Ruth Ansel

As a kid, I have always been obsessed with editorial magazines. Since the age of 12, I have collected everything from Teen Vogue, Elle, Vogue, and W Magazine. It wasn’t that I wanted to read them as much as it was I loved looking at them. Seeing a glossy new cover in my mailbox each month was like getting a present. Despite my love for magazine design, it never occurred to me that it was one person’s job to design those covers and ad campaigns I loved so much.

Ruth Ansel is one of those designers. She is an accomplished editorial magazine, ad campaign, and book designer who has an amazing body of work that spans almost 50 years. She has worked for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Time Magazine, and more. When researching her story and career, I saw just how much of a trailblazer she was and still is. In her time, she has broken molds and glass ceilings, giving audiences unexpected yet much-appreciated designs.

Her Life Story

Ansel was born in 1938 in New York City. She grew up in the Bronx. In an interview with AIGA, she says she never thought much about her future or any career besides finding a husband after college and settling down. Not long after graduating from Alfred University with a degree in ceramic design, she married American illustrator and graphic designer Bob Gill. Even though her plans did not go accordingly and her marriage ended after a few years, there was one thing she took from that time: an interest in graphic design. As a kid, Ansel loved movies and film and to her magazines were “the closest (she) could find to films” (AIGA).

With one brief marriage under her belt and a trip across Europe, she took her small portfolio to Harper’s Bazaar and applied to be an assistant for Marvin Israel (the art director at the time). This was a rather bold move for a girl in her early twenties considering she had no experience in magazines or graphic design. In this case, it worked in her favor. Israel hired her because of her lack of knowledge and therefore lack of dreaded “graphic design clichés” (AIGA). Many people say you learn more in the field rather than in the classroom. Ansel is a perfect example of that. She learned everything “on the job.” She spent endless amounts of time pouring through the archives of past magazine issues.

As if this wasn’t unusual enough, her call to the big leagues is even more unusual. It was during one particular cover in 1962 where Ansel’s boss Marvin Israel got into a spat with Harper’s Bazaar’s editor-in-chief Nancy White over Diana Vreeland (later the editor-in-chief of Vogue). Since they could not come to an agreement, Israel was fired and Ansel, along with Bea Feitler, were hired. Shockingly, Ansel was chosen to replace her boss and be the co-art director with Bea Feitler. Not only were Ansel and Feitler two of the youngest (in their mid-twenties), but they were also the first women to hold that title. There they stayed for nine years, changing the game for fashion magazines.

Her Style

Before Ansel, fashion magazines and covers had a certain way of portraying women and fashion. It was mostly superficial and unrealistically perfect. Women had no emotions besides happy while holding perfect poses to show off the perfect outfit. Then Ansel came along with her love of “pop art, rock and roll music, films, and street fashion” according to Dennis Freedman (founding creative director of W magazine) (AIGA). It was edgy and new. Her ideal woman was “dark, intelligent, introverted, beautiful” (AIGA). Fashion was showcased in a new light of fine art. Before it was not taken as seriously as fine art. Nobody thought of fashion as art previously.

Her Transitions:

(leaving Bazaar: 70s)

Most of her career can be broken down into decades. In the ‘60s, Ansel worked at Harper’s Bazaar as co-art director. Her partner, Bea Feitler, decided to leave in 1969. It wasn’t until 1974 that Ansel was “pushed out” of Harper’s Bazaar for a more “commercialized” look and she got a call for The New York Times Magazine. This was another one of those fish-out-of-water experiences for Ansel. Walking into an interview with the head art director, Lou Silverstein, she knew nothing about journalism or newspaper design. She told Silverstein the only place she could fit was the magazine. She was hired. Again, she broke the mold by being the first female art director of The New York Times Magazine. Just like she did at Harper’s Bazaar, Ansel brought her bold and edgy style onto the covers of the magazine.

(on to Home & Garden to Vanity Fair: 80s)

Tired of the pace and style of newspaper design, Ansel went to House & Garden in 1983. Here she revamped the magazine, bringing it into the 20th century. It was not long after this that she got another phone call. This time it was Alexander Leberman, the editorial director of Conde Nast publications. He told her he “wanted her to go to Vanity Fair and take over” and that “her answer will be yes” when she asked for time to think it over (Index). It was at Vanity Fair that she worked with now-famous photographers such as Annie Leibowitz. Once again, she was the first female art director of both Home & Garden and Vanity Fair.

(flying solo: 90s)

It wasn’t until the early ‘90s that Ansel opened her own design studio. There she worked on books, monographs, and “ad campaigns for Versace, Karl Lagerfeld”, and more (AIGA).


Overall, what makes Ruth Ansel special is being the first of her kind: edgy, real, and first female art director of many of the magazines she worked at. Through her work, she told stories. They were new, unexpected, socially involved with the times, sometimes shocking, and inspiring. She is a designer to be noted.



Image Source: