Women of Harper’s Bazaar | Exhibition Walk Through


[piano music playing] Hello I’m Nancy McDonald. I’m one of the
curators of The Women of Harper’s Bazaar 1936 to 1958, an exhibition at The Museum
at FIT organized by students in FIT’s School of Graduate Studies fashion and
textile studies program. This video will walk you through some of the main themes
of the exhibition. The Women of Harper’s Bazaar examines the amazing 22-year
collaboration between editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana
Vreeland, and photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe Together they transformed Harper’s
Bazaar into one of the foremost fashion magazines of the era. This exhibition was
the first to explore how these visionary women reimagined Harper’s Bazaar. Each
woman brought a different strength to the magazine. Carmel Snow began her
career at Vogue in 1921 and moved to Harper’s Bazaar in 1932. This was a huge
gamble for one thing it infuriated everyone at Vogue which
more than two decades after she left Vogue’s editor-in-chief described Snow as
a Benedict Arnold. Moreover at that time Harper’s Bazaar did not have nearly the
cachet that Vogue did. That’s where Snow saw her opportunity. It’s the job of an
editor-in-chief to provide a vision for the magazine and to make sure that every
detail, every dress that’s selected for a photograph, every word that’s printed
fulfills that vision. Carmel Snow understood that her readers wanted more
than just beautiful fashion and transformed Bazaar into a magazine in
which fashion, art, journalism, and culture converged. She said that while it was the
business of a fashion magazine to show fashion, it was the business of
journalists to make an exciting magazine. Snow had boundless energy. Her
contemporaries often commented on how she seemed to need very little food or
sleep. She knew what she wanted and she was fearless about getting it and she
was ahead of her time when it came to issues like civil rights. She published
stories about African Americans, about people who lived in public housing, about
people who worked as domestic servants, all people who did not normally appear
in expensive fashion magazines. Snow wasn’t afraid to be controversial she
also had any I for talent. She helped launch the
careers of among others designer Cristóbal Balenciaga and photographer
Richard Avedon. When she retired, a colleague wrote quote “the way that we
are, that we dress, that we live in our epoch owes much to the divining taste of
Carmel Snow. Epson ash exception” end quote.
Richard Avedon eloquently summed up Diana Vreeland’s career when he said that
she invented the fashion editor. Carmel Snow had first hired Diana Vreeland to
write a column called why don’t you in which she made suggestions like why
don’t you offed a big bouquet like a fairy wand? Why don’t you turn your old
Behrman coat into a bathrobe or one of the most famous ones why don’t you wash
your blonde child’s hair with dead champagne as they do in France? It was a
big hit. The column was parodied in The New Yorker and brought Harper’s Bazaar a
lot of publicity. Why don’t you lead to Diana Vreeland becoming Bazaar’s fashion
editor tells stories not with words but with clothes. This is
something that Vreeland excelled at. She brought the magazine a sense of fantasy
and a flair for creating visual narratives. Vreeland made fashion fun and
engaging when she and Louise Dahl-Wolfe were working on a cover shoot of a model
wearing a flowered hat she transformed it into what she called prima Vera’s
crown a reference to the Botticelli painting. She provided photos with a
subtext that was very engaging for readers.
She believes that quote fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the
banality of the world end quote. Louise Dahl-Wolfe studied
painting and color theory before becoming a fashion photographer and this
background really influenced her work. She described photography as painting
with lights. Harper’s Bazaar had published color photography before 1936 when Dahl-Wolfe was hired but she felt that the colors were all wrong too red especially
in the skin tones. She preferred to have greenish yellow complexions. She had a
talent for accuracy and tone that made her work stand out which is something
you can really appreciate in her color proofs. Carmel Snow said that Dahl-Wolfe’s color photography revolutionized Bazaar. Dahl-Wolfe gave her color proofs
to The Museum at FIT and they form the core of the exhibition.
One of the fashion shoots that really demonstrates the collaborative effort of
the three women is one that appeared in the January 1942 issue of Bazaar called
Flight to the Valley of the Sun. It was a fashion spread shot at various locations
in Arizona including an abandoned film set near Phoenix and Frank Lloyd
Wright’s Rose Paulson house which burned down just a couple of years after the
shoot took place. If you compare the clothing in these photos with those in
the advertisements that appear in the same issue you see the very distinct
sensibility Vreeland brought to Bazaar. The ads feature tropical patterned
dresses and high-heeled shoes. Vreeland’s vision of what women should wear at
desert resorts is completely different. She chose dramatically pared down
clothes and her signature flat Greek style sandals that no matter what was in
fashion she used in countless photographs taken between the early 40s
and early 50s. Her choices really harmonized with the landscape. Vreeland
and Louise Dahl-Wolfe created some very powerful memorable images together. We
get an idea of how in tune they were with one another in this photograph
which was taken on an abandoned film set near Phoenix. That’s Vreeland modeling.
The original model Eju Barrington came down with heatstroke
so Freeland stepped in to take her place. It’s a testament to the strength of Vreeland and Dahl-Wolfe’s creative partnership that the photo fits right in
with the other images in the story. The two women were very different.
