‘What job do you want here?’ asked the editor of Vogue, interviewing a young hopeful. From behind her black sunglasses the 24-year-old replied coolly:‘Yours.’ It took time, but she got it. The girl was, of course, Anna Wintour. Now she is the global Vogue supremo and queen of fashion, before whose lightest frown the whole industry quakes, and the magazine is acknowledged to be the top glossy.
Its beginnings were small. It was launched on 17 December 1892, at a cost of ten cents an issue, and its dedicated founder struggled to keep it going. Its first editor was passionate about animals and its second was a female golfer with no previous publishing experience. Not until it was bought by the genius Condé Nast, then at the outset of his career, did Vogue become established. When Nast realised that anyone selling luxury goods had a hard time reaching their market, he arrived at his winning formula: the female-centred, class-based, shiny-paper magazine that lured in the tiny percentage of women who could afford these expensive desirables.
First he introduced colour; then the legendary Edna Woolman Chase as editor (her 56 years with Vogue is still the record). Though frizzy-haired and dumpy herself, she realised that those who worked for Vogue must promote the Vogue image. She made black silk stockings, white gloves and hats compulsory female office wear, and when one girl tried to commit suicide by jumping on to the subway track, told her: ‘We at Vogue don’t throw ourselves under subway trains, my dear. If we must, we take sleeping pills.’
British Vogue was launched in 1916, in the middle of the first world war. But when, post-war, it began to introduce avant-garde poetry, homosexual celebrities and incurred a loss of £25,000, the axe fell and the editor and her lesbian lover and number two were sacked.