As Vogue celebrates its 125th year, we look back at the history of fashion, and the magazine, in a series of “five points” videos by decade, narrated by the stylish Sarah Jessica Parker.
The tempo of the ’20s was set by the First World War. After darkness, people craved light, speed, fun. Women cut their hair into neat bobs, wore knee-length tubular dresses, and let the good times roll with large quantities of bathtub gin.
THE MODE MODERNE
“Modern aesthetics can be explained in one word: machinery. Machinery is geometry in motion,”wrote the talented artist Benito, to Condé Nast in 1925. Flapper dresses followed the natural lines of the body and showed some leg; while there was a sense of romance in the popular and more full-skirted looks. The war had created jobs and the opportunity of an “active life [to] the former woman of leisure,” and she embraced the idea with both hands in clothes by Chanel, Lanvin, and Callot Soeurs.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Speed, movement, escapism defined the Jazz Age. With a strong dollar in their back pockets, American expatriates, such as Ernest Hemingway and the Gerald Murphys, were drawn to Paris and the French Riviera, the newest playground of the rich. Vogue described the Smart World as a “nomadic tribe.” Their migrations followed the sun—and booze. (Bimini Bay in the Bahamas was described as being just “45 minutes from prohibition.”) Being sun-kissed was no longer a taboo, thanks to Coco Chanel, who made tanning a trend.
“The bob rules,” declared Vogue in 1926, nine years after the influential dancer Irene Castle cut her hair. The topic inspired a 1920 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” and many editorials in Vogue throughout the decade. The cropped hairstyle worked well with the streamlined silhouette of the times; and the magazine credited this contemporary cut with the new craze for hats. The cloche hat and the bob did seem to be made for each other.
“BEAU BRUMMELS OF THE BRUSH”
Vogue covers of the roaring ’20s conveyed charm, chic, and luxury. Many of them were created by young Parisian illustrators whose work Condé Nast had first admired in the Gazette du Bon Ton, a small but influential French fashion journal. Georges Lepape, Charles Martin, Paul Iribe, and Pierre Brissaud were turning things upside down by promoting fashion as art. Their “storytelling pictures” were examples “of Vogue’s desire to promote all that is new in art (so long as it is inherently good and has the intangible quality of chic that characterizes all the material in the magazine).”
ALWAYS A WOMAN TO ME
While Vogue’s illustrators were conjuring fairy-tale-like fantasies, Edward Steichen was turning his direct, and modern, eye to fashion photography. His gift was, in the words of one critic, to “enhance the look of the clothes while retaining a sense of real life.” Or, as Condé Nast put it to Steichen: “Every woman De Meyer photographs looks like a model. You make every model look like a woman.”
Steichen directed a photographic division of the Army during World War I and started at Vogue in 1923. The fashion portfolios he produced for the magazine at that time were chronicles of the era. Many of his pictures featured Marion Morehouse, the wife of poet E.E. Cummings and Steichen’s favorite model, and some of them were taken in Condé Nast’s luxurious Park Avenue apartment.