September 16, 2011 10:02 pm

The devil wore Schiaparelli

Four new books look at the work and world of the fashion magazine ‘editrix’

September issues of fashion magazines are famously long but even they are not, it seems, big enough for some editors – or so four very heavy new books from the fashion industry would suggest. Yes, the coffee table is about to have a moment.

The scale of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, a 255-page tome weighing 4lb 7oz, would have pleased the socialite-editor, who once said of a favourite spread in Harper’s Bazaar: “My immediate instinct is to want to blow it up – make it big! It can’t look as if it’s been taken out of a silver frame!” The Eye Has To Travel is a homage to Vreeland, the legendary jolie laide fashion editor of Bazaar from 1937 to 1962 then editor-in-chief of Vogue, who became famous for her “Why Don’t You?” advice columns, which tended towards the impractical (“Why Don’t You rinse your blonde child’s hair in dead champagne?”).

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The tone of this book, edited by Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, is superlative down to the picture captions (“Vreeland wore clothes like no one else – here in a Schiaparelli jacket...”) but the photographs and illustrations by Andy Warhol, Irving Penn and Cecil Beaton are irresistible, contributing to a lively portrait of the woman Truman Capote called “one of the great Americans”.

Vreeland was dismissed from Vogue in 1971 (she went on to bring blockbusting fashion exhibitions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and the impact of both her arrival at and departure from that magazine can be seen in another expansive picture book, Vogue: The Covers, which re-packages more than 600 Vogue covers from 11 decades, starting with the Gibson Girl illustrations. It’s all very luscious, if a touch repetitive during the era of Vreeland’s successor Grace Mirabella, who between 1971 and 1988 stuck to the so-called “looking at you” formula – a supermodel, lip gloss and a “statement earring”. In November 1988 the magazine was taken on by Anna Wintour, whose debut cover caused a sensation by featuring a little-known Israeli model exposing her midriff in a $10,000 jewel-encrusted jumper by Christian Lacroix and – shocking! – jeans.

Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy, photographed by Bert Stern

Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy, photographed by Bert Stern, Vogue, April 1963

As soon becomes clear, today’s star is not the model or the photographer but the fashion editor, who as Harper’s Bazaar Greatest Hits indicates, would like to be seen as a visionary. This 320-page book celebrates the 10 years since Glenda Bailey became editor-in-chief of the Hearst glossy, starting with her debut issue in which she celebrated her own arrival with a shoot featuring model Carolyn Murphy posing as a glamorous Bazaar editor-in-chief. Guiding us through the trends (“2003: If it wasn’t incandescent, it wasn’t on the radar”), the book typifies the haute-trashy appeal of Bazaar.

The photographs, which are described as documents of a “can’t-miss party” hosted by Bailey (rather than complicated “concept” shoots choreographed by independent creative directors) are goofy, irreverent and acrobatic: supermodels pose alongside wild animals; fashion designers frolic in the nude; politicians are sex icons; rehab clinics have never looked so inviting. Bailey has no plans to leave Bazaar but this book is clearly an attempt to spin her legacy her way – lest another editor undermine it in another coffee-table book, perhaps. Excerpts from Bazaar articles are also reproduced across the book’s vast and shiny pages, and serve as a reminder of why magazines are often thrown away after they are read the first time.

Author Eila Mell’s 362-page New York Fashion Week documents the so-called “Bryant Park Era” (a newly coined historical age, surely) of 1993 to 2010, when New York fashion week was centralised in large white tents in Manhattan’s Bryant Park (it is now in Lincoln Center). The book reproduces stock runway photos of the kind usually printed in miniature in glossies alongside observations of interest primarily to the fashion-obsessed: “Philip Lim’s runway debut had a rocky start, as the crowd had to wait in the dark before they could be seated.” The interviews with models, hair stylists and PRs confirm this book’s status as effectively a hefty work of re-branding, ultimately giving credence to Diana Vreeland’s statement that “A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere, it is the life you are leading in the dress.” Plus the size of your coffee table, of course.

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Details

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (£35, available October); Harper’s Bazaar Greatest Hits (£39.99, out now); Vogue: The Covers, by Dodie Kazanjian (£35, available October), all published by Abrams; New York Fashion Week (£20, Perseus, out now)

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