Interview with Edie Locke – A career in fashion media

Image 1 Edie Locke today

Edie Locke, March 2016

One of the many things I love about being a dress historian is meeting inspiring women through my research. Women who have pioneered aspects of our industry, worked to connect with female readerships and to forge successful careers. Edie Locke is one such woman. I was introduced to her via email by model turned photographer Pam Barkentin (my interview with her will follow soon).

Locke has had a fascinating life. Born in Vienna in 1921, she went to New York alone in 1939, as the situation in Europe worsened.  She attended school in Brooklyn – where she learnt to speak English, and then embarked on series of jobs in fashion. Locke generously agreed to answer some questions via email in fashion media:

What was it like working at Junior Bazaar? And with Lillian Bassman? Did your experiences there impact your approach at Mademoiselle?

[In 1945-46] I was working as an assistant to the Ad Manager of Harpers Bazaar, when Hearst Magazines launched Junior Bazaar, as a ” competition” to Mademoiselle.  A short-lived, futile idea! But knowing how much I had hoped to be on the editorial side of the magazine, my then-boss arranged for a transfer to the merchandising department of Junior Bazaar [1946-47] consisting of my covering the very minor dress manufacturers (largely out of St.Louis) and occasional weekend photo shoots, no other editor wanted to go on.

[I] never worked with Lillian Bassman! But did get to know and work with Pammie’s father, [photographer] George Barkentin! When Junior Bazaar gave up its ghost, I followed its then Editor, Kay Long, to the very well-known fashion advertising agency, Abbott Kimball.  [From 1947-49] I became its fashion ” guru” –  [I] wrote the Newsletter the agency sent to clients and business friends and went on all fashion shoots.

[In 1947] one of the Newsletters reached Betsey Blackwell, Editor in Chief of Mademoiselle and prompted a phone call from her office to arrange a private meeting with her and a job offer to join the magazine as an Assistant Fashion Editor, covering the dress “market”. (My ex-boss offered a huge salary raise… trips to Europe…etc to keep me from jumping to Mademoiselle, but after some excruciating evaluations of my options, I happily phoned [Betsey Blackwell] with an enthusiastic YES).

Fashion magazines are so collaborative – how did you organise and manage the various interconnecting fashion and beauty stories for any one edition?

I do believe that you’re only as good in what you do, as the people who work with and for you. Having the right individual editors in place to head the different departments of any magazine is key. And then trust their expertise and opinions and ideas and judgements. When I became Editor in Chief of Mlle, I was blessed with a great editorial staff – Fashion Editor, Features Editor, Beauty Editor, College and Career Editor and Art Director. And a Publisher who respected editorial content, direction and use[d] it all well to “sell” the magazine to potential advertisers. Two things that are crucial: strong circulation and demographics ( 18-35 at Mlle )  and a readership that is financially compatible with the price range of the products you feature, clothes etc etc – whether self-earned or “parental” income.

Several meetings with all editors come first – each Editor presenting her ideas for the upcoming issue. Discussions, more meetings, until the whole content gels and is one-of-a-piece …. hangs together!

How did the nature of fashion photography included connect to your readership? It’s so interesting that college girls formed such a major part of your target audience, how did you feel about the annual college edition and the college competition?

Mlle‘s annual big College issue (August) would be very much directed to that reader, September more geared toward a “working’- career – readership.

Mlle always leaned more toward lively … location photography, than more formal in-studio shots. Moving, rather than “still”.

The college issue was photographed totally on “real” college students, not professional models! Associate Fashion Editors and photographers traveled to campuses all over the US to do this – with a wardrobe of appropriate fashions. The PR department of each school would sometimes pre-select  who they deemed suitable or leave it up to hordes of  volunteers who’d assemble for try-outs and fittings in conference rooms on campus. The toughest job: the gentlest rejections… that would not bruise egos !!!!!!

The college competition – which was NOT based on anything but accomplishment  – be it in writing, illustrating, or fashion – spawned many extraordinary talents, who went on to major careers.

As attending college became more and more the norm, no longer an elitist group, and definitive target audience, Mlle‘s emphasis had to broaden as well. A move strongly demanded by CNP management.

What was your favourite aspect of working on fashion magazines?

My favorite aspect of working on a fashion magazine???  Making it more inclusive, by diligently balancing content between fashion-beauty, how-to features, and intellectually stimulating articles. Feeding the brain!

The rest is history. I went from Assistant to Associate to Fashion Editor and in 1970 to Editor in Chief, when Betsey Blackwell retired. Til 1980 when Publisher Si Newhouse terminated  (fired !) me. Reason : I had firmly kept Mlle‘s intellectual stance … and not made it into a sexier ( [like] Cosmo ?) publication.

A year later, I was on TV with my own version of a fashion/beauty/relevant articles half-hour weekly program called YOU! Magazine. Originally airing on USA CABLE, and eventually LIFETIME, it was on-air til ’86, when Lifetime launched its daily ATTITUDES and I joined as fashion producer and on-air fashion pro until the early 90s. We moved from NY to LA in ’94 to be near our daughter and eventual granddaughters (3) …. and I again worked on fashion TV.

Interview edited and condensed.

 

If You Can’t be Pretty, be Interesting!

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Don’t be afraid to be different. 
Don’t be afraid to grow up. 
Stop mentally walking the Atlantic 
City boardwalk in a beauty parade. 
Make capital of your defects. 
Cultivate a color sense. 
Learn restraint in dress. 
Understand the value of simplicity. 
And dress to be interesting! 

With these words, Hollywood designer Gilbert Adrian – known simply as Adrian to his public – speaks to the readers of Motion Picture Magazine, guiding them to rethink their attitudes towards dress and beauty, and to embrace their possibilities, rather than feeling quelled by contemporary ideals.

Published in the 3 May 1926 edition, Adrian’s words are imbued with the designer’s understanding of the ways actors’ images could be sculpted by artful costuming.  The magazine describes him as a ‘youthful genius’, at the time he was head of wardrobe at the De Mille Studio, and he went on to work at MGM, where he designed costumes for stars including, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, during the 1930s and 1940s.

For readers of a fan magazine, he represented a tangible link to their favourite actors and a means to learn the kind of skills in cosmetics and dress that were evolving as cinema boomed in the 1920s.  Like fashion magazines of the period, film journals appealed to women’s desire to emulate their idols – whether society women, fashion models, or stars.  While publications such as Vogue targeted a slightly older, more elite woman, fan magazines attracted young women eager to make the most of readymade fashions that now brought style to a wider group than ever before.

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The article seeks to manage expectations – while it is clearly designed to guide women’s approach to their appearance, Adrian addresses his audience with both authority and empathy, aware they cannot look exactly like their favourite screen star, but counseling them to be confident and strategic in their choices.  For example, he complains that too many women seem to believe only in two age groups-16 or 60- with many therefore dressing too young or too old, and warns: ‘…beware of making yourself ridiculous by clinging to flapperdom too long!’  Instead, women should embrace a sophisticated style, and remember that ‘All pretty women can’t be interesting, but an interesting woman can outshine all pretty ones.’

And how to cultivate being interesting? Adrian assures his readers that this is attainable: ‘ It can be developed, since it is a quality of mind, and it will last and increase while beauty and youth fade and decay.’  Such girlish terms as ‘cute’ should be abandoned, women should ignore men’s interest in frivolous examples of femininity such as the Ziegfeld Follies, and ‘Instead of trying unsuccessfully to hide what you consider your defects make capital of them!’ Don’t, therefore, copy a trend simply to follow the herd, or mistakenly try to ape film costumes designed for an exotic narrative.  He advocates ‘individual dressing’ focused on a small number of well-made and carefully chosen garments that highlight one’s personality.  Advice that is still being given in magazines now…

Sources: 

http://mediahistoryproject.org/

CALL FOR PAPERS – Posing the Body: Stillness, Movement, and Representation

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress
Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Friday 6 May 2016, Regent Street Cinema, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Saturday 7 May 2016, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

CALL FOR PAPERS

Posing has been central to art, dance, and sculpture for thousands of years. In recent years, the growing interest in fashion media and modelling has also focused attention on questions of pose and posing. Incorporating notions of movement and stillness, posing can be understood in terms of historical modes of representation, as well as contemporary media and rapidly evolving relationships between bodies, subjects, and technologies of representation. Posing incorporates symbolic and semiotic meaning alongside embodied action and feeling. Recent coverage of the work of choreographer Stephen Galloway in 032c magazine, and new publications such as Steven Sebring’s Study of Pose: 1000 Poses by Coco Rocha testify to the growing interest in the cultural significance of posing and the pose – yet both remain under-researched areas with little discussion of their significance.

This symposium will assert the importance of pose as both a creative practice and an emerging area of critical inquiry. It will bring together multi-disciplinary academics and practitioners to discuss and develop new ways of understanding pose and posing in a historical and contemporary context. We encourage proposals for papers that address pose from global and diverse perspectives. This event represents a potentially fruitful and exciting moment to bring these strands together to the benefit of researchers within practice and theory-based media, historians of dress, photography, art and film and allied disciplines.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by David Campany, internationally recognised writer and curator, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster.

Possible themes include (but are not limited to):

Modelling (fashion and artistic)

Gesture Dance (popular and classical)

Pose and the everyday

Movement and stillness

Posing, corporeality and the body

Posing and social media (Blogs, Instagram, etc.)

Submission process: Please submit abstracts of 150-200 words in English, along with a short biography of approximately 100 words to Posingthebody@gmail.com by 2 October 2015.

Organised by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katherine Faulkner, Study Skills and Widening Participation Academic Coordinator, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katerina Pantelides, Visiting Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Eugénie Shinkle, Reader in Photography, University of Westminster.