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Serge Ricco, creative director, L’Obs
At work with

Serge Ricco, creative director, L’Obs

L’Observateur has been a part of France’s publishing landscape since the 1950’s, adding ‘Nouvel’ to its name in 1964. In 2014 it adopted the abbreviated name L’Obs and reinvented itself as a more investigative newsweekly. Working alongside editor-in-chief Matthieu Croissandeau, creative director Serge Ricco repositioned the magazine to be more visually punchy, something acknowledged whennit was awarded French magazine of the year in 2015. We spoke to Serge about his week ahead.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
Before catching my train, I only eat a banana, no breakfast. I read in the Metro, currently a few pages of ‘Sticky Fingers,’ the story of Rolling Stone's founder and editor-in-chief Jan Wenner. On my way to the office, I love walking and thinking. The streets of Paris inspire me. I’m listening to Lee Morgan's ‘Search for a New Land’.

When you work for a newsweekly, Monday is the last day before the deadline. Monday is actually the hottest day, I never get bored, everything can change. I’m checking emails and spreads from my layout artists. The newsweekly teaches you to be very fast and efficient. At 2 pm, I’ll swallow a Japanese soup and an Italian coffee. If I have time, I go to the WHSmith newsstand. My day ends around 8pm – I often see the sunset while I’m leaving the office.

Describe the state of your desk
I feel lucky because I have a personal office with a great balcony, with a view on the old French stockmarket La Bourse and the AFP (French Media Agency) in the centre of Paris. I’m always trying to keep my desk clean and in order. ‘I believe in a deeply ordered chaos,’ as Francis Bacon said. My black chair designed by Friso Kramer has never left me for fifteen years.

Which magazine do you first remember?
There are three magazines:

Les Inrockuptibles
This quarterly music magazine was the temple of independent culture. The layout was elegantly composed in Garamond and illustrated beautiful black and white. I kept all the issues of that time.

Métal Hurlant
This was a revolutionary monthly comic in France. We could discover Moebius, Bilal, Druillet and many more great artists.

The first time I discovered the cover with Johnny Depp in the kiosk, it was a shock! I loved the format, the layout designed by Fabien Baron. I understood that I wanted to design magazines. I’m deeply sad that the Andy Warhol’s publication stopped this year.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I'm a magoholic! I’ve subscribed to New York magazine for a long time and I often buy vintage copies on eBay – you can imagine the joy when the first issue (below) arrived at my house.

I think New York’s Adam Moss is the best editor-in-chief in the world, actually. And art directors Luke Hayman, Chris Dixon and Tom Alberty know how to keep Milton Glaser's spirit alive.
My top 5: New York, The New York Times Magazine, Port, Brandeins, Bloomberg Businessweek.

Outside of France, L’Obs is not so well known. Tell us about it
L’Obs is a French newsweekly magazine that sells 300,000 copies each week. L’Observateur was born in 1950, the first of three names: L’Observateur, Le Nouvel Observateur and today, L’Obs.

This historical issue of Le Nouvel Observateur was published in 1971, the manifesto of the 343 ‘sluts’ denouncing the ban on abortion. Le Nouvel Observateur was designed by great art directors: Pierre Faucheux, Robert Delpire, Claude Maggiori and even Harri Peccinotti of Nova.

Does it frustrate you that the French language cuts you off from being a part of the online exchange of newsweekly front covers?
I’m not frustrated. I’ve always been attracted by Anglo-Saxon culture long before the advent of the internet or Instagram. When one of my covers is selected by Coverjunkie, I jump as a member of the RastaRocket team (the French title for the movie Coll Runnings)! Who knows, maybe one day I will design an English magazine.

Please select three of your favourite covers of L’Obs, and say why you like them

Apple – ‘The dark side’
L’Obs was awarded as the magazine of the Year by the French press union. At that time, I was working at GQ for a few months. It’s always easier to design a good cover outside a magazine. George Lois really knows about it!

Macron – ‘The busy man’
Macron had just left the budget ministry. At the time, we have no idea what direction he was going to take. I immediately thought of the poster of “Catch me if you can”. Who would have thought at that moment that he was going to be the next President of France?

Clint Eastwood – ‘Quickdraw’
For my first weekly magazine Télérama, I designed a lot of covers with Clint Eastwood. I even met him at Plaza Athénée. The simple idea of transforming the letter ‘O’ from the logotype into a visor allowed me to pay tribute to Herb Lubalin with his famous yellow cover of Eros.

What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
The most frustrating thing is that we are losing, for years now, newsstands in France. It doesn’t help creativity and daring.

What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
I’m going to see Malcom McDowell in the film ‘If’ at the French Cinémathèque on Wednesday.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I’m going to share some visuals of vintage magazines on my Instagram and tonight I hope to work on my personal project ‘Magmen.’

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