If you've seen the movie The Devil Wears Prada, then you know what a nightmare of a boss Vogue editor Anna Wintour is. High maintenance, demanding, moody, cold, and unfeeling are just some of the words that describe the way she's portrayed.
Apparently, Wintour was not the first Vogue editor to embody these less-than-delightful qualities.
I'm reading this book about the history of the magazine, and just finished up a section on Edna Woolman Chase, Wintour's predecessor and the longest-serving editor of Vogue to date. She held the editorial reigns of the magazine between the two wars, 1914 and 1951, and by the time she left, Vogue was a world famous brand.
The Vogue of those years--meant to be exclusively read by the likes of the Astors, Vanderbilts, and their affluent high society friends--had certain standards. Chase, though not a member of the American aristocracy, saw to it that she and her staff upheld those standards.
She was famous for insisting that the female members of her staff wore "black silk stockings, white gloves, and a hat." They could "not come to the office in open-toed shoes." To one young writer, she said, "You have a very fine pen, my child, but we must do something about your clothes."
Once, she scolded an editor who tried to commit suicide by saying, "We at Vogue don't throw ourselves under subway trains, my dear. If we must, we take sleeping pills."
And, like Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, she cautioned against the excesses of the French: "Vogue--surely as sophisticated, as modern, as shock proof as one can well be without sacrificing good taste--has come to a place where it actually holds up its hands in horror. And the place, to come directly to the point, is the knee of the women of today....Vogue does not insist that skirts should be long, since long skirts are not the mode. But Vogue does insist that, before buying a [new French] frock, one should look oneself squarely in the legs and temper the length of one's costume to the shape one sees."
If you're interested in the fascinating early history of Vogue--which is also a history of American culture, female beauty, and fashion--click here, where you can also see pictures of its first covers and fashion spreads (interesting tidbit: there were no models back then, just assistants in the dressmakers' shops that were trained to pose and walk the runway).