In retrospect: What’s in vogue
Ever since I can remember, an enormous pile of 1980s Vogues has adorned the shelves of my childhood home. So enormous that the shelves have since buckled under their weight and they have been moved and used as table extensions instead.
I can say with strong conviction that this is where my seriously uncool and definitely unhealthy obsession with shoulder pads started. I constantly dip into the collection whenever I am short of style ideas or have watched too many John Hughes films and feel a wardrobe reshuffle is in order. It’s suddenly hit me however, how different Vogue is now. And I don’t just mean the fashion.
No doubt, Vogue is still the style bible across the globe, published in countries including Brazil, India and Japan. It sets trends and promotes models, allowing them to become icons in their era. But flicking through vintage issues, it’s striking that Vogue never used to be all about the clothes. Some would argue perhaps that this is still the case, but gone are the days when huge sections of the magazine were dedicated to business, art and politics.
Christie Turlington, Claudia Shiffer and Cindy Crawford stand on the front covers with quiffs in their hair and huge clip-ons dangling from their ears. Due to the plainer aesthetic of the front cover, some issues relied only upon the model and the Vogue emblem to sell copies. Celebrity covers, pioneered by Anna Wintour herself, remained part of the distant future. This was the era of the model. It embraced sexy, athletic curves to die for. With the exception of perhaps Lara Stone, I cannot say that models these days look as sumptuous and healthy as their 1980s counterparts. It was nice to see models with a bit of flesh on their bones rather than skeletal types that are best described as anything but sexy.
From a technical point of view there are fundamental differences, especially with the photography. People barely used computers thirty years ago, let alone Photoshop. The only visible airbrushing is from the soft-focus, flattering, lighting. There was slight lipstick bleeding in some of the photographs and of course, unplucked eyebrows. As a friend of mine pointed out, “Oh my god – she’s got, you know, those wobbly bits behind her thighs!” It was refreshing to recognise that fashion magazines never used to wipe away all female ‘imperfections’ and instead, actively embraced them.
I have to admit, the older shoots weren’t as dynamic. They relied upon natural backgrounds, cityscapes or simple studio shots. When compared to the ‘on location’ photographs taken by Mario Testino for the Siena Miller cover of the September 2007 issue, they do seem a little drab in comparison. In spite of this, the clothes, although tremendously beautiful and stylish, were more ready-to-wear than haute couture. Vogue now, despite its More Dash than Cash section, not only has more elaborate and imaginative shoots but features pieces deemed to be one-offs. Most of the garments displayed are without a price tag because they are made to order.
At two pounds an issue thirty years ago, it was still a pricy publication likely to attract an elite female audience. Like many Condé Nast publications, notably Harpers Bizarre and Vanity Fair, Vogue was more of a lifestyle magazine. Short stories, poetry and a section on fashionable men have all disappeared. The travel section was not filled with luxurious five-star holidays, but action-packed safaris!
My favourite issue from 1987 has a feature on Nicolas Serota when he was director of the Whitechapel Gallery. Another featured the architectural structure and design of Disneyland. Its artistic foresight was of its time. With articles on Gilbert and George and double-page spreads dedicated to books, theatre and film, the magazine’s focus reached into culture as well as fashion. The People and Party section remained very small and the product pages were virtually non-existent. I was surprised to find out that Anna Wintour actually edited British Vogue from 1985-1987, including some of the issues I was looking at, considering how different the magazine is now. Can you honestly imagine opening up a Vogue in 2011 and being faced with articles that are remotely similar?
Of course, like all long-running magazines, Vogue has moved with the times. There was a market for a magazine to feature clothes and only clothes, and this is what it exploited. Presumably, despite Vogue being the fashion bible, it must struggle against the vast array of fashion and lifestyle magazines that didn’t exist three decades ago. It’s a shame that it no longer focuses on new upcoming artists and contentious political issues, but perhaps that’s less to do with the magazine itself than with what’s in vogue.