Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Vogue Paris

We are just one week away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Double page spread photographed by Guy Bourdin, Vogue Paris, April 1976. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This double page spread is part of a nine page fashion story by the photographer Guy Bourdin, displaying the new ‘sporty and young’ swimwear and summer fashions for 1976. The first fashion story in Vogue Paris’ ‘spring special’, it follows advertisements for Missoni, Versace, Etro, Yves Saint Laurent, Celine, Charles Jourdan, Bally and Jacques Heim. It precedes another, shot by David Bailey, and editorials on how to confront the beauty-depressing effects of winter, 10 new methods to re-discover joie de vivre as well as an extensive story on Greece, in celebration of the country’s new membership of the European Common market.

Five girls in bikinis lay outside to catch the sun’s rays in an unusual setting – usual that is, for the pages of luxury magazine Vogue. Far from an idealised, exotic location, five girls stretch out across a cracked and dusty pavement as a bus passes by, in barely-there bikinis, ‘so small that they may be held in the palm of the hand’. Sunglasses discarded, each holds a light-reflecting silver board up to their face in order to achieve a faster, stronger tan. In a further spread, models climb a fence in search of a sunnier spot past a shaded avenue palm trees, and in another, recline on a narrow strip of grass between a tarmac highway and Sears warehouse, their languor contrasting with the fully clothed figure rushing past. Breaking up the location’s horizontal lines – the bus’ branding, wall and pavement’s edge – the models are made individual by the bold colours of their bikinis and different hairstyles. They are conceivably a group of normal girls, taking advantage of the first signs of summer in the city where they live.

Cover of Vogue Paris, April 1976. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Vogue Paris’ editor-in-chief, Francine Crescent, gave her photographers a great deal of creative freedom. With Bourdin, this enabled him to exploit the features of the magazine as a material object. He was the first photographer to bear in mind the potential of the double-page spread when taking his images; all but one of the images that make up this story extend past the gutter and bleed to the very edges of the magazine. Bourdin is mindful of the way a magazine falls open, laid on a table, or across a reader’s thighs. His models are carefully spaced in order not to distort their figures at the centre of the spread where the pages naturally curve inwards to their binding. A wall or fence is often at the centre of the image, setting up a contrast between the two halves of the image. The effect is fully immersive; the picture being larger, more of the scene may be seen in greater detail, more figures included, more of a narrative told. The glossy-light reflecting paper the images are printed on adds to Bourdin’s emphasis on sunlight and shade. Viewed in April, together with features on post-winter revival, Bourdin directly addresses the reader’s desire to shed heavy coats and insulating layers with bare flesh and warm colours. As the reader holds Vogue in their hands, they are within their grasp.

Dissertation Discussion: Carolina

What is your title?

Between Feminism and Femininity: Tensions within the designs of Diane Von Furstenberg

What prompted you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been really interested in women’s professional wear and the role it played– and continues to play– in creating an identity outside the domestic sphere for women so I knew I wanted to write about that. Initially, inspired by our visit to the Museum at FIT in New York, I wanted to compare Claire McCardell  and Diane Von Furstenberg, because both designers used similar cutting and wrapping techniques to produce clothing that would facilitate the lives of modern women. However as the dissertation evolved, I found it was more interesting to focus on Von Furstenberg and reexamine her within her historical context, the Second Wave Feminist movement. Looking at her garments and their representation this way, it was really interesting to discover that even though she retrospectively claims to have produced feminist clothing, in many ways, they were in fact at odds with the rhetoric of the movement because they celebrated femininity, which the movement rejected.

Most inspiring research find so far?

There was so much! Overall, taking a closer look at the fashion industry in the 1970s was really inspiring. The 1970s were a real turning point for American sportswear and for women’s wear. It was fascinating to discover how the Battle of Versailles really helped to give American sportswear credibility. It was also interesting to learn that this was the moment when women gained more of a voice as consumers.

Favourite place to work?

I think I get my best work done at home as I have plenty of access to coffee and all my books. In terms of libraries though I do love Senate House, and if I need a change of scene I think the Foyle’s coffee shop is great.

Models showing off multicolored Stephen Burrow designs at the Battle of Versailles Photograph: Reginald Gray/WWD. Accessed via W Magazine, “Preview Robin Givhan’s New Book the Battle of Versailles,” March 4, 2015.

Models showing off multicolored Stephen Burrow designs at the Battle of Versailles Photograph: Reginald Gray/WWD. Accessed via W Magazine, “Preview Robin Givhan’s New Book the Battle of Versailles,” March 4, 2015.

Photograph of Diane Von Furstenberg sorting inventory of the same wrap dress she wears at her New Jersey warehouse. The image illustrates how she designed her dresses for someone exactly like herself, a working profession woman c. 1977 Photograph: unknown.

Photograph of Diane Von Furstenberg sorting inventory of the same wrap dress she wears at her New Jersey warehouse. The image illustrates how she designed her dresses for someone exactly like herself, a working profession woman c. 1977 Photograph: unknown.

The Midi- Mini crisis of 1970 represented the moment when women started rejecting Paris dictated trends. After the age of "liberating" mini skirts in the 1960s many women were upset by the unflattering midi length that hit below the knee. Life Magazine, “The Midi Muscles In” cover photograph of woman observing herself with the “midi” look whilst wearing a mini skirt. August 21, 1970. Photograph: John Dominis. Location: Bonwit Teller’s.

The Midi- Mini crisis of 1970 represented the moment when women started rejecting Paris dictated trends. After the age of “liberating” mini skirts in the 1960s many women were upset by the unflattering midi length that hit below the knee. Life Magazine, “The Midi Muscles In” cover photograph of woman observing herself with the “midi” look whilst wearing a mini skirt. August 21, 1970. Photograph: John Dominis. Location: Bonwit Teller’s.

Advertisement for Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. A woman cycles herself and a man who reads the newspaper. May Company Catalog, 1974. Photograph: Peter Kredenser. Accessed via Journey of a Dress Exhibition catalog, 22.

Advertisement for Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. A woman cycles herself and a man who reads the newspaper. May Company Catalog, 1974. Photograph: Peter Kredenser. Accessed via Journey of a Dress Exhibition catalog, 22.