Newsstand: 1925: Vogue [America]

History | View Contents | View Magazine

 

a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

 

Overview

           Since its birth in December of 1892 Vogue has acted as the chief fashion advisor for society’s elite, establishing the clothing trends in the perpetually evolving world of fashion. Vogue is now published in eighteen countries, internationally expanding the legacy and influence of the fashion phenomenon. Despite Vogue’s focus on the fleeting fashion sensations of the moment, the magazine has maintained its status as the guiding voice in elite fashion styles for nearly 120 years.

 

History

 

                 In 1892 Vogue was founded by Arthur Baldwin Turnure and boasted such prestigious backers as Cornelius Vanderbilt. The task of titling the publication was allocated to the magazine’s first editor, Josephine Redding. After scouring the dictionary for inspiration Redding stumbled upon the following definition of “vogue”: “Mode of fashion prevalent at any particular time; popular reception, repute, generally used in the phrase ‘in vogue’: as, a particular style of dress was then ‘in vogue’; such opinions are now ‘in vogue.’” [1] For Redding this definition brilliantly articulated the mission of the blossoming publication, and thus Vogue was born.

           Under Turnure’s guidance and the editorial council of Josephine Redding Vogue began as “a weekly magazine of fashion, society, and the ‘ceremonial side of life’ for a small circle of socially elite New Yorkers.” [2] The fact that Vogue was geared towards such a selective, elite readership was precisely the aspect of the magazine that attracted publisher Conde Nast to the magazine in 1905. What set Vogue apart from the plethora of women’s magazines in circulation in the early twentieth century was the fact that only Vogue was tailored towards an elite audience, compared to publications such as Ladies’ Home Journal which appealed to a mass-market. Nast viewed Vogue as a way to unite the worlds of the social elite who desired to purchase luxury goods with those who produced and sold such commodities. Holding strong to this vision, Nast zealously began negotiations to purchase Vogue. His dream of owning the publication was deferred for three years after the death of Turnure in 1906. Following Turnure’s death Marie Harrison, who was Turnure’s sister-in-law and Vogue’s editor since 1901, took control of the magazine with the assistance of Edna Woolman Chase.

In 1909, when Nast was thirty-six years old, he finally succeeded in his negotiations with Harrison and purchased Vogue as the magazine’s circulation reached 22,500. Nast’s passion for the magazine prompted him to make several major alterations to the publication upon his acquisition of Vogue. In 1910 Vogue proclaimed Nast’s vision for cultivating the publication with the following announcement “’Beginning with the spring fashion forecast number of February fifteenth Vogue will be issued under a plan that will make for a bigger, a better and a still more attractive Vogue” (Chase 71). 

Once a weekly publication, Nast determined that Vogue would be published biweekly in 1909. Nast also adjusted the magazine’s price, as yearly subscriptions would be priced at four dollars, and the cost of an issue was raised from ten to fifteen cents. The secret to Nast’s success, what he referred to as the “formula” of Vogue, was simply “legibility.” [3] Nast obsessively regulated the clarity of writing and physical organization of the material contents of the magazine. Through his painstaking attention to such details Nast believed that he could assure the reader that the magazine, like the commodities it promoted, was of the highest, most prestigious quality. In 1910 Vogue was radically reshaped through the increased use of the camera, and Nast began to implement fashion and society photographs into the magazine alongside the traditional hand-drawn fashion sketches. Gradually photographs would replace the hand-drawn design sketches original to the magazine, especially once color photography was introduced: “At Vogue, editors spent $60,000 more on artwork than on photography in 1930; by 1933 that gap had been reduced to only $13,000 and by the end of the decade far more was spent on photography.” [4] Edna Woolman Chase became Vogue’s editor-in-chief in 1914. Chase held this position until 1952 and during her thirty-eight years of dedication to the magazine she worked diligently alongside Nast to build the fashion empire of Vogue. Together, Chase and Nast focused their passion and ambition for the magazine to develop their specific vision for Vogue. Chase articulated this vision as a desire to “produce a magazine of fashion, authority, information and beauty for our readers, and to make it as valuable a medium as possible in which advertisers may present their own messages” (Seebohm 90). Chase confirmed her innovation and dedication to the magazine during the First World War at which point the fate of European fashion designs was threatened. The magazine’s entire basis was centered around the couture fashion trends of Europe and, thus, the fate and authority of the magazine was in serious jeopardy. Rising to the occasion, Chase constructed the first fashion editorial based on the fashion of American designers in the December 1914 edition of Vogue. Through this decision Vogue inspired a fashion revolution in New York and the city’s fashion designers began to compete with their European counterparts for the right to clothe society’s elite.

