If "Vogue" doesn't have an impact on the fashion industry, it's hard to say what does. The magazine celebrated its 120th anniversary with a couple of documentaries, "The September Issue" and "In Vogue: The Editor's Eye." Editor Anna Wintour -- parodied in another movie, the fictional "The Devil Wears Prada" -- is said to wield so much influence she can make or break a new designer. In a case of fashion royalty trumps real royalty, rumor has it that Wintour even picked Kate Middleton's wedding dress -- or at least its designer, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen. Like all good rise-to-power stories, though, this one had humbler beginnings.
Gibson Girls and Little Black Dress
"Vogue" wasn't the first fashion magazine when it was founded in 1892. "Harper's Bazaar" had been around since 1867. In fact, "Vogue" wasn't grounded in fashion at first -- it was more of a "who's doing what" for the wealthy, smart set. It quickly turned to who was wearing what, however, and set the pace with Gibson Girls -- illustrations of elite, New York women -- at the turn of the century and flappers in the 1920s. It also included dress patterns. That, and Coco Chanel's all-purpose Little Black Dress, suddenly meant fashionable clothing was available to all readers rather than just those who could afford couture.
Color photography, beginning with the first color cover by famed photographer Edward Steichen in 1932, gathered more attention for the magazine; and advertising kept pace through post-World War II's "New Look," the youth-obsessed 1960s and 1970s, up through to the 1980s. From 1911's big September issue with 51 pages of advertising, it grew to a September issue with 574 pages of advertising in 2002. "The phrase 'As Seen in Vogue' provided both advertisers and consumers with a halo effect by association with America's preeminent fashion publication," author Daniel Delis Hill wrote in "As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising."
Fashion as Art
“If you look at any great fashion photograph out of context, it will tell you just as much about what's going on in the world as a headline in The New York Times,” Wintour said. Under the guidance of Wintour, who became editor in 1988, the magazine became known for its edgy photo shoots by top names including Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn and Annie Liebovitz. "Artvertorials," as one observer quipped, often included social commentary, occasional twists of controversy and a few missteps, but were always attention-getting, from the first cover of Wintour's regime, which featured a model in jeans and wind-tossed hair instead of being airbrushed and carefully made up.
By 2007, "Vogue" set advertising records with its September issue at 840 advertising pages -- nearly a five-pound magazine. The magazine continued to flourish even as other print media floundered. Its biggest change was the switch from supermodels to celebrities on the covers: Actresses, pop stars and even first lady Michelle Obama had a role. And by 2010, when consumers were feeling the economic pinch, couture took a back seat to what Wintour described to readers as "no-fuss" and "cozy chic." The magazine continued to reach out to shoppers who might feel "disenchanted and disenfranchised," as Wintour wrote, with more affordable clothing and less emaciated looking models -- without, of course, missing a fashion week. Couture isn't going away. The magazine continued to look to the future in 2011 by putting its entire archive online.