A Flair for Fashion

In 1950, Des Moines socialite Fleur Cowles launched a short-lived national magazine called Flair (see pages 99 and 101). Inspired by the lavish publication, our dsm team created classic and contemporary looks that pay homage to Fleur’s sumptuous lifestyle and enduring legacy.

Producer and Stylist: Jordan Croft
Photographer: Joe Crimmings
Model: Linsey Birusingh, the Peak Agency
Hair: Samantha Gallo, Coalesce Salon
Makeup: Ivy Boyd
Clothing: Blond Genius

Glasses: Vogue Vision
Jewelry: Bruce Owen Jewelry Design
Interior stylist: Julie Severson
Location: Wetherell Apartments

Special thanks: Jim Severson, Steve Myers,
Rachel Sivi, Bruce Owen, Clayton Owen, Erin Eischeid.

(Pictured above) Mackage Mai sea coat ($750).
Custom palladium ring with a 5.3-carat genuine aquamarine and round brilliant-cut accent diamonds ($2,400).
Custom 14-karat yellow gold ring with an 18.4-carat blue topaz ($1,300).
Custom 14-karat yellow gold ring with 6 fine-cut cognac diamonds and 5 round brilliant-cut diamonds ($1,400).
Custom 14-karat yellow gold engagement ring with a pear-shaped diamond ($4,500).
Vintage blue floral dress and vintage aurora bead necklace set (stylist-owned).

Saint Laurent eyeglasses ($350).
Original Grain “Avalon” 34MM sunburst watch with pine wood ($244).
Custom 14-karat white gold ring with a 3.15-carat sapphire with natural inclusions ($1,100).
Alice + Olivia cobalt oversized blazer ($440).
Agolde orange tee ($57).
Vintage red clip-on earrings (stylist-owned).

Custom palladium ring with a 5.3-carat genuine aquamarine and round brilliant-cut accent diamonds ($2,400).
Kimono and vintage aurora bead earrings and bracelet (stylist-owned).

Vince khaki trench coat ($645).
Fendi sunglasses ($435).
Custom vintage-style sterling silver and 18-karat yellow gold cuff with rutilated quartz ($600).
Custom 14-karat rose gold ring with a 2.2-carat princess-cut black diamond and 54 round brilliant-cut accent diamonds ($3,500).
Custom 14-karat rose gold and sterling silver ring with a 5-carat smoky quartz ($650).
Vintage red scarf and broach (stylist-owned). 

Zadig & Voltaire olive sequin jacket ($798).
Custom 14-karat yellow gold earrings with natural Brazilian rutilated quartz ($600).
Custom 18-karat yellow gold ring with a genuine Arizona peridot ($1,200).
Vintage tulle dress (stylist-owned). 

Christian Dior sunglasses ($585).
Custom 14-karat rose gold and sterling silver ring with a 5-carat smoky quartz ($650).
Custom 14-karat yellow gold stud earrings with genuine Tahitian pearls ($550).
Ulla Johnson “Queenie” blouse ($325).
Zadig Voltaire “Victor” embellished blazer ($498).
Alice + Olivia “Kina” leather pencil skirt ($895). 

Who Was Fleur Cowles?

  • Born in 1908 in New York City and started her publishing career as a copywriter at Gimbel’s Department Store.
  • Wrote speeches for the War Production Board in Washington, D.C., during World War II.
  • Married in 1946 to Gardner “Mike” Cowles, whose family owned and operated the Des Moines Register, Look magazine and more.
  • Added fashion, home and food content to Look magazine during her tenure as associate editor and was credited with resurrecting the magazine’s popularity after World War II.
  • Launched Flair magazine, which printed 12 issues from February 1950 through January 1951. One Vanity Fair writer deemed it “the most outrageously beautiful, visually daring, and extravagantly inventive magazine ever conceived.” Fleur and Gardner Cowles lived part time in Des Moines at the time. Flair grew in popularity, but it cost so much that Gardner Cowles closed it after losing $2.5 million. 
  • Separated from Gardner Cowles in 1955 and married British lumber tycoon Tom Montague Mayer, her fourth and final husband, later that year. She moved to Europe and went on to write or co-write more than 20 books, sit on multiple nonprofit boards and become an avid art collector.
  • Died at age 101 in England in 2009.

Fleur’s Flair Lives On in Des Moines

Writer: Karla Walsh

Julie Severson

The setting for this shoot was designed by—and is the home of—creative director Julie Severson, who has called Des Moines home since 1967. Severson initially heard about Flair magazine three years ago, and discovered the creator—and her artistic soul sister—Fleur Cowles along the way.

“What a fascinating person—and she lived in Des Moines for a time,” Severson says. “She was high society and always so stylish. I wonder: What would it be like to run into her at the grocery store?” 

Inspired by a Vanity Fair piece about Cowles, Severson decided she wanted to flip through Flair in real life. “While many collectible issues were really expensive, I went on eBay and saw three issues for $20. Sold! Each issue had a different theme and was so unusual,” Severson says. 

Cowles was decades ahead of her time with Flair: She integrated unique design elements such as cut-outs; she featured contributors like Salvador Dali and Gypsy Rose Lee; and she created a scented issue. Cowles’ personal style and decor preferences were eclectic, too.

“No matter what the trends were, she stuck to her style. I do the same,” Severson says. “My husband and I sold our house 14 years ago, thinking we’d only stay in this 600-square-foot Grand Avenue unit for a year. We’ve never left! I love the light. There are nine huge windows, a wood-burning fireplace and terrazzo floors. It truly lives likes a small home.”

Severson has followed her heart by staying put in the small space—and outfitting it with pieces that reflect her personality. She says Cowles did the same: “Her essence was so true to herself, and her work was timeless. She really impacted the publishing world; creative directors refer back to her magazines to this day.”


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