A new book, Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, celebrates the work of Vogue’s boundary-pushing fashion editors. Throughout its 120-year history, Vogue has been creating arresting images intended to make the reader’s eye stop. These are images that evoke desire—for something as real as a dress or a lipstick, or as intangible as a whole new body language, attitude, or paradigm. Some are images of stately, introspective calm; others make the heart leap with an adrenaline charge of energy, reflecting a century of change in fashion, society, and culture. Pre-Order “Vogue: The Editor’s Eye” by Conde Nast, Foreword by Anna Wintour, Introduction by Hamish Bowles for $45 at Barnesandnoble.com
But who are the thoughtful provocateurs who have collaborated with Vogue’s image-makers to capture the moments you see frozen on these pages? The Editor’s Eye is a tribute to eight of these remarkable women (there have also been a handful of remarkable men) who have guided, educated, and enabled photographers and illustrators to create the visuals that have propelled fashion forward. They reveal not only the evolving history of women’s self-presentation but also the extraordinary arc of their journey from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first—the roiling ocean of emancipation, liberation, and empowerment, changes reflected in the lives of the women whose work is gathered here.
Vogue’s editors have long been instrumental in defining the faces of the era. During the tenure of the sweetly imperious Edna Woolman Chase, from 1914 until her retirement in 1952, it was the moneyed society women, generally of a certain age, who were the real leaders of fashion, and great models from Marion Morehouse to Lisa Fonssagrives were styled after their likenesses. Collaborating with Irving Penn in the late forties and fifties, Babs Simpson dressed her subject (reflecting her own impeccable personal style) and then sat down to her needlework as she quietly directed the sitting. Diana Vreeland, who came to Vogue in 1962, shook things up when she made young beauties like Baby Jane Holzer, Edie Sedgwick, and Marisa Berenson the faces of the moment, turned quirky performers like Barbra Streisand and Cher into style stars, and transformed the waifish Twiggy into an American celebrity as well as a British one.
Now the focus shifted to reflect the Youthquake era. Penelope Tree was “discovered” at Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball (written up in Vogue by Gloria Steinem) and was soon whisked to Richard Avedon’s studio, where Polly Allen Mellen emphasized her gangly limbs in a too-small pantsuit; together they created a defining image of idiosyncratic sixties beauty. A decade later, Jade Hobson turned Patti Hansen into the smiling embodiment of the golden goddess next door. Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele was front and center in creating the supreme moment of the supermodel in the late eighties and nineties, working with Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, and Peter Lindbergh on pictures that made Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Christy, et al., the most famous faces of their generation.
Vogue’s current pantheon of talent continues to recalibrate our eye. Grace Coddington, who helped make stars of models like Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Karen Elson, and Stella Tennant, prides herself on dressing every girl the old-fashioned way, rather than delegating this task to assistants. Phyllis Posnick, the Penn whisperer at the turn of the twenty-first century, sparked a glorious refulgence of invention and imagination in the artist’s work. The cerebral Camilla Nickerson, working with the most experimental talents of her day, presided over Kate Moss’s transformation from waif to artist’s muse to bride. And Tonne Goodman’s faultless eye and coaxing charm have played a part in redefining the image of nearly every celebrity the magazine has deemed worthy of celebration in an era when fashion is made not by elegant, socially ascendant women of a certain age but by cultural icons, from Lady Gaga to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Today Vogue productions can resemble filmmaking in scale and ambition, but it wasn’t always thus. For the fall-winter 1950 haute-couture collections, Penn made a rare trip to Paris to work with the fashion editor Bettina Ballard. The chosen studio where he installed his dappled tarpaulin backdrop was “up five exceptionally long flights of stairs, with no telephone, no water.” Ballard booked the models, attended the collections, selected the clothes from her notes (it was forbidden to photograph or sketch), and negotiated with the directrices of the fashion houses for their release (these saleswomen, on commission, invariably prioritized their customers, so clothes were available only at lunchtime or at night, which is when Penn and Ballard were shooting). The production yielded some of the most iconic fashion images of the century. “My heart was involved with every picture,” wrote Ballard, recalling her mid-century portfolios.
The dramas and the headaches and the battles are all eclipsed by the thrill of that great collaborative moment when a perfect storm of editor, photographer, model, clothes, hairstylist and makeup artist, environment, and concept come together to create an image that captures the moment, and may—who knows?—even have a life after fashion.
Excerpted from Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, compilation copyright © 2012 Condé Nast. To be published by Abrams, October 2012.