A Picture Speaks V.O.G.U.E: Tracing the Evolution of Iconic Vogue Covers

To leaf through the archives of Vogue Magazine is to navigate a vivid timeline of fashion, society, and pop culture. From its inception, Vogue has always been more than just a fashion magazine—it’s been a curator of style and a beacon of high-quality photography. One unique aspect that has been capturing the imagination of readers for decades is how Vogue has spelled its name on some of its iconic covers.

The Birth of a Concept: Horst P. Horst, 1940

The first instance of this innovative idea traces back to 1940, with the brilliant photographer Horst P. Horst and the radiant Swedish model, Lisa Fonssagrives. The photograph, titled ‘Lisa As V.O.G.U.E.’, showcases Lisa poised in a ‘V’ shape while sporting a blue and white bathing suit, cleverly embodying the Vogue brand. This extraordinary photograph, beyond being a cover, became a cherished piece of art that fetched a handsome price of $40,000 in a curated selection by Vogue Archives in 2013.

A Nostalgic Throwback: Tyen, 1991

The innovative idea re-emerged five decades later in 1991 to commemorate Vogue’s 75th birthday. Captured by the skillful Tyen, the stunning Yasmeen Ghauri strikes an edgy pose in a metallic bodysuit designed by Karl Lagerfeld. The way she contorted her body to spell Vogue for British Vogue’s Special Edition Anniversary issue was a nostalgic tribute to the iconic 1940s cover.

Reimagining Diversity: Steven Meisel, 2008

In 2008, Franca Sozzani, the then editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, re-envisioned the iconic concept with an important twist: the promotion of diversity in fashion. The issue, known as the first All Black Issue, featured four alternate covers, each starring renowned models – Naomi Campbell, Jourdan Dunn, Liya Kebede, and Sessilee Lopez, all captured by the talented Steven Meisel.

In alignment with this theme, Vogue Italia also teamed up with Barbie to release a special all-black Barbie collector’s supplement. This collaboration further emphasized Sozzani’s intent of highlighting the importance of diversity, drawing attention to Barbie’s own evolution towards inclusivity, from the introduction of Francie, the first black doll in 1967, to the first Black Barbie in 1980.

#1 Photographer Horst P Horst, model Lisa Fonssagrives, and editor Audrey Withers for the cover of Vogue US, June 1, 1940.

#3 Different versions of original photo by Horst P Horst, model Lisa Fonssagrives, and editor Audrey Withers for the cover of Vogue US, June 1, 1940.

#4 Model Yasmeen Ghauri is dressed in a metallic bodysuit by Karl Lagerfeld. Photographed by Tyen for British Vogue’s Special Edition 75th Anniversary issue in June, 1991.

#5 Barbie is photographed by Michael Baumgarten. Fashion editor: Giovanna Battaglia, for the cover of Barbie, The Black Issue, Vogue Italia, July 2008.

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Written by Matthew Green

Andrew's writing is grounded in research and provides unique insights into the cultural and historical contexts of vintage pieces. Through his work, he aims to foster a greater appreciation for the value and beauty of vintage items.

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