The conception of the modern fashion magazine — and I’m thinking more of FLAUNT, ZINK!, Nylon than the mainstreamers like Vogue and Bazaar — one that allows editors, stylists and photographers to push forward as they capture the looks, one that challenges your idea of beauty, of “good” design, I would argue is the product of the collaborations that centered around legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, her Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch, photographers like Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon. The key here being Vreeland.
If you read The Devil Wears Prada (and I don’t recommend it), you’ll get a tiny glimpse into the maddeningly vague commands (and demands) that a current fashion editor-in-chief tosses off to staff, expecting complete satisfaction without further clarification. It’s clear to me that she’s aping Vreeland’s vagueness but in the most shallow and pedestrian way. Vreeland’s well-known vague outlines for what she wanted from a shoot were painted in exotic description and metaphor, setting gilded if hazy guideposts for her collaborators. And with Vreeland, vagueness was conceptual, as her Allure collaborator, Christopher Hemphill says, she is “intuitively Platonic,” seeking always Ideals, an imaginary perfection. It was Vreeland who encouraged retouchers to pioneer the pre-Photoshop combining of one head with another body for a more perfect picture.
Allure was to have been a book of fashion photography, but it grew into a monograph on Vreelands vision, including pictures that had inspired her as an editor, from newsphoto clippings to pictures of great noses. The text, commenting on the chosen photos, is culled from tapes Hemphill (who’d work with the obsessive taperecoder enthusiast Andy Warhol) recorded during their multi-year collaboration on the book. More importantly, the text goes beyond the photos, giving the best picture yet about the mind of this genius fashion editor. Where other books about her focus on her life, this focuses on her process, how she thinks, how she visually edits, what matters. And Hemphill edits her loosely enough to allow the anecdotes and flavor that must have marked every conversation with Vreeland, and too, give us a sense of the bank of memories from which she drew as inspiration for editorial.
Published in 1980, the book was out of print and a great collector’s item for years. Bullfinch Press published a new edition in 2002. It is an essential sourcebook for modern fashion editorial.