Monday, 11 February 2013

"Reporting Paris Styles is a Business", 1937

Edna Woolman Chase and Carmel Snow. Their rivalry as editors of Vogue and American Harper's Bazaar in the 1930s, 40s and 50s is now the stuff of legend. It gets its own chapter in Ernestine Carter's Magic Names of Fashion, but I didn't realise how reported and commented on it was at the time until my lovely ex-colleague Laura sent me a link to this 6 September 1937 Life article, "Reporting Paris Styles is a Business".

In what it describes as the "year's supreme battle", the article shows the teams amassed by both magazines in the race to cover the Paris collections. Harper's Bazaar, under Carmel Snow, had recently upped the stakes by announcing a special September edition specifically to cover the show.

The role call of talent on both sides is astounding. On the Vogue side, the article shows Horst posing a model in a Molyneux dress, Cecil Beaton readying for a shot and a model preparing to be sketched by Christian Berard. For Harper's Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch is shown tool in hand, Jean Cocteau is pictured finishing off a sketch and Man Ray is carefully touching up a picture for the issue. Also pictured is the woman who would become perhaps Snow's most famous recruit.

Captioned as "Mrs T. R. Vreeland" and simply "a fashion editor", there seems little hint (other than her excellent accessories) of the fashion force Diana Vreeland was to become and the waves she caused later in her career leaving Harper's for Vogue in 1962. In fact, according to the great new Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion biography, this is probably because Carmel Snow considered Paris very much her turf, leaving Vreeland to focusing on developing the US industry. The book goes on to note her achievements in this area often overlooked for her glitzier later fashion shoots and shows (more on this book to follow at a later date... it's a must-read for all vintage fashion fanatics)

In the middle of these scenes of fabulous talented women, there's a couple of reminders of how these women might have been viewed in the 1930s, and possibly how extraordinary these scenes of industry could have appeared to the average Life reader, not least that  "Mrs Raymond Ives" gets the dubious honour of being described as the "prettiest Vogue editor". It's also easy to forget the literalness with which these Paris collections were reported and slavishly followed: the wisdom of both Mrs Raymond Ives and Mrs T. R. Vreeland are quoted in this newspaper article, also from 1937, about the seemingly definite but disappointing news that skirt lengths would not be getting shorter that year. Reporting Paris styles is a business, and a very serious one at that.

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