Vogue: Through Their Eyes…

The Eyes Have ‘IT’

8 former and current Vogue sittings editors (left to right: Jade Hobson, Babs Simpson, Phyllis Posnick, Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele, Polly Mellen, Grace Coddington, Camilla Nickerson, Tonne Goodman.), sat for a group portrait shot by the legendary Annie Leibovitz. It appears in the December 2012 issue of Vogue and in the corresponding Letter from the Editor, “Through their Eyes”, Anna Wintour credits them for “conceptualizing the story, choosing the clothes, model and location, and conjuring the images that simultaneously belonged in and expanded the Vogue universe” and setting Vogue apart from “everyone else”. Coincidentally, (or not), this coincides with the publication of Vogue: “The Editor’s Eye”, published by Abrams, edited by Eve MacSweeney, with a foreword by Anna Wintour, and introduction by Hamish Bowles. The lavishly illustrated book celebrates the “pivotal role the pivotal role the fashion editor has played in shaping America’s sense of style since the magazine’s launch 120 years ago”.

Vogue Fashion Director Tonne Goodman the epitome of cool understatement
(Photo by Bryan Adams)

While these iconic visionaries routinely spin fantastical visions in their heads and on their pages, capturing the zeitgeist within the ever changing fashion universe, their own sartorial choices tell another story, and while varied, can best be described as uniform like, down to earth, and minimal, if not severe. This was perfectly illustrated in the group shot: there was nary a print or pattern in sight, each one wore pants, and it was a veritable black out (though Ms. Simpson offset her black turtleneck with pink trousers, Tonne Goodman opted for her signature crisp white jeans and the addition of a chic polka dot scarf, and Carlyne piled on the gold jewelry).

These seasoned fashion pros have worked with clothing for decades and have developed well trained, discerning eyes. They are, and should be, above the trends and have developed an ability to cut through the murk and rigorously edit down to the key pieces that matter. There’s a lesson to be learned from this, and women, in their eternal, if not futile attempt to be truly chic and stylish, would be wise to pay heed. In the August 2008 issue of Vogue, Anna Wintour created a portfolio which dealt precisely with this subject (“Vogue editors spend their lives thinking about clothes –  what do they choose to wear” is how it began), and she allowed the select group to style models in their own image. Hands down, THE standout shots were the ones featuring Karen Elson portraying Grace Coddington, photographed by Steven Meisel.

Karen Elson portraying Grace Coddington
(Photo: Steven Meisel)

Ms. Coddington, a former model and Vogue’s Creative Director, has such an identifiable look, (her brilliant red hair, flats, trusty notebook, and her beloved cats, are her accessories of choice for an almost all black, understated wardrobe). She became somewhat of a reluctant star after the release of “The September Issue” and has penned an autobiography, “Grace: A Memoir” (it’s on my Kindle, and I highly recommend it). She was also profiled in the Style & Fashion section of this past weekend’s The Wall Street Journal, “State of Grace”. She tells it like it is and among her wise, style related observations:

“I loathe the word “fashionista”. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. It’s a word about all those people who are just there to be noticed, and that’s the side of fashion that I hate.”

“The most important part of a fashion photograph is the hair. Hair and shoes. You can get away with a very ordinary dress if you have interesting shoes.”

“I hate make up. I like to see the person.”

“I hate to see older women dressed in a very young way. You have to keep it very simple and classic and sort of beyond fashion, so that inevitably becomes something of a uniform. I’m 71 so I’m not going to wear anything very fashionable. I’d look silly.”

“I wear flats all the time because I’ve got a bad left foot. I haven’t worn heels for 6 years or so.”

“The only celebrities I’m excited about right now are the English ones. I like Carey Mulligan. She doesn’t wear clothes in an ostentatious way and she doesn’t wear slashes down to her navel on the red carpet.”

“I rarely see anything coming down the runway I want for myself. I see coats because I can see myself in coats.”

On the other side of the fashion spectrum is Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele, whose mantra is “More is More”. Known for her offhanded mix of high and low (long before anyone else did it by the way), her pile on of accessories, her lavish use of gold, her unorthodox way with color, and the major attitude (with a capital A) that she always brings to her pages, she has an identifiable personal style that has not only remained the same through the years, but has been able to successfully translate it within her work, and onto her pages.

