Alexey Brodovitch began as a graphic designer in Paris, where he lived from 1920 to 1930 after leaving his native Russia. He worked as a set painter for the Ballet Russes, and also designed posters, textiles, and furnishings. His first public recognition as a designer came in 1924 when he won first prize in the Bal Banal poster design competition.
In 1930 Brodovitch was invited to America to establish the Department of Advertising Design at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Design (later the University for the Arts' Philadelphia College of Art and Design). Four years later, he became art director at Harper's Bazaar. During his twenty-four year tenure at the magazine, Brodovitch recruited some of the best-known photographers of the day and gave assignments to a number of unknowns who would later become giants in the field, including Lisette Model, Robert Frank, and Richard Avedon.
In 1945 Brodovitch published Ballet, a collection of images taken backstage at the Ballets Russes in the 1920s, which was enormously influential among photographers in the 1940s and 1950s. Between 1949 and 1951 he created Portfolio, a magazine for the graphic arts. He also designed books, including André Kertész' Day of Paris and Avedon's Observations.
Brodovitch's later years were plagued by misfortune. Much of his life's work was destroyed in a house fire in 1956, including the original negatives for Ballet. Suffering from depression and alcoholism, he was hospitalized in 1960. Temporarily healthier in 1964, he revived the Design Laboratory at Avedon's studio and in 1965 at the Corcoran School of Art. In 1966 he returned to France, where he died in 1971.