I remember the morning I began working as Art Director in the Publicity Department of El Corte Inglés as if it were yesterday. I was sneaking between drawing tables to introduce myself to my new Creative Director when an older man – white hair, smoking a cigar – asked me if I knew how to draw. I didn’t know then who he was, but nevertheless I soon realized that this man had been the ‘alma mater’ of this department until almost three decades ago, when Juan José Gómez Lagares began to lead it.
This particular man was Vicente López, a very funny art director who made every workday a joy. It was June 1990 and, for a few years, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work alongside graphic designers that had consodilated the image of El Corte Inglés. They were soon to retire, but over the course of more than 30 years they´d been designing hundreds, thousands of advertisements, posters and billboards some of them impeccably made. In the nineties it wasn’t so important for an art director to draw well – illustrators were for this purpose. However it was highly recommendable for sketches to transmit ideas clearly.
They were the ones who told me about the very founder of this Department, Joaquín Torres, a complete artist. He began his career during the forties designing shop windows. Because of his skills as a sculptor and his enormous creative capacity, Joaquín very soon realised the necessity of starting two different departments; publicity and Shop window design.
On Christmas eve 1961, Joaquín Torres signed an advert which included the logo that today, everybody in Spain knows. He had already modernized its typography but this time he put it in a triangle, which reminded him of a little flag eye-catching and instantly recognisable.
Over the fifties and sixties, on the top floor of the El Corte Inglés store on Madrid’s Calle Preciados, a tiny creative department started which was there until the mid seventies, when it was moved to the main offices on Calle Hermosilla. It was here where I was working, only for a short period, with an excellent group of graphic designers namely, Paco Feliú, Vicente López, Fernando Pennetier, Francisco Ortega and Pepe Rodríguez, all under the creative leadership of Alberto Serrano.
Juan José Gómez Lagares, who started his career as copywriter in 1968, assumed the direction of the publicity department in the late sixties, when Joaquín Torres quit this position. Over through these years the department experienced an enormous growth due to the rapid spread of stores across Sapin and the subsequent necessity to create publicity campaigns and commercial promotions. The drawing tables were replaced by computer desks, the spectacular El Casco pencil sharpeners lost their importance and some of these excellent graphic designers retired without ever even switching on a computer.
With the benefit of hindsight I guess they left their jobs without any upset, because in their DNA graphite was a word related to pencils and not the electronic parts inside Spectrum computers at that time. Probably they thought that the soft sound of chalk pencils over rough drawing paper was sexier than one hand desperately dragging a mouse over a little mat screaming with commercial images. As they moved on, so did their particular approach to publicity.
There remains, beside hundreds of ads glued on cardboard, Letraset catalogues, pencils, brushes and watercolours, the feeling that their’s was a profession on the verge of disappearing. Of that, nothing will ever be the same… and I never found out if I knew how to draw properly.
José Luis de Nó