Mehemed Fehmy Agha

Mehemed Fehmy Agha was a Turkish designer, art director, and the first magazine editor. He was born in Russia in 1896. He received his education in Czarist Russia, with a degree in economics from Emperor Peter the Great Polytechnic Institute in Kiev as well as a degree in Oriental Languages in France, Paris. He was also educated in arts, photography, and typography. Agha spoke several languages such as Turkish, English, German, French, Greek, and Russian. He was highly educated and he had a strong background in arts and technical skills. Fehmy Agha’s skills enabled him to achieve many positions such as a teacher and a director.

Before the tragic economic crush, in the early 1930s, the magazines focused more on arts than they do today. To cope with the terrible events happening in the world, magazines offered an escape for their followers. By then, publication companies often imprinted with the name of the founder. There were popular magazines like Conde Nast’s Vogue, Vanity Fair, House and Garden, etc. These magazines were above others and offered much more entertainment and cultural influence for their followers. In Nast’s Vogue, Heyworth Campbell was the art director. He was a very successful editor, which made it difficult to find a substitute for him when he resigned. In search for a substitute, Conde Nast traveled to London, Paris, and Berlin. In Berlin, he met this talented artist called Fehmy Agha, who came to Berlin from Paris. Fehmy Agha was the studio chief at the Vogue headquarters and he came to Berlin to work as the designer of the German Vogue. Agha’s work was so influential and tasteful that Nast admired him. He thought Agha had a strong personality that could add important elements to his magazine. Nast was so impressed that he announced his companions the next day that Agha would be their new art editor. It was a quick and effective decision which surprised others. Nast felt very lucky to find this man who had the aura of a teacher.

In 1928, Agha became the art director of Vogue America. From the first day he started, he impressed everyone in Vogue with his unusually technical background and his  unique personal style. He was now recognized as Dr. Agha, from the first week of his career.

Once the times changed and wars occured, the cheer and energy that is needed in the Vogue was eliminated. The magazines needed something new, something exciting, and adventurous. Dr. Fehmy Agha brought renovation to Vogue and ‘introduced a new principle in the conception of modern American publications.’ “ The visual articulation of a magazine was not to be an act after the editorial fact; it was, as Agha saw it, an integral function of the editorial process.” Fehmy Agha brought a new perception and raised the level of art direction. He even changed the definition of the term ‘designer’ from ‘a decorative adjunct’ to an ‘organic function of the modern publication’.

Fehmy Agha adjusted the graphics of Vogue, simplified the  layout and imposed a close relationship between text and images on the page. Agha destroyed Vogue’s old-fashioned appearance by using the curves of Art Deco, and the straight lines used in Constructivism. As a creative photographer, Agha also introduced new illustrations by famous modern photographers of the time including Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, Carl Van Vechten, and Charles Sheeler.

Agha also purified the typographic style. He exchanged italic lettering for forward-leaning sans serif fonts like Futura. Therefore, he introduced sans serif style that is commonly used in Europe to Americans. Fehmy Agha presented his extraordinary technical skills by working very hard on the photographs and engravings. He removed all extraneous design elements from the pages such as the borders around photos, column rules, sidebars. He designed the first ever double-page spreads, and the first full-bleed images, printing photographs without any borders at all, right over the edge of the page. He achieved a latest avant-garde Europe look in the magazines. While being one of the best artists ever, Agha was also a great teacher. People who worked with or under him during his Vogue years stated that he was very influential and forced others to come up with extraordinary design and graphic solutions.

Another popular journal of the time called P.M, honored Agha after his ten years of work in Vogue by devoting an entire issue for his work and his colleagues’ designs. Agha received many compliments from various designers of the time, all stating that he was a brilliant art director and editor. Fehmy Agha became president of both the Art Directors Club (1935) and AIGA (1953–55) and became known as an arbiter of good taste in design.

Fehmy Agha worked for Nast’s Vogue until 1943. “During his fourteen years there, he had achieved unmatched eminence and was awarded numerous honors. It was only six years after his arrival in New York that he was selected to be the President of the Art Directors Club.” After his famous career in Vogue, Mehmed Fehmy Agha continued his path as an active graphic and directorial consultant to various companies and corporations. He helped with the promotional issues as well as design problems. “Yet by reason of almost cynical disbelief in the permanence of his achievements, he eschewed any collected exhibition of work, neither did he welcome a special tribute to his professional contribution. As William Golden wrote thirty-three years ago, “Mehemed Fehmy Agha is an unhappy man. He has learned nearly all there is to know about the graphic arts, only to discover that he never liked them in the first place,”” When Fehmy Agha lost his wife two years after he retired from Vogue, he was devastated. He slowly decreased his consulting activities. “Unique as he was a personality, Agha was as uncommon an aesthetic presence that transformed his and our time. He brought an aesthetic acumen that cut through the thickets of outworn ideas to create a new legibility, a new logic and a new elegance to printed communication. Above all, he brought an endless replenishment to the springs of inspiration.”




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