Since the first issue featuring a debutante, airy and surrounded by roses, in December 1892, Vogue has maintained its prestige, class, and respectability through quality journalism; however, without a doubt, its covers will continue to be the most iconic feature of the magazine.
Being featured is possibly the highest form of recognition in the fashion industry, but I couldn’t help but wonder if you, I, or anyone for that matter could stumble on the cover of a September issue someday? And, if so, what would it take to make a cover that people will remember for the rest of their lives?
It’s no secret that Vogue targets successful young women between the ages of 20-40 who are immersed in fashion, beauty and their careers, so it isn’t usually the best idea for a business to put just anyone on the cover if it doesn’t represent the target. Vogue’s ‘cover girls’ have always possessed class, a solid fan base, a distinctive appearance, a representation and importantly great respect for and total understanding of the brand.
Model Lauren Hutton holds the current records for the most Vogue covers (26 in total) and was best known for the charming gap between her front teeth. Her record is quickly followed by that of 1960s style icon Jean Shrimpton who, together with British fashion photographer David Bailey, has 23 cover features. Shrimpton became a global sensation for the white shift dress worn in Australia that ended 10 cm above her knee, credited with introducing the mini skirt to the international industry. In short, it’s all about unique and iconic woman.
The bright and imaginative artwork exhibited were anything but baby steps
But Vogue covers haven’t always been this way. If we look at some of the most memorable and greatest covers of all time, right to the early days of the global magazine, the bright and imaginative artwork exhibited were anything but baby steps.
Renowned artists such as British painter Ethel Wright – famous for her portraits of leading female militant Suffragettes, remarkable French artist Georges Lepape and famed surrealist painter Salvador Dalí have all graced the covers at one time or another. It wasn’t until 1932 that the first coloured photograph of a swimmer holding a beach ball catapulted Vogue into the calibre of cover that we know the best today.
It’s impossible to look at the transformative Vogue without mentioning the 8-year legacy of former editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland, who created innovative and politically significant covers while still maintaining focus on the main interests of the global fashion magazine.
“Too much good taste can be very boring. Independent style, on the other hand, can be very inspiring.” –Diana Vreeland
Before the often soulless and predictable representations of today, there was youthful figures in early Yves Saint Laurent, Brigitte Bauer, with multi-coloured flowers for hair and an obsession with the imperfections of her subjects. Because of Diana Vreeland, it seemed it was only a matter of time before almost anyone made it on the cover.
Today, vogue is still maintaining its clean and evocative look with less wacky artistry, dedicated to delivering a message through the people they choose to feature. New York artist John Currin’s September 2017 feature of Jennifer Lawrence saw a short revisit to illustrations, using an ethereal Renaissance style to paint the trending actress. Vogue Italia’s January 2020 issue saw another possible revisit to Vogue’s former illustrative glory by swapping out the regular glossy photographs for more sustainable paintings by emerging artists.
Vogue is making an effort to use its grandiose influence to feature pioneering figures
With popular actors like Gemma Chan; activists like Amanda Gorman; current singers like Adele; fashion and music industry emerging icons like Harry Styles, changing the representation and presence of men in Vogue by appearing solo in a dress; plus-sized models like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser, Vogue is making an effort to use its grandiose influence to feature pioneering figures in a wild variety of areas in popular culture.
There is also promising inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community with Vogue Italia’s same sex kiss on the front of their September issue and Vogue Brazil’s long overdue features of drag queen singers Pabllo Vittar and Gloria Groove in 2020. The most recent issue (January 2022) saw American model Kristen McMenamy, known for her androgynous and unique appearance, embody a new wave of fashion and fashion consciousness and was dubbed the ‘model of the moment’ in a recent Vogue article.
But it’s still those elite figures in society, the untouchable that Vogue prefers to feature. It seems Vogue tries to explore the ‘est’ of everything whether it be the youngest cover girl Zendaya, the oldest Dame Judi Dench, the sexiest, the prettiest, the chicest. All those on the cover of Vogue possess the ‘it factor’, a certain gravitas and natural beauty that can be tough to come by.
These are figures of excellence that have dominated not only their careers but also the media, the fashion, and the beauty industries and if that doesn’t sound rare, I don’t know what is. It makes perfect sense that Vogue, a forerunner of the fashion media industry, would choose to photograph only those who too are the epitome of their respective fields.
But, maybe with this increasing representation there will be a call for the ordinary on the covers of Vogue and less focus on unattainable perfection. Like Diana Vreeland herself observed ‘You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.’ Let’s hope for more artistry in the future, and who knows, maybe we’ll see you on the cover of Vogue.
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