Vogue cover 1988 Lacroix top & jeans styled by Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele

As fashion editor, director, and editor at large at American Vogue from 1985-1995, she was responsible for countless memorable sittings. But perhaps the most iconic one, which also defines her style and fashion philosophy, is the November 1988 cover (which was Anna Wintour’s first cover as editor-in-chief). Shot by Peter Lindbergh, it featured Michaela Bercu in an haute couture Christian Lacroix black sweater decorated with a heavily jewel encrusted cross; it was her last minute decision to pair it with a pair of Guess blue jeans. It was rule breaking then, and looks as relevant and modern today. The idea came easily to her and was a natural, because that is exactly how she dressed in real life. I remember her uniform very well: she would pair one of her countless Chanel jackets with well worn jeans, and accessorize with an endless variety of chain strapped Chanel bags which she apparently owned in every color, size, and shape imaginable.

She is also the subject of an interview on www.style.com, “Cerf’s Up” written by Dirk Standen. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and agreed with everything she says (and she says everything in her exuberant way, and with her very thick French accent, which makes it even more appealing)

Among the key points she makes:

“Everything is about attitude”.

“Me, I love real. You know what I mean? I love real. I do always my salade. I mix things with real. I love the street. I am always thinking about the woman in the street. I love to do pictures crazy, too, but I always think about the woman I want to be.”

When questioned about today’s fashion, her response was:

“I think it’s a lot of good stuff, and you know, I hate to tell I love this one, I hate this one. No, I always find clothes everywhere. Always. I don’t work with trends. I never, never follow trends, so I do my own thing in my head that comes suddenly, and I find the clothes with my idea of what is appropriate for the story. But I never follow. For example, everybody is going to do color, you know, red and pink, black & white, ruffles…you know, trends. They are all going to do this. Me, I hate to do this, I hate trends. I always, you know, I do ma salade.

“I think a lot of people don’t know how to judge anymore. You see awful bags in collections and the houses send it to the actresses, you know, ten actresses, so they wear it and people want to follow and have the same bag, even if the bag is the most awful thing in the world. I don’t think people judge anymore. They judge by the name and who is wearing it. You know all those handful of actresses. I mean it’s just monstrueux. C’est monstrueux. It’s terrible. When I see these pauvre Birkin bags worn by all of these people now, c’est terrible. Because they don’t know how to wear it. Suddenly it’s becoming vulgaire, you know? And I love vulgarity. Sometimes I prefer vulgarity to bon chic bon genre. But it’s a certain vulgarity. I always say I prefer Saint-Tropez to Île de Ré. Île de Ré is caviar, French, you know, very striped T-shirt, bicycle, the market, we talk, da, da, da. I prefer Saint-Tropez. I prefer the rich bitch. I love the rich bitch. I always try to make my girl look like a rich bitch”.

“Chic is not about designer clothes; chic is not about money. Chic is about personal style, how to mix your things together”.

So, in summation:

1- Trends: Forget about them!

2- Pile it on: Don’t be afraid to pile on the jewelry (all the better if it’s gold: ‘think’ Rich Bitch).

3- Keep it real: add elements of the street and mix high and low, and go easy on the make up.

4- Crazy mixed up salad: Equating fashion with a mixed up salad, is not a bad thing: lettuce may be healthy but it’s dull by itself and needs to be spiced up with various ingredients to make it tasty, appealing, personal, and interesting.

5- Vulgar is as vulgar does: Don’t forget that pinch of vulgarity now and again.

6- Uniformly Speaking: Affect a no fail uniform that works.

7- Forever Young: Keep a youthful attitude but don’t dress in a way that is too young for your age (it’s not about looking young but looking great).

8- Top Coat: Invest in coats (they are KEY).

9- Fall Flat: Flats and especially, low heels, are so much chicer than high high heels, day or night, and luckily, spring 2013 is a season filled with highly covet able, distinctive versions.

9- Add plenty of ATTITUDE (I’ve always been a firm believer that you can get away with anything, as long as you have lots of attitude, and act as though you ‘own’ it).

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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