Power; The Thinking Woman’s Magazine

By Sufana Hammad

Let’s go back to a simpler time, it’s 1960 and you’re a stay at home mother of four, you spend your days and nights catering to the needs of a more  sexist society than by todays standards. I’m talking about a time when a woman’s life was already planned out for her by someone else. Fast forward to five years later, Nova magazine launches its first issue, and that’s when women began changing out of the,  6-inch from the ankle dresses, and started to question the status quo.

Known as ‘the thinking woman’s magazine’, Nova’s first few issues were way ahead of their time, because they weren’t just about the aesthetic and beauty, but Nova made sure they were socially, sexually, and politically aware. Created in 1965 by the publishing company George Newnes, Nova’s formation was in order to offer an alternative to traditional women’s magazines.

September 1968 cover NOVA
September 1968 cover NOVA

David Hillman, one of Britain’s leading graphic designers and who was appointed as editor at Nova the last six years it was running, and Harri Peccinotti, an English photographer that pushed the boundaries with his bold, erotic thought provoking images, and who was there from the beginning of Nova’s avant-garde journey. Ironically enough, Peccinotti was the first art director of Nova magazine from 1965 – 1966, and Hillman was the last art director from1969-1975. The dynamic duo took Nova from a small office in Covent Garden, to women all around the world who wanted to read from opinion pieces about abortion, sex, to features on religious and political theory, Nova ensured they covered it all. David Hillman speaks on the issues Nova covered, by stating

“At the time, we tackled every taboo, like abortion, homosexuality and everything else, it gave the license for everybody else to do it”.

David Hillman’s excellence in design allowed him to create and contribute to numerous magazines, before and after he was art director at Nova magazine. Prior to Nova, Hillman was educated at The London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and worked at The Sunday Times Magazine as a designer. After being art director at Nova, Hillman worked 29 years as a partner of the revolutionary design company, Pentagram. Hillman’s qualifications and expertise were also recognised in France, where he also set up his own design practice and was appointed to design the new French daily newspaper, Le Matin de Paris.

The Seventies were a difficult time for Nova magazine, the last five years they were operating, the economy flopped, advertising fell, costs rose, which led to the magazine to stop publishing issues. Other than economic problems, Nova’s competition was increasing steadily, especially when Cosmopolitan Magazine, that had its own approach towards the modern woman, and feminism, which played a huge role in Nova’s inevitable end in 1975.

“Nova was famous but didn’t always sell, you had to really fight to make something different” Hillman stated.

NOVA November 1966 - Photographed by Duffy
NOVA November 1966 – Photographed by Duffy

But fortunately, that was not the last we’ve seen of Nova magazine. Compiled in 1993 by Hillman and Pecciontti, and edited by David Gibbs, Nova 1965-1975 is a chronicle book that quickly became a collector’s item, by showing Nova’s decade-long journey filled with invigorating liberty.

The collector’s item consists of original Nova magazine covers, iconic articles and other examples of their usage of visual brilliance. What set Nova apart from other magazines and conformity is their style. Nova’s style is a combination of eloquent headlines, complementing rather than competing with the other visual aid on the page, such as photographs, graphics, and illustrations. Hillman discuss’ the complexity of typography and visual communication by stating

“I learned when you put two pictures together, it’s not about the shape the two pictures make on the page, but how those two pictures relate to each other, you cannot separate words from the pictures.”

September 1969 cover NOVA
September 1969 cover NOVA

Fashion trends come and go, but for many, Nova was more than just a fashion magazine, it left us with an eccentric spirit and influence that still persists to impact us today. Showing us the evolution of style, ideas, attitudes and technique over the years Nova was operating, allowing us to still use Nova as a source of influence, encouragement and guidance. The Nova collector’s item has become a widely recognised as a beautifully-produced, collectable volume that appeals to fans for all future generations, and because of that, on September 5th, an updated, re-issued copy will be published, containing iconic articles, pictures and covers from 1965- 1975.

Nova’s word origin comes from the Latin word for “new star”, which is an astronomical name for a star, that suddenly increases its light output extremely and then fades away to its former ambiguousness in a few months of years. Nova may have not continued as a magazine publication, but most definitely lefts its mark, and fulfilled its role. Just like the star, Nova shined tremendously, then faded away after a decade, but still left us enough to reminisce about and be inspired by.

NOVA March 1966 - Photographed by Jeanloup Sieff
NOVA March 1966 – Photographed by Jeanloup Sieff
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