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TIME Magazine, November 1, 1954 p. 50:|
Fifty Years on the Crest
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, a struggling, six-year-old magazine gave a piece of stern advice to U.S. women: "Don't be so violently, alarmingly and visibly patriotic as to wear the tri-colors on everything. Bad taste has never yet helped a good cause."
The upstart young magazine was Vogue, whose circulation was hovering around 5,000. Since then Vogue has boosted its circulation (now 415,400), added the successful British (circ. 140,000) and French (circ. 25,000) editions and has become the world's No. 1 fashion magazine. The credit goes largely to Edna Woolman Chase, who at 77 has spent 59 years on the magazine, most of them as Vogue's editorial boss and arbiter of good taste. Last week, with an assist from her actress-author daughter Ilka Chase (Past Imperfect), Editor Chase published her autobiography, Always in Vogue (Doubleday, 381 pp.). In it she spins a rich, half-century history of the world of high fashion that revolved around her magazine, in which one must "be always at the summit of everything that is elegant, modern, beautiful, cultured."
The Perfect 36. Edna Chase herself was hardly elegant or beautiful. She got her job at 18, addressing envelopes for $10 a week-- "a factotum, a kind of little widget, young, eager and ignorant. I think I was not an unattractive young woman... but the only permissible bust measurement, the perfect 36, I did not possess."
Since Vogue's founder, Arthur Turnure, had announced that the magazine's "definite object is the establishment of a dignified, authentic journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life," Vogue covered Manhattan's glittering social life with rapt attention. Thus the big story of 1895 was the marriage between Consuelo Vanderbilt and the young Duke of Marlborough. For its readers, Vogue carefully described the Vanderbilt trouseau: "The markings consist of the name 'Consuelo' embroidered on the nightgowns, chemises and corset covers on the left side, while on the drawers it adorns the left knee." For the new rich, there was advice on etiquette. Sample: "A word about the treatment of servants. One should always be kind to them. I always make it a point to be scrupulously civil to inferiors. I frequently stop in the street to pat a vagrant dog on the head or to say a kind word to a horse."
Patterns and Paris. Vogue's audience was as small as its view of the world until Condé Nast, who helped give Collier's its start, came east from St. Louis to buy the magazine and its 14,000 circulation in 1909. Elegant, wealthy publisher Nast poured money into his new property, changed it from a weekly to a fortnightly and gradually expanded its coverage beyond the confines of Park Avenue and Newport. Edna Chase rose like a rocket through the magazine. By 1914 she was editor (at the age of 37) and began playing to the rising U.S. upper middle class. Vogue began publishing whole sections of photographs of well-dressed society leaders in all their finery and sold dress patterns around the U.S. so that every U.S. woman could look as chic.
Fitting the varied shapes of Vogue readers, says Editor Chase, was simple. "There was one [size], and it was a 36." During the war and the roaring '20s, Editor Chase gave Vogue readers the first news of the slowly rising hem line, of the first Chanel jersey cloth from Paris trimmed with rabbit fur. Vogue organized the first big New York fashion show, with models parading the clothes à la Paris, and was pleased to report that it was an instant hit.
The $100,000 Embroidery. By 1928, Vogue was perched on the pinnacle of the fashion world. When Edna Chase set out to build a home on Long Island, Owner Nast sent her a short note expressing his appreciation. Wrote Nast: "I am a very rich man. Your devotion, industry and very amazing intelligence have been a very great factor in accomplishing [this fact]... I have set aside $100,000 which I want you to use for embroidery on the house you are about to build." As it turned out, Editor Chase was able to draw only $25,000 of her gift; the rest vanished "like fairy gold." Persuaded by his banker friends, Nast went into the stock market only a few months before the crash of 1929 and was wiped out. As for Editor Chase's mansion, only the driveway and a gardener's cottage were built. "Our driveway curving gracefully upward had cost $10,000 to build," she recalls, "and the gardener's cottage was so small that when we realized we would have to live there ourselves we were obliged to add a wing larger than the original structure. We had a tail that wagged the dog."
Through the dark '30s, Vogue cut its pattern to the times, counseled readers to concentrate on "more taste than money." When World War II broke out, it dutifully reported on Paris fashions until its staff fled the city. Schiaparelli's last Paris collection, said Vogue bravely, had been "especially ingenious... With metal and leather taken by the Army, she fastened her coats with dog leashes." In bombed-out London, British Vogue continued to publishm carried ads for "especially designed protection costumes... of pure oiled silk... available in dawn, apricot, rose, amethyst, Eau de Nil green and pastel pink. The wearer can cover a distance of 200 yards through mustard gas." It also advised readers that "white accessories are very chic in wartime. They show up well in blackouts."
"Childlike World." Though left-wing critics said that Vogue reflected a "trivial, childlike world that was gone forever," Editor Chase confidently started up the French edition again at war's end, soon had the British and U.S. editions more prosperous than ever. Editor Chase was well aware that Vogue's prewar world had changed. "When Vogue was born into the smart world, there was only one language-- French," says she. "Today our fashion markets spread from Seventh Avenue to California, and there are manufacturers in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas." Summing up 49 years in the editor's chair, she says: "Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess. I have seen a Texas cowboy swing himself into the saddle with more real elegance, more style, than many gentlemen on the hunting field."