By Christopher Turner
On December 17, 1892, American businessman Arthur Baldwin Turnure published the first issue of Vogue, a magazine that was dedicated to “the ceremonial side of life” and targeted at “the sage as well as the debutante, men of affairs as well as the belle.” The price? The magazine sold for a cover price of 10 cents.
Vogue’s first cover featured a black and white drawing of a debutante emerging from an ethereal cloud of butterflies and roses. This budding pillar of society was drawn by A. B. Wenzell, a fashionable artist whose work was described at the time as being popular “with the art worshippers of society.”
A product of the Gilded Age, Vogue was initially a weekly high-society journal that Turnure created for New York City’s social elite to chronicle and influence high society fashion and culture, and the magazine remained weekly for the first 17 years of its existence. Vogue covered news of the local social scene, traditions of high society, and social etiquette; it also reviewed books, plays and music. Early issues extensively chronicled “the 400,” a set of elite socialites named for the alleged capacity of the ballroom of the Astor family (one of the most prominent families of the late 19th century).
Vogue was a publication enthralled with the glamour and artistry of the New York upper class, and fronted its issues with romantically illustrated covers, appealing to the sentimentality of the richest, and most elite, society.
In 1905, publisher Condé Nast purchased Vogue, and overhauled it to focus almost entirely on women and fashion. Condé Nast then created the first of the title’s international editions (there are now more than 20). At that time, the magazine changed to a biweekly publication. (From 1948 to 1972, Vogue was published 20 times a year, becoming a monthly in 1973.)
Vogue soon became known for its distinctive photographs and high editorial quality. The best illustrators, photographers, writers and world-famous models all contributed, ensuring the magazine remained popular, relevant, sophisticated and, occasionally, revolutionary.
And then there are the editors…
The legendary editors
Throughout its 160-year history, American Vogue magazine has only had seven different editors. The magazine’s first editor was Josephine Redding, who served from 1892 until 1901 and is credited with naming the publication. Following Redding was Marie Harrison (1901–1914), Edna Woolman Chase (1914–1951), Jessica Daves (1952–1962), Diana Vreeland (1963–1971), Grace Mirabella (1971–1988) and Anna Wintour (1988–present). Each of the editors had an impact on the magazine, but Vreeland, Mirabella and Wintour have carved out an unforgettable legacy in fashion history.
Vreeland joined Vogue from Harper’s Bazaar, first as associate editor and then, in December 1962, as editor-in-chief. She led the magazine into a period of youth and vitality, but also “extravagance, luxury and excess.”
Mirabella started working at the magazine in the 1950s and served as its editor-in-chief between 1971 and 1988. Mirabella states that she was chosen to change Vogue because “women weren’t interested in reading about or buying clothes that served no purpose in their changing lives.” She was selected to make the magazine appeal to “the free, working, liberated” woman of the 1970s. She changed the magazine by adding text with interviews, as well as arts coverage and serious health pieces.
Wintour was named editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1988, and since her groundbreaking first cover in November that year, she has revolutionized the magazine and changed the fashion industry in countless ways. Her reputation in the fashion industry is undisputed and she is recognized in pop culture as the ultimate dictator.
Through the years, Vogue has remained one of the world’s most prominent fashion magazines. It heavily influenced the development of the fashion magazine industry and continues to shape modern fashion trends. In fact, in 2009, the New York Times christened Vogue “high fashion’s bible.”
Today Vogue remains the world’s most famous and most influential fashion and society magazine. In its lifespan, the magazine has contributed over 400,000 pages of articles to a worldwide readership, claiming to reach 11 million readers in the United States and 12.5 million internationally.
Here’s to the next 130 years.