In the early twenties, under the continued guidance of Nast, Vogue reached a circulation of approximately 137,000, boasting advertising revenues of $2,178,000. In 1926 Vogue’s advertising revenues were the second highest in the market, yielding only to the Saturday Evening Post. These numbers continued to climb throughout the thirties, establishing Vogue as the expert of highbrow fashion and elite consumerism. Vogue survived the financial woes of the Depression, and although revenues dropped briefly, the publication eventually increased its advertising revenues from $2.5 million in 1931 to over $3.5 million in 1938. From 1935 to 1944 forty-four percent of the advertisements in Vogue were full page and several advertisers took out multiple full color ads in the publication (Citation needed).

           As the trend towards full-page ads flourished, advertisements in Vogue began to emulate the format of the actual fashion editorials in the magazine and, thus, it became difficult to “distinguish a page of advertising from an editorial page.[5] Vogue’s revenues were predominantly dependent not on circulation, but on advertising. The massive proportion of advertisements in Vogue can largely be attributed to the fact that it is a “class magazine,” meaning “advertisers and advertising agencies are convinced that people who buy them have, on average, more money” (Zuckerman 133). This belief was confirmed in 1927 as a survey showed that between 42 and 51 percent of Vogue’s circulation went to families with incomes of $5,000 or more (citation needed).

Chase continued as editor-in-chief at Vogue throughout the highly stylized years of the 1930s and 1940s. Vogue’s major emphasis during the 1930s was on the Surrealist movement, presenting novel, juxtaposing fashions. In January of 1937 Vogue published a photograph of Surrealist artist Salvadore Dali alongside the following definition of Surrealism: “’A Surrealist is a man who likes to dress like a fencer, but does not fence; a Surrealist is also a man who likes to wear a diving suit, but does not dive’” (Watson 37). Throughout the 1930s the presence of Surrealism is especially evident in the fashion shoots published in Vogue, as many of the photographs featured avant-garde fashions in unusual settings. In the early twentieth century Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel emerged as one of the leading experts in women’s fashion, and in the 1930s Chanel’s fame peaked when she signed a contract with film maker Samuel Godwyn agreeing to exclusively design clothing for the most prominent fashion icons, American film stars. Chanel’s celebrity designs gained her infamy in the world of fashion, Vogue was instrumental in Chanel’s fame as her designs were, and continue to be, featured in the magazine.

 During the tumultuous years of World War II Chase yet again exhibited her loyalty to Vogue, rising to the challenge of preserving the luxury magazine in a crumbling economy. In light of the financial restraints and restrictions on materials such as fabric that resulted from the war, Vogue began to emphasize simplicity and resourcefulness as the new trends in fashion. A 1942 issue proclaimed, “’Dressiness is démodé. It looks wrong to look wealthy. Understatement has a chic denied to overemphasis.’” (Watson 40). Practicality became the key to fashion in Vogue during the 1940s, and the magazine emphasized recycling, repurposing, and reconditioning clothing.

Nast died in 1942 after thirty-three years of devotion to Vogue. The fate of the magazine was uncertain, as the success of Vogue could largely be attributed to Nast’s expert scrutiny and meticulous supervision of the magazine. One day after Nast was buried Iva Patcevitch, a director of the company, member of its executive committee, and close confidant to Nast was named president of Conde Nast Publications. Aided by his European background and ability to speak multiple languages, Patcevitch successfully served as president of the company until his retirement in 1971. Vogue maintained its elite status under Patcevitch’s guidance, largely due to his ability to monitor and delegate responsibility to the publications highly skilled editors. 

Since Vogue’s formation the publication has exclusively employed female editors-in-chief. In the late twenties Edna Woolman Chase acted as the editor-in-chief of four editions of Vogue: British, French, American, and a short-lived German edition of the publication. Jessica Daves followed the legacy of Chase after her retirement in 1952. Chase handpicked Daves from Vogue’s editorial department to serve as her successor. Under Daves’ guidance the fashions featured in Vogue dramatically shifted. The trend towards simplicity rapidly vanished with the end of the Second World War, and the 1950s ushered in an era during which fashion would return to the Victorian obsession with the shape and form of the female body. The corset reappeared and yet again became a staple in the American woman’s wardrobe. The magazine accentuated the importance of the female silhouette, pioneering the female obsession with body consciousness. In 1952 “the silhouette had curves at every turn. Sloped shoulders, cowl neckline and a small hair-concealing hat. Skirts now reached 11 inches from the ground. Designers worked from the inside out, creating corsetry to fill and suppress the seams” (Watson 50). Christian Dior emerged as one of the top names in Vogue’s fashion during the 1950s, his designs aligning with the period’s obsession with the female shape. In accord with the emphasis on body-consciousness, Vogue began to print exercise programs and various fads in dieting.

