A little over four years ago, illustrator Wendy MacNaughton was browsing through some faded, fragile volumes at an antiquarian book fair when she spotted something unusual—something that didn’t look outdated at all. Inside of an unmarked black leather sketchbook, pages and pages of colorful food illustrations, hand-painted typography, and recipes written with a wry humor and a neat cursive made up a handmade cookbook, made by one Cipe Pineles. When writer Sarah Rich arrived to the booth, the two friends pored over the pages with an uncanny familiarity: for MacNaughton, the style and artistry of the illustrations resonated strongly with her own work; for Rich it was the Old World, Eastern European recipes, many of which had been in her own family for generations. The bookseller had priced the book high: it was the sole copy of the striking personal project by Pineles, a powerhouse designer in the 1940s and ’50s, and the first female art director at Condé Nast.
MacNaughton and Rich had never heard of Pineles, but they promptly called their friends, designer Debbie Millman and Maria Popova of Brainpickings, who agreed to split the cost four ways. In October, the foursome published Leave Me Alone with the Recipes, also the title Pineles had given her original copy, through Bloomsbury. Part biography, part facsimile, and part revised cookbook, the book gives Pineles’ richly illustrated recipes an audience for the first time, decades after they were made (and, the editors believed, made to be published). For many readers, the book will also be their first introduction to Pineles, who despite being respected as a talented, prolific, exceptionally well-connected designer and art director in her day, has since managed to slip silently into near-obscurity.
Pineles’ importance to the design world only became apparent to the editors of the book after they had purchased the original copy. In MacNaughton’s words, the whole ordeal felt like it was guided by Pineles, as serendipitous as it was. MacNaughton’s long-time literary agent, Charlotte Sheedy, knew Pineles growing up, and introduced the editors to a connection that led to Carol Burtin Fripp, Pineles’ adopted daughter. The more MacNaughton and Rich researched Pineles in putting together the book, the more they realized just how outsized an influence Pineles has had on not only on their own work, but also on their respective fields.
Likewise to MacNaughton and Rich, neither Popova nor Millman knew Pineles during her lifetime, but both felt a similar connection, and debt owed, to her work. In a broad sense, Pineles forged the way for women working both in magazines and in design by becoming Condé Nast’s first female art director during a time when very few women were in leadership positions in any field. During her 14 years at Condé Nast, she worked on magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, and was instrumental in shaping the visual language for Glamour and Seventeen. Pineles was one of the first magazine art directors to invite fine artists to create illustrations for issues, and she understood the importance of giving each of the magazines she worked on its own style, personality, and visual language, which in turn garnered each its own specific audience. In an essay for the book called “On Brand,” Millman writes,
“Over her long and illustrious career, Cipe Pineles not only broke new ground as a woman in design, she also singlehandedly injected the art and discipline of branding into the rarified worlds of publishing and education.”
At the height of her career, Pineles was a well-known art director for an enormous company, she ran with a celebrity crowd, and was a “force to be reckoned with,” as MacNaughton puts it. Andy Warhol considered her his favorite art director, and she was married, during her lifetime, to two high-profile designers: Will Burtin and William Golden. In her essay, “An Evening With One of the Best,” Paula Scher recalls forging a friendship with Pineles over the latter’s outrage that a lecture series at the Art Directors Club featured ten or so white men and no women. Almost 20 years prior to meeting Scher, Pineles was the first woman to be invited to the ADC, but only after Golden refused to accept his own invitation until she was admitted (she had been repeatedly nominated by well-known members and denied). In the 1960s, she left a long, venerable career at Condé Nast to join Burtin at his design consultancy, then went on to teach at Parsons and eventually become the school’s director of publications. In 1975 she was inducted into the ADC Hall of Fame, and in 1996, five years after her death, Pineles was awarded the AIGA medal for a lifetime of impactful design.
Pineles’ work “helped shape modern graphic and periodical design in the United States,” writes Steven Heller in his contribution to the book. She had an enormously successful career; famous friends and partners; and was honored, eventually, by the most prestigious organizations of her field. She was professionally known during her day, at a time when very few women were. So why isn’t she known today? “I would speculate that it was because she was a woman working in a time and in a field where generally only men were,” offers MacNaughton, though even she doesn’t sound too convinced. Then, after a beat: “Or maybe just the injustices of the world.”
Whatever the reason Pineles is not as famous as other mid-century designers on equal footing, her influence today is palpable. The essayists in the book range from food critic to editor to illustrators and designers; not everyone knew her or knew of her, yet all recognize the meaning of Pineles’ work on their own lives and careers. “She was a consummate artist,” says MacNaughton; she was always making something—whether a design at work, her own drapes and napkins at home, family meals, big dinner parties for the cultural elite, or her own hand-painted recipe book.
MacNaughton finds it fitting that she and Rich, and now so many others, have been introduced to Pineles through her recipes—her art and talent extended into every aspect of her life, and because of that it continues to resonate with various kinds of thinkers and makers. “I think we all know we’re influenced by forces that we recognize and forces that we don’t,” she says.
“With Cipe, it was like one of those hidden influences was revealed to us, and it felt like a duty of sorts to represent this influence to the world so she could get her due.”