In Vogue from Kennedy to Kardashian

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Click top title to open I recently read that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West issue of Vogue may out sell the issues with covers of Beyoncé and Michelle Obama.  Editor Anna Wintour defended her choice saying, “Part of the pleasure of editing Vogue, one that lies in a long tradition of this magazine, is being able to feature those who define the culture at any given moment, who stir things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it,” Wintour who whose unerring instincts have made her fashion’s kingmaker concluded, “I think we can all agree on the fact that that role is currently being played by Kim and Kanye to a T. 

Vogue has always had a close relationship with both influential women and pop culture. