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Posted June 8, 2001
'reveals our aspirations and the changing place of women'
This book is brilliantly written and edited by Georgina Howell about the images of women in British Vogue. As fine as the photographs in this book are (done by many of the 20th century's most talented photographers), the thoughts about these images are even more interesting and valuable. Conde Nast's original purpose for Vogue was to 'produce the most beautiful and tasteful magazine that had ever existed.' The subjects for the photographs have changed a lot since Vogue was founded. Originally, all of the subjects were either royalty or society women. As Ms. Howell points out, you can never get rid of royalty if you are Vogue, but you can move on in other areas. At the start of the century, the aspiration was to look like an aristocrat or an actress. By the end of the century, the desire was to 'look like television presenters and the wives of football [soccer] stars.' The book is organized around type of photographic subject, with a marvelous essay in each case exploring the meaning portrayed by those photographs. The sections are royalty, society girls, inspirations, muses, dynasties, models, stars, exotics/eccentrics, waifs, and icons. Here are my favorite photographs from each section: Royalty -- Helen Windsor, taken by Lord Snowdon, 1982 Society Girls -- Jemima Khan, taken by Oberto Gili, 1998 Inspirations -- Mother Teresa, taken by John Downey, 1981 Muses -- Ines de la Fressange, taken by Albert Watson, 1985 Dynasties -- (Mother) Nena Von Schlebrugge, taken by Norman Parkinson, 1958; (Daughter) Uma Thurman, taken by Albert Watson, 1994 Models -- Cindy Crawford, taken by Arthur Elgort, 1995 Stars -- Charlotte Rampling, taken by Clive Arrowsmith, 1970 Exotics/Eccentrics -- Diana Vreeland, taken by Horst P. Horst, 1979 Waifs -- Marianne Faithfull, taken by David Bailey, 1965 Icons -- Diana, taken by Patrick Demarchelier, 1997; Greta Garbo, taken by Cecil Beeton, 1946 Where many books with photographs of beautiful women simply try to overwhelm you, this book instead features photographs to illustrate the essays. The theme here is to examine 'beauty that survives radical changes in taste and fashion.' The subjects are 'distinguished or notorious, pretty or striking, and sometimes all four . . . .' This is done in a way consistent with Vogue's purpose to 'dress the mind as elegantly as the bodies' displayed here. The essays don't take the subject as seriously as all this sounds. For example, Ms. Howell is quick to point out that 'happy endings have been few and far between' for those who have been portrayed in Vogue's pages. So we are dealing with an illusion of a perfect person and a perfect life. Illusions can be helpful in setting appropriate aspirations. The question the Vogue images raise is whether following the 'trendiest' of the time is appropriate. The book itself suggests that it is not. In fact, I found the essays to be an interesting counterpoint to Vogue's usual monthly issue in suggesting what timeless values are and should be for women. And that was more than I expected or had a right to expect from this book. So I was very pleasWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.