Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In and out of Vogue

by Grace Mirabella

I had spent almost my entire life working for Vogue. I wanted to have something more behind me there than a history of raised and lowered hemlines. I wanted to be committed to something -- whether it was fighting smoking or striving for real-life clothes or fighting Alex and Si to improve the status of women both in pages and in the offices of our magazine.
(p. 212)

That, in a nutshell, captures the difference I see between Grace Mirabella and women like Diana Vreeland and Anna Wintour. Barbara Walters has an interesting interview with Anna Wintour where she asks about TDWP. "But, Barbara," Anna replies, "If it's good for fashion, I think it's great!"

I want to be clear that I don't necessarily think that either of these quotes tell us what the real woman behind them actually feels. But these are the images they have chosen for public consumption: one wanting to be taken seriously for taking on real issues, one feeling an absolute devotion to fashion that never questions whether it should be taken seriously or not.

This memoir by Grace Mirabella is more interesting than I would have expected. She spends a lot of time explaining herself, which can get a little tiresome. She still seems to have a chip on her shoulder about her humble New Jersey roots. Her father was a bootlegger, though, so her childhood had a dashing romantic quality to it -- she spent plenty of time at ritzy clubs in New York, where her father was always welcomed. She went to good schools and soon made friends in society, so she's really been one of the upper crust for most of her life, whether or not she actually felt like it.

The part of this book I like best, though, comes briefly at the end, where she discusses the difference between couture (now dead) and fashion, and the evolution of runway shows from the more intimate salon showing. She cites a sea change in the eighties, when all of a sudden money became important, and ostentatious displays of wealth that would have been considered in bad taste a decade before, suddenly became all the rage. Having lived through that, my perceptions square with hers. I remember wondering at the time why it was OK all of a sudden to be so blatantly selfish about things, and not to care about other people any more.

Oh well, that's all in the past now. Ironically, I wouldn't have read this book if I wasn't interested in Anna Wintour. God knows, I'm not really all that interested in Vogue. Having read it, I feel that Grace Mirabella would have been even more successful had she been able to make a career in the business side of operations -- she clearly has a very good head for it. Anna Wintour, on the other hand, seems to have been destined for the editorship of Vogue, by which I mean the job seems to suit her to a T. So apart from the suffering of untold underpaid minions who suffer under Wintour's dictatorial employ, things seem to have worked out for the best. What remains an open, and interesting, question to me is whether Wintour will outlast Si Newhouse, who can't live forever, or whether she too will ultimately fall victim to his unpleasant habit of abruptly firing his editors. Time will tell.

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7 Comments:

Blogger zelda said...

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11:53 AM  
Blogger zelda said...

I'm amused that there's a response to the fashion and culture of the '80s by preceding generations, like Mirabella, that sees it as something separate from them. It isn't. Fashion and culture are largely, almost entirely, a reaction and response to what has come before. Its a continuum. The '80s didn't happen in a vacuum.

The '60s and '70s were a reaction to the buttoned-up stoicism and tasteful decorum of the '40s and '50s. The '60s and '70s were about self-exploration and expressing what was inside of you. The parents of that time breathed this idea into their children but gave them little in the way of structure or "constricting" rules.

Little wonder that what they had inside was largely ugly and garish and selfish. They'd never been taught to look OUTSIDE of themselves. It always has been what's inside many of us, really, but we had mostly had the sense to but a lid on that part of our make-up.

The Boomers strike again and then, as usual, don't see their part in the ensuing chaos.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Well, Mirabella is hardly a boomer. I am, though.

"The '60s and '70s were about self-exploration and expressing what was inside of you. The parents of that time breathed this idea into their children but gave them little in the way of structure or "constricting" rules."

Do you mean parents of the 80s and 90s here? Because, often as not, the parents of the 60s and 70s were scandalized by their children's behavior. Which was a large part of why they did it.

And it really wasn't the buttoned-up stoicism and tasteful decorum of the 40s and 50s that was the problem. There was a lot of ugliness in the sexual repression of those times that is still on view in movies like Splendor in the Grass, A Summer Place, and Peyton Place. There was dishonesty and hypocrisy in making the facade of the happy family more important than the actual well-being of its members.

Most of the friends I had growing up in the 60s and 70s were idealistic, not garish and selfish. I was 25 in 1980, and I honestly experienced the changes around me with surprise.

From John Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961:

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

Regardless of what you think of Kennedy or his politics, those words meant something to the people who heard them. It was something we actually aspired to.

How we got from that to trickle-down economics is something I still don't understand. But it's not because of bad parenting or lack of structure. That's way too glib of an explanation.

7:55 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

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9:19 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:51 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:20 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

**How we got from that to trickle-down economics is something I still don't understand.

"The Boomers strike again and then, as usual, don't see their part in the ensuing chaos."

**That's way too glib of an explanation.

Coming on the heels of blaming the whole of '80s on Reagan, I'd say that's the pot calling the kettle glib.

I tried to respond more fully several times but could not keep the seething resentment and contempt for that generation out of my tone. I never have been able to and I suspect I never will. I smell a blog post.

Great review of the book, nonetheless, thanks!

8:07 AM  

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