The flamboyant Diana Vreeland succeeded Daves in 1963. Vreeland was “a fashion legend and astute image maker, who raised glamour and well-groomed exotica to a high art by producing shoots that created fanciful black-and-white and four-color fashion worlds.” [6] Grace Mirabella followed Vreeland in 1971, and under Mirabella’s guidance the publication began to align itself with the ideals of the liberated 1970s woman by adding “text, interviews, arts coverage, and serious health pieces to the magazine’s usual menu of couture and ready-to-wear fashion features” (Felder 69).  British Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour replaced Mirabella in 1988. Despite her long record of success (having built Vogue’s circulation from 400,000 in 1971 to over 1.2 million when she left), Vogue editor Grace Mirabella was replaced, a move she heard about on a five o’clock news program. British transplant Anna Wintour received the top spot at Vogue. Wintour moved quickly to bring a younger, downtown flavor to Vogue, featuring Madonna on one cover and a model showing her navel above jeans and below a $10,000 jeweled tee shirt by Lacroix on another. (Zuckerman 232).

Wintour is the current editor at Vogue, and her dedication to the publication has established Wintour as a powerful, authoritative figure in the world of fashion and consumerism: “Runway shows don’t start until she arrives. Designers succeed because she anoints them. Trends are created or crippled on her command.” [7] In addition to continuing Vogue’s legacy as an elite fashion icon Wintour has added a humanitarian aspect to the publication. In 2003 Vogue donated money to help create jobs for newly emancipated Afghan women, and the publication sponsors multiple charity fashion shows each year with profits going towards causes such as The Learning Disabilities Association. Under the editorial council of Wintour, Vogue has become geared towards a younger, middle to upper class audience. This decision has yet to generate success, and in 1996 circulation was below 1.2 million. Although Vogue’s circulation cannot compare to the mass readership of publications such as Good Housekeeping, the essential role that Vogue has historically played and continues to play in society transcends circulation figures. Vogue acts as an almost omnipotent guidebook in the elite marketplace: “The consequent influence of these magazines in the market place is powerful. Women decide after carefully scrutinizing their pages – for fashion magazines are studied and intensively considered, not merely read – what they will buy and where they will buy it.” [8] Vogue continues to represent modernity – perpetually looking forward and not only forecasting fashion trends, but actually determining fashion trends.

—Contextualization by Ashley Warren

 

Notes

 

[1] Chase, Edna Woolman and Ilka Chase. Always in Vogue. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1954. Print. 35.

[2] Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1956. Web. 13 November 2011. 254.

[3] Seebohm, Caroline. The Man Who Was Vogue: The Life and Times of Conde Nast. New York: The Viking Press, 1982 Print. 236.

[4]  Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women’s in the United States, 1792-1995. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.Print. 128.

[5] Wood, James Playsted. Magazines in the United States. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956. Print. 130.

[6] Felder, Deborah G. A Century of Women: The Most Influential Events in Twentieth-Century Women’s History. New York: Citadel Press Books, 1999. Print. 68.

[7] Orecklin, Michelle. “Women in Fashion: Anna Wintour.” Time.com. Time Specials. 9 February 2011. Web. 13 November 2011.

[8] Wood, James Playsted. Magazines in the United States. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956. Print.

 

Works Cited

 

Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Illinois: The University of Illinois Press,

           1956. Web. 12 October 2011.

Chase, Edna Woolman and Ilka Chase. Always in Vogue. New York: Doubleday and Company,

           Inc, 1954. Print.

Felder, Deborah G. A Century of Women: The Most Influential Events in Twentieth-Century

           Women’s History. New York: Citadel Press Books, 1999. Print.

Orecklin, Michelle. “Women in Fashion: Anna Wintour.” Time.com. Time Specials. 9 February

           2011. Web. 13 November 2011.

Seebohm, Caroline. The Man Who Was Vogue: The Life and Times of Conde Nast. New York:

           The Viking Press, 1982. Print.

Sun, Feifei. “Coco Chanel: The 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century.” Time.com.

           Time Specials. 18 November 2010. Web. 13 November 2011.

Watson, Linda. Vogue: Twentieth Century Fashion. London: Carlton Books Limited, 1999. Print.

Wood, James Playsted. Magazines in the United States. New York: The Ronald Press

           Company, 1956. Print.

Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States,

           1792-1995. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

click cover for magazine

May 1925

Genre

Woman’s Fashion Magazine

Publisher:

Arthur Baldwin Turnure: 1892-1909,

Conde Nast Publications: 1909-Present

Place of Publication:

New York, NY

Years of Run:

1892-Present

Frequency of Publication:

1892-1909: Weekly, 1909-1973: Bi-Weekly, 1973-Present: Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

Approximately 137,000