engravers which resulted in a color printed page that was worthy of the art that graced it.


Mehemed Fehmy Agha Vogue cover


Dr. Agha the teacher

His highest design and technical skills and his brilliant personality made him a great teacher to everyone that he worked with at Conde Nast. If he criticized it was because he wanted to stir designers around him to search deeper and find better solutions to graphic problems.

Dr. Agha worked at Conde Nast till 1943, and after 14 years spent there he was awarded with many honors. It took him only six years in New York to become the President of Art Directors Club. After he left Conde Nast and magazine world, he continued to work as consultant for many corporations and publishers.

Dr. Agha will be remembered as a person of style, wit and unique personality. He was the aesthetic person that transformed his time and with his inspiration he changed our time also.

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