Vreeland was flamboyant. Dahl-Wolfe was methodical but they worked together
seamlessly. Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s particular point of
view can be seen by examining the image from the Arizona shoot at Carmel Snow’s
selected for the cover. If you look at the alternate versions of the same shot
you can see that Dahl-Wolfe modified the original blue of the shawl, the
sunglasses, and the sky to create an image with greater color contrasts.
Notice that in the version that went to print the sky is purple and the
sunglasses and shawl are white. Also notice that the model Eju Barrington
is wearing a shawl that Vreeland fashioned into a blouse. Vreeland
transformed clothing and accessories to conform to her idea of what a photo
needed. Louise Dahl-Wolfe was involved in every
step of the photography process and worked with copperplate prints to ensure
that her photographs had the precise color she desired. After developing her
own rolls of film, Dahl-Wolfe would work with an engraver to transfer the images
to copper plates creating one plate for each of the four printing colors cyan,
magenta, yellow, and black. When all four plates were printed onto
one page, the four colors would layer together to create a preliminary proof.
Dahl-Wolfe would then adjust the plates and continue making proofs until she was
pleased with the result. Carmel Snow wrote of how Dahl-Wolfe
drove the pressman mad by pulling proof after proof before she was satisfied
with the color. This final proof of model Gene Patchett at the alhambra fortress
in Spain shows how the image appeared in the June 1953 issue of Bazaar. Diana
Vreeland and Carmel Snow showcased fashion that was not only beautiful but
which reflected the lifestyles of Harper’s Bazaar’s readers. For this
exhibition garments from the museum’s collection were paired with Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs featuring similar fashions. Altogether the garments
represent parts of the ideal wardrobe of the Harper’s Bazaar reader including a
travel suit, a day dress, an evening gown, a bathing suit, and a formal coat. Large
reproductions of fashion spreads surround the visitor providing the
appropriate setting for the various ensembles. Sportswear had also become a
pillar of American fashion by the 1930s and we included a number of garments
which evoke the simplicity and ease of styles seen in Harper’s Bazaar. Carmel
Snow covered French fashion for Harper’s Bazaar. She was the one who went to Paris.
Diana Vreeland covered American fashion for the magazine. Her beat was Seventh
Avenue. Before World War two there was much more Paris fashion in Bazaar but
once the war started the American fashion industry was cut off from Europe
which meant that American designers got a lot more attention from Bazaar. One of
these designers was Carolyn Schnurer who designed this elephant patterned top.
Schnurer was known for her resort clothes which often incorporated
culturally inspired motifs. The elephants were inspired by her trip to Ghana which
was then known as the Gold Coast. Diana Vreeland took this idea and wove a
fashion fantasy around it. She described the jewelry that she
styled the top with as heavy Zulu necklaces and bracelets. This photograph
taken in Brazil in 1946 features a Claire McCardell bathing suit that was considered
scandalous at that time. Many bathing suits of the 1940s had structured
interiors that shaped the body McCardell’s jersey suit also seen on the mannequin
had neither lining nor padding. Vreeland and Dahl-Wolfe underscored the
suits uncomplicated design by posing the model to emphasize her athleticism
and tanned toned limbs. The gray color of the bathing suit appears blue in the
final photograph complementing the eighteenth-century tiles behind the
model. This color change is another example of the type of editing Dahl-Wolfe
would have done during the copper plate printing process. The dress in this
photograph which was part of a shoot that took place in South America was
also designed by Claire McCardell one of the best-known
American designers of this period. As you can tell from the models pose, comfort
was very important to McCardell. McCardell also designed the dress from FIT’s
collection that we paired with the photograph. The cotton textile she used
for this dress was inspired by the serape a latin-american shawl. The dress
appeared in an ad for an airline from the same issue. In the copy that
accompanies the photo, we learned that this is the airline that the Bazaar team
traveled on. So this ad was very likely placed for free in exchange for their
flights. Suits were another mainstay of women’s wardrobes during the post-war
period and appeared frequently in Bazaar. Often as this photo suggests as a travel
outfit Mainbocher began his career as a fashion illustrator for the magazine
designed the suit worn by the mannequin. Mainbocher was renowned for his
innovative use of piece work and embellishment both of which are
exemplified by this suit from the museum’s collection, note the ornamental
scrollwork anchoring the collar and the way the suit jacket flares over the hips.
This photograph really underscores what the copy in the magazine calls a
dramatic dress of superbly masked cerulean satin. Anglo-american couturier
Charles James designed gowns that were described as architectural. The shadows
in Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s photograph accentuate the folds and seams of this
particular gown from 1947. Similarly the 1952 Charles James gown from the
museum’s collection is both streamlined and structural. The dress is asymmetrical peplum and flared hem mirror the line of the models arched back in
the photo. An example of creative collaboration as well as notable
longevity Carmel’ Snow, Diana Vreeland, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe worked together at
Harper’s Bazaar for 22 years. During this time each woman brought a particular
strength and vision to the magazine whether it was through the lens of her
camera or the tying of a mottled scarf. Dahl-Wolfe described Carmel Snow as
someone who fully trusted her editors and artists. It was this trust that
created such a strong working relationship allowing each woman
artistic freedom. As a result Snow, Vreeland, and Dahl-Wolfe turned Harper’s
Bazaar into a beautiful and highly cultivated publication one that was
unlike any other American fashion magazine of the era. [piano music playing]

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