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BOOK REVIEW

VOGUE: THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY 

IN VOGUE: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine
by Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti, Rizzoli New York, 2006

 

By Shine Anthony - Dharan

NEW YORK, 30 MAY 2007— More than any other fashion magazine, Vogue has come to represent the gold standard of publications targeting the stylish, culturally sophisticated woman. From its inception in the late nineteenth century to the present, the magazine has served as a photographic and literary record of its readers lives— the liberated elite of the 1920s, the idealized housewives of the 1950s, the working everywoman of the 1970s, and today’s multiracial, indefinable woman. Rizzoli’s In Vogue represents over 100 years worth of the magazine's most memorable images, and analyzes its influence on over a century of fashion.

With unprecedented access to Vogue’s vast archives, authors Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti have collated an impressive collection of illustrations, photographs, and contributions from the magazine's editors and photographers. Like well-behaved children running amuck in their mother's library, the authors picked some pretty things, some amusing things and some rather serious things. And so we find a haughty Lisa Fonssagrives decked in Dior, a playful Truman Capote dancing a literary waltz, and a soulful Pablo Picasso peeking out from behind his portraits. Enough already for what is essentially coffee table decoration, but to In Vogue’s credit, the book delves deeper to examine the significance of a magazine that has captured the imaginations of women for over a century. Divided into three sections, the book details the history of the magazine from three different perspectives:


Jean Patchett (dramatic eye and lip)
Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld, courtesy of the Condé Nast Archive,
from IN VOGUE: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine
by Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti, Rizzoli New York, 2006

The first examines Vogue 's beginnings as a society chronicle, its early illustrated covers, and the birth of fashion photography. Here one finds wonderful, rarely published pictures by the likes of Charles Gibson and St.John. Each hand-rendered illustration speaks volumes about the women it depicts, both adorned and imprisoned by their jewels and corsets. How limited these womens' lives must have been within the constraints of class and marriage. With no expectation of freedom, they indulged in one of the few pastimes afforded them—fashion.

The advent of fashion photography transformed socialites into the first fashion models. Exuberant gowns by the likes of Schiaparelli , Balenciaga and Chanel were often shot in the models' own Park Avenue apartments. These women traveled to Paris by steamboat to view and fit their couture— they would commission hand laced lingerie from convent nuns, and turn out gowns in the atelier to examine the finishing. In a world where Paris Hilton is considered a socialite, such taste no longer exists. The recent deaths of New York society fixtures Nan Kemper , Kitty Carlise Hart and Pat Buckley marked the end of a certain generation of women—those who knew about food, dressing well, running a house and entertaining on a grand scale.

The second section of the book examines the evolution of the magazine's style as it passed from editor to editor. Most fascinating is the mad extravagance that signified Diana Veerland’s 8-year tenure in the 1960s. Veerland’s habit of expecting designers to produce collections that fit around her visions became fashion folklore—she inspired the eccentric fashion editor in Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face . Her penchant for hugely expensive shoots set in exotic locations such as India, Egypt and the Far East made Vogue a dreamy, if somewhat detached beast. Eventually Veerland was replaced with the more commercial Grace Mirabella, and a new Vogue woman was born. Career-orientated and ambitious, the magazine was now squarely marketed towards the working woman.

By this time world renowned fashion photographers such as Helmut Newton and Irving Penn were helping to shape the look and feel of the magazine. When Anna Wintour took over the helm from Mirabella in 1988, she assembled a core of photographers including Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts. By introducing the concept of repeatedly using a select group of models on the cover, Wintour helped to bring about the era of the supermodel. Linda, Christy and Naomi were fondly known as the ‘Holy Trinity' — designers fit collections around them and editors were forced to give into their every whim. Flying concorde and staying in only the best hotels were everyday demands in 1990 when Linda Evangelista famously informed Vogue "We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day". Outrageous? Perhaps, but these girls became icons because they lived and breathed fashion, they loved clothes and the creative process behind a photograph. Speak to any fashion editor and they will all repeat the same fact about today’s modeling industry— "There are no girls! They do not care!"


5 Models in Shower
Photograph by Deborah Turbeville, courtesy of the Condé Nast Archive,
from IN VOGUE: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine
by Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti, Rizzoli New York, 2006

The model du jour is the Eastern European teenager, so bland even die-hard fashionistas have difficulty distinguishing one from the next. Models have been replaced by celebrities, the royalty of a paparazzi society that feeds upon the illusion that we know and care about these people. The later pages of In Vogue are dense with the familiar faces of Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon et al. Although one could argue that style has been replaced by stylists, Vogue is inarguably tapping into a cultural phenomenon whilst, as always, shaping society’s view of beauty and womanhood.

Wintour’s tenure makes up the third section of the book with a biography, and prints of her most memorable sittings. Curiously, there is little mention of the famous competition between Conde Nast’s Vogue and Hearst’s Harpers Bazaar. The rivalry peaked during the 1990’s when the late Liz Tiberis took over as editor of Bazaar and promptly placed a number of Vogue photographers under exclusive contracts. Although Vogue always trumped Bazaar in sales, many fashion insiders questioned which was really the better magazine. As a young admirer of fashion myself at the time, I remember awaiting my monthly fix of Bazaar as much as I did that of Vogue, sometimes more so.


Kristen McMenamy in black gown
© Steven Meisel from IN VOGUE: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine
by Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti, Rizzoli New York, 2006

Many of these photographs will be familiar to regular Vogue readers, but in the context of the previous two sections, illuminate us as to the state of modern fashion. Three of today’s major fashion brands, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Christian Dior, have been around since the early days of Vogue. Each one was successfully rejuvenated by a new designer— Nicholas Ghesquire, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano respectively—to make them relevant to the contemporary customer. Of the ‘New Generation’ of American designers such as Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler, few display the innovation of the old guard- and so we suffer the cyclical return of the warbride, the 60’s babydoll, the hippie, and increasingly, the 80s power woman. Where the likes of Coco Chanel and Christian Dior were driven to change the face of fashion, most designers today are simply reworking old classics.

Over the years, the Vogue woman has transformed herself from rosy-cheeked aristocrat to slender flapper, from hourglass sexpot to boyish gamine, from glamazon to waif. Today she is no longer the socialite or ubermodel, she could be any woman. The authors propose that a fashion photograph is not simply a picture of a dress—it is a picture of a woman, of how she looks and is looked at. Each picture does indeed speak to the models perception of herself, of how she is and how she should be- her life within the cultural limitations of her time. By exploring this concept In Vogue transcends from mere visual fluff into a quiet, important portrait of the American woman. Gracefully written and beautifully edited, In Vogue is sure to be a happy addition to any well heeled coffee table.

© In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine
by Alberto Oliva and Norberto Angeletti

Rizzoli New York, October 2006
Hardcover: 440 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8478-2864-7
$75.00 US, $100.00 Canadian 

Shine Anthony-Dharan is a British fashion writer and designer based in New York. He covers fashion, beauty and interior design for Culturekiosque.com.

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