The Kempt Profile: George Lois
- Photography by Dan Smith
At age 20, George Lois dropped out of school to join the ad world. Over the next 60 years, he was behind some of the world’s most iconic images and slogans, including Muhammad Ali’s 1968 Esquire cover, the campaign to free Ruben “Hurricane” Carter and “I Want My MTV.” More recently, he wrote a book called Damn Good Advice, and we were able to sit down with him for a few hours to unpack the wisdom of a life in the creative world. (Not coincidentally, our friends at UD Perks have tickets to a lunch with the man, if you’d like to see the show in person.)
Beg for the Sale I talk to young kids sometimes, oh god it drives me crazy. They say, “Isn’t it important, Mr. Lois, not to make it look like you’re trying to sell somebody?” I say, “Excuse me? You should be begging for it.”
Magazines Got Boring There isn’t a better editor in the world than Graydon Carter, who does Vanity Fair. But their covers are just as dumb as everybody else’s. It’s all kiss-ass celebrity stuff.
Get Your Ugly Blurbs Off My Beautiful Picture Part of the power of the image is that the image is left alone.
You Have to Gamble To Get Ahead My first cover for Esquire, the issue was coming out a week after the Patterson-Liston fight. I knew right away, I’m gonna call the fight, right on the cover. Patterson was the favorite, but I knew, I just knew Liston would kick the living shit out of him. When Harold Hayes saw it, he said, “You’re crazy,” and I said, “No, you’re crazy because you’re going to do it.”
Buzz Is for the Taking If I can fill three pages in Vanity Fair over three months, I can make someone famous. One commercial at the right time and everybody in America’s talking.
Sometimes You Take a Few Elbows I love playing ball. I’m fuckin’ 80 and I’m playing ball with guys in their 20s, 30s. You gotta be out of your mind. The big guys are 6' 7", 260 pounds, and they don’t give a shit how old you are.
You Still Have It Easier Than Your Dad My father came to this country when he was 13 years old, by himself. He couldn’t speak the language. By the time he was 21, he had opened up a flower shop on Broadway. How the fuck did he do that?