The World In Vogue
editors Jessica Daves and Alexander Liberman, Bryan Holme and Katharine Tweed (The Viking Press)
It’s not a new book. In fact, it’s a giant tome that’s more than forty years old. But it tells us how we contextualize style today (and style here includes fashion but is larger than that), tells us something about how we think and write about it. And the book, really, is not at all about fashion although it is a compendium of articles and photos that appeared in what is now the world’s premier fashion magazine, Vogue. The World in Vogue, spans the years 1893 through 1963 (the year it was published), from bustles to blue jeans and the Wright Brothers to Telstar.
There is very little fashion editorial here. Rather than photos of Suzi, there are photos of George Bernard Shaw just before he died. There is Gertrude Stein on Pierre Balmain, Dior pages away from Picasso, and a thoughtful reflection on how complicated things get for the liberated woman. Photos of Sophia Loren or Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney are balanced with photos of astronaut John Glenn. It is an astonishingly wide swath that Vogue, for seventy years, cut through American culture, with work by and portraits (both literary and photographic) of some of the most important cultural movers (in dance, theater, visual art and more) of their times.
Perhaps it is that with a quote like the following then outgoing editor-in-chief Jessica Daves overstates Vogues mission and contribution.
“Vogue has sometimes been called a civilizing force. If that is true, perhaps it is because a civilization, to endure, needs voices to sing its praise. … A part of civilization is a regard for the gifted, an admiration of beauty, an understanding of the arts—the arts of daily living as well as the arts of painting or sculpture, writing or music or architecture. Civilization has in it, too, respect for the boldness of the frontiersmen in the sciences and in all the worlds of abstract ideas.”
But the fact remains that the book, pulling from Vogue archives, features writing by Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Frank Crowninshield, Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, Colette, John Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1962, and Guy Pène du Bois’ review of the famed Armory Show in 1913. There are paintings by Rousseau, Degas, Gaugin, Miro, de Kooning and photos of the devastating San Francisco earthquake and Buchenwald.
Once, style and the life well-lived were expected to dovetail with an appreciation for high culture (literature, the theater, dance, art) and the desire to be well-informed. Perhaps that is still the case. But in the intervening years as fashion magazines have proliferated, celebrity coverage has trumped solid cultural content, and service articles about plastic surgery, for example, fill the pages of Vogue and other fashion rags leaving the “worlds of abstract ideas” to other publications.
It’s a glorious collection of tidbits by our very best. Wonder that it was all in a ladies’ fashion rag. The World In Vogue is still to be had used for prices ranging from $10 to $50.