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Suzanne Dean On Designing The New Vintage Russian Classics Series

Posted on 11th November 2016 by Sally Campbell
As the nights draw in and the days become crisp, what better texts to turn to than the Russian Classics? It just so happens, Vintage have released an absolutely exquisite new Russian Classic Series: six canonical texts in striking new covers. 
We are honoured that Waterstones is the only bookshop to stock the books before their general release in January. The creator of these stunning designs, Suzanne Dean, Creative Director at Vintage, has been kind enough to give us an exclusive peek into her creative process.

I loved working on these classics. The Master and Margarita is one of my favourite books and so I leapt at the chance.

Often classics allow you more freedom in the design than new books. The downside is that so many versions of these titles exist already. I looked at past covers so I could avoid replicating anything. 

These titles have existed in many formats over many years and so I had to consider what I could do to entice readers to our new editions. I really wanted to design a series that readers would cherish, collect and keep.


I didn’t visualise any characters for these covers as I wanted the reader to imagine what the characters look like for themselves. I believe that most people would prefer a cover that hints at the contents and allows them to fill in some blanks rather than having it spelled out. I was looking for something that would evoke the essence of the novels and give a sense of the era and place. I also wanted the series to feel fresh and contemporary.

My working process always starts with research. I collect a range of visual imagery, and paste it to the walls of my office. Inspiration usually follows on from this.
For these cover designs I looked at the brilliant and beautiful designs of the Russian avant-garde theatre and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Between 1913 and 1933 leading artists and designers, including Rodchenko, Exter, Lissitsky, Popova and Stepanova, were commissioned to create set and costume designs. 


I also looked at Russian graphics. I had used much of this reference when I was designing Julian Barnes’s superb novel The Noise of Time.


During the research process I became more and more interested in the mix of different patterns typically found in traditional Russian dress. This bohemian look must have inspired the Valentino collection (bottom left). The Russian textile designer Olya Thompson (bottom right) is known for experimenting with mixing ethnic and contemporary western design to create something new. In contrast, the Soviet design by Exter (red dress) and Popova (black dress) were stark, bold and graphic.


The novels in the series are set in both post and pre-revolutionary Russia. My series design had to take this in to account.

Within this period there was a wide breadth of styles from the more traditional embroideries of flowers to the geometric designs of Soviet Russia by Stepanova and Popova.

I decided that Russian textiles would allow me to incorporate pattern into the design to evoke a sense of place and era without being narrative. Nearly all the textiles used in the cover designs come from the collection of Susan Meller, author and founder of The Design Library, New York.


The idea of assembling a mix of the patterns seemed to develop naturally. Not only did the design have its routes in traditional costume, but it allowed me to experiment with a more elaborate message than could be conveyed in a single fabric. The mix of textiles evoked both the pre- and post-revolutionary Russia in the design of Doctor Zhivago. I tried placing an elaborate old label I had collected on the fabric layout of Anna Karenina. Surprisingly it worked and this informed the design of the other labels.

What makes a series so appealing? As a designer you have to unify and standarardise the whole series without losing the personality and sense of each book. Sometimes design can look even more visually arresting when viewed over a series.

My favourite design is The Master and Maragrita. I am fascinated by the central pattern with its red and white floating globes. I also can’t help being rather pleased by the contrasting patterns that I have hidden on the inside of each of the covers.
 
 

 

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