I love history. I love colour. Textiles are the fabric of our lives. And I have always been fascinated by magazines. Although I’ve been interested in fashion in general, and fashion history in particular, I’ve never been into high end fashion magazines like Vogue, Marie-Claire, Elle or whatever all the big names are. Maybe because there has never been any question of me wearing those kinds of clothes, never having been in any way, shape or form “willowy”!
However, a typographer friend recently pointed out the original artwork of the new Swiss version of L’Officiel magazine. To be honest, I had never even heard of the original French magazine, certainly never noticed it lined up with any of the others. American Vogue had been started in 1892 and by 1920, Condé Nast were ready to issue a new, French Vogue mirroring the status of Paris in the fashion world. I gather this didn’t go down well in all quarters and something “genuinely” French was required – enter L’Officiel de la couture et de la mode de Paris, the first edition of which appeared in 1921. When I took a look at the L’Officiel website, I was overjoyed to find the entire archive available to look at – every back issue from mid-2013 all the way to 1921! Had my friend not mentioned the original competition between the magazines, I would never have looked for the history…Les robes de Paul Poiret
The first few issues were short and simple (26 pages v. 205 pages in 2013) and yet already published with both French and English text describing the wonderful gowns of the day. From the very start names pop up which are classics of fashion – Paul Poiret advertises, as does Jeanne Lanvin and as you move through the years of exotic and exquisite fashions, names like Elsa Schiaparelli or Christian Dior begin to appear. It’s an incredibly fascinating look in to several very different era. The early 1920s still feature many line drawings – though artist’s representations continue a long way, and the occasional photograph is there from the start, gradually gaining in importance and much later, in colour.
The styling is amazing, the textiles originally described in detail but also featuring such things as monkey fur edgings! Furs feature quite a lot, as they were essential in high-end fashion and in those days, women had no qualms about wearing them, and it really is quite an insight into a rich lady’s wardrobe. For a while, there was a section in the back that had all the text in Spanish, too, but eventually the magazine became French only, possibly because there are around 20 foreign editions these days, catering for a global readership. Certainly, the more recent issues are yawn-inducing (to me, anyway!) but putting your history hats on, it becomes clearer all the time that there is nothing new on this planet in the way of fashion – it’s all been there and done at least once, if not multiple times, in the past; the same shapes and forms and colours return again and again. Early on, there seems to have been only one way of being fashionable, but at the latest post-war when Dior introduced the full-skirted “New Look” alongside the slim pencil-skirted look, it looks as if variation became more acceptable and of course, nowadays, almost anything goes.
As you can tell, I’ve been thrilled to discover this archive and can definitely recommend you go and have a browse: http://patrimoine.editionsjalou.com/lofficiel-de-la-mode-sommairepatrimoine-13.html
But remember, it’s a rabbit hole and it could be some time before you re-emerge…!