The history of Vogue is richer than you think, says Nina-Sophia Miralles, author of Glossy: The Inside Story of Vogue (2021). “It’s probably the most famous magazine that has ever existed … I knew the story of how they got there and how they stayed there, had to be really fascinating … and it was.”
Miralles’ book is an account of the magazine’s 129-year history before and after Anna Wintour, the woman who, in her 34 years (and more) as editor-in-chief, was synonymous with the imprint.
So in Glossy there are stories of unimaginable accomplishments like working through the London Blitz of World War II, inventing the catwalk in World War I and protecting Vogue printing presses in Paris from being used by the Nazis.
“Vogue magazine, like so many great things, started in the guest room of a house,” says Miralles in the book. Its founder, New York high society attorney Arthur Turnure, graduated from Princeton but was a half-hearted practice. Publishing was his real passion. He was Art Director of Harper & Brothers (now HarperCollins) for a while before setting up on his own to launch this richly illustrated magazine. “The ultimate goal is to create a worthy, authentic magazine about society, fashion and the ceremonial side of life,” he said in his opening letter to readers of the first edition of Vogue in 1892.
Finding out the early years took real detective work, says Miralles. She looked for old letters and diaries, found sources for interviews and rummaged through archives. Even the latter part of the 20th century was not easy; the best stories were only shared anonymously and many had to be left out because they could not be verified.
Here’s a look at the magazine’s history through five revelations from the book.
The invention of the catwalk in World War I.
In 1909, three years after Turnure died of pneumonia at the age of 50, Condé Montrose Nast (the founder of what is now the magazine group) acquired Vogue and began transforming it, giving it a global presence.
As part of that effort, he named ambitious Vogue junior editor Edna Woolman Chase as editor-in-chief (she would stay in that position for 38 years, still a Vogue record).
Vogue flourished under Chase. But she was apparently the original devil in Prada. It required all female employees in the office to wear black silk stockings, white gloves, and white hats. She mocked workers in need, wrote hateful letters to those who had quit, and harassed those who tried to switch to competing magazines (so successfully that some became impoverished and she still refused to work with them).
In everything, Chase invented the catwalk. When the Great War of 1914 disrupted the supply chains between France and the United States, Chase hired several New York designers to create unique collections, which she then exhibited to the company’s women on models she had trained in the art of the strut. The event was intended as a World War I charity event. Nobody expected it to go very well. “She was having a really hard time convincing people to come on board,” Miralles told Wknd. “Nobody could see the attraction of watching women walking in clothes.”
A gay editor, for a short time, in the 1920s
When Dorothy Todd was editor of British Vogue from 1922 to ’26, she turned Vogue into a cultural clash. Women need to be taught both how to think and how to dress, she said. Her version of Vogue was smarter, more eclectic, and more literary. But their stay was short; She was released after moving in with her secretary. She was officially fired for making the fashion magazine a place of avant-garde poetry and “unusual” celebrities, which is said to have caused the magazine immense losses.
Underground photo shoots during World War II
Everyone who worked for British Vogue during World War II had a suitcase next to their desk, not for spare clothes or toiletries but so they could rush out with their piles of pages and layouts and copies in case an air raid siren went off. They continued to work during the air raids, sheltered in the basement six floors below. Fashion shoots also took place underground. It was too unstable and unsafe to shoot off the ground.
It was an unusual series of editions that came on the stands here during this period. In 1942, a cartoon soldier named General Economy wore cloth ends and a folded newspaper cap to emphasize the need for frugality. He also advised readers “to save every page of any paper for re-opening … every scrap of mending”. A 1943 cover advertised coupons alongside style advice.
Save the Vogue presses from the Nazis
Meanwhile, Vogue Paris staff went to extraordinary lengths to protect the magazine’s printing presses from being used by the Nazis. The editor Michel de Brunhoff even went so far as to hide the equipment behind a false wall, says Miralles. “In a particularly tense interrogation, a German officer repeatedly leaned against it while questioning the staff. Fortunately, they weren’t discovered. But they risked their lives. ”
A $ 1 million photoshoot
Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue US from 1963 to 1971, called the bikini “the most important thing since the atomic bomb”. Vreeland was also responsible for the magazine’s most expensive photo shoot ever. It cost more than $ 1 million at the time and lasted five weeks in Japan.
The 26-page special was titled The Great Fur Caravan and featured a 2.70 meter tall sumo wrestler and the German supermodel Veruschka von Lehndorff. It tells the bizarre story of a young woman who explores the snowy mountains in her “fabulous” furs on a first-class train ride through the Japanese Alps and finally falls in love with the gentle Japanese giant.