A splendid gentleman, wearing a black cylinder hat and through a monocle pretentiously beholding a floating butterfly has, since his debut on the cover on February 21, 1925, become an inherent part of the New Yorker – it is the brand as such.
The intricate male figure was created by the magazine’ s first art editor Rea Irvin, who got inspired by a 1834 drawing “man of Fashion in Early Victorian Period,” reproduced in the costume section of the Encyclopædia Britannica. The drawing represented none other than French Count Alfred D’Orsay (1801-1852), one of the 19th century’s most popular man – the dandy number two after George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840). Irvin created his own interpretation of the dandy and gave him a name Eustace Tilley.
The New Yorker’s aristocratic dandy Eustace Tilley made quite a few eyebrows raise. Neither potential readers nor advertisers could connect the Victorian flashiness and splendid dandyism of the character on the cover with the gossipy, satirical weekly for “in-the-know Manhattanites”, as the magazine was aimed for. Simply said, they took it personally, what made the sales look less impressive in the beginning.
However, behind the idea of the magazine stood a New York Times reporter Jane Grant and her husband Harold Ross, who could by means of their sophisticated cosmopolitan humour create a content that differed from “corny” humour publications. Therefore the cover inspired by French aristocrat D’Orsay, whose style once conquered the hearts of Londoners, was on its place, creating an enigmatic absurdity around the image of the modern New Yorker.
Could New Yorkers identify themselves with the cover drawing or did they find it ridiculous? I do not think that an univocal answer could be at its place.
The story, however, makes me recall the history of the Eiffel Tower, which started with a strong criticism concerning the relationship between architecture and engineering in the construction and ended as the most-visited paid monument in the world.
More current example is the latest collaboration of Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons, where pop art meets luxury creating a foppish anachronism chocking by its courageous vulgarity and artistic creativity at the same time.
Thus it might all be about the enigma of absurdity, which creates curiosity and desire.