Vanity Fair: The One-Click History
In 2008, Vanity Fair celebrates its 95th anniversary—and its 25th as a relaunched publication. To showcase the photographic heritage of the magazine, London’s National Portrait Gallery has mounted an exhibition, “Vanity Fair Portraits, 1913–2008” (opening February 14, 2008), which will travel to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in Edinburgh, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery of Canberra, Australia. In the fall of 2008, the magazine will produce a special anniversary issue and a hardcover book, Vanity Fair: The Portraits.
“Vanity Fair” originally meant “a place or scene of ostentation or empty, idle amusement and frivolity” — a reference to the decadent fair in John Bunyan’s 1678 book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. By the 19th century, however, author William Makepeace Thackeray made “Vanity Fair” his own, borrowing the term to christen his widely read 1848 satirical novel, which was serialized at the time in Britain’s Punch magazine.
Vanity Fair, the magazine, appeared in three incarnations in the 1800s. First, it was a short-lived, Manhattan-based humorous weekly, published from 1859 to 1863. Next, in the U.K., from 1868 to 1914, Vanity Fair was the title of a periodical that became known as the cream of the period’s “society magazines,” best remembered for its witty prose and its caricatures of men (and occasionally women) of privilege. Sir Leslie (“Spy”) Ward, the magazine’s famed illustrator, believed that “when the history of the Victorian Era comes to be written in true perspective, the most faithful mirror and record of … the spirit of the times will be sought and found in Vanity Fair.” Finally, in 1890, another American version began weekly publication, reconceived as a theater magazine that boasted unabashedly of reaching “the vast, Luxury-loving, money-spending multitude everywhere.”
In 1913, the dapper and visionary publisher Condé Nast, having already made a success of Vogue, bought the rights to the name and introduced a new hybrid journal, Dress & Vanity Fair, which had an undistinguished four-issue run. Revamped in 1914, Vanity Fair was yet again relaunched. In short order it became, under the stewardship of its canny and irrepressible editor, Frank Crowninshield, a cultural bellwether of the Jazz Age. Vanity Fair promoted the work of modern artists (Picasso, Brancusi) and illustrators (Miguel Covarrubias, Paolo Garretto), published essays by new literary lights (from Dorothy Parker and Gertrude Stein to D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley), and helped popularize and perfect the genre of celebrity portraiture through the pioneering work of photographers such as Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, and Baron de Meyer.
Beyond the pages of Vanity Fair, Crowninshield and Nast also spawned Manhattan “café society” at vibrant parties they threw for their acquaintances in the newly intersecting spheres of literature, the arts, sports, politics, cinema, and high society. Their magazine, throughout the 20s and into the 30s, became the gold standard for the so-called smart magazines of the era. “Vanity Fair,” wrote social historian Cleveland Amory, “was as accurate a barometer of its time as exists.” Then, alas, came the ravages of the Depression and the rise of Fascism. In 1936, V.F. suspended publication, considered a periodical too glib and urbane for the increasingly stormy times.
Vanity Fair was resurrected by the Condé Nast Publications a half-century later, in 1983, as a quirky cultural pastiche. Two editors (Richard Locke and Leo Lerman) tried their hands at the helm, with mixed results. Tina Brown took over in 1984 and gave the magazine a Reagan-era flair, appealing to the lavish tastes of readers in that go-go decade. Brown conscripted a stable of photographers (Annie Leibovitz, Harry Benson, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts among them), encouraged writers like Dominick Dunne, smacked celebrities on the cover, and offered a frothy bouillabaisse of scandal, wealth, and high and low culture. An international edition was launched in 1991.
In 1992, Graydon Carter, a veteran of both Time and Life, co-founder of Spy, and editor of The New York Observer, stepped in, bringing the magazine to new levels of journalistic prowess—and profitability. Carter assembled a group of A-list contributors, expanded the magazine’s mandate to cover news and world affairs, commissioned stunning photographic portfolios and definitive retrospective pieces, and inaugurated editorial franchises that have become V.F. cornerstones: the Hollywood Issue (accompanied each year by the star-studded Vanity Fair Oscar gala, currently the most famous annual party in the world), the New Establishment rankings (which rate moguls in the information-communications-entertainment sphere), special issues or major sections devoted to the environment and music, and the International Best-Dressed List.
With its mix of lively writing, bold portraiture, keen cultural intuition, in-depth reporting, and memorable profiles of the movers and shakers of the age, Vanity Fair has become, by many estimates, magazine journalism’s acknowledged arbiter of modern society, power, and personality.
by David Friend,
Vanity Fair’s editor of creative development. He is the author of Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11.
Источник публикации: Vanity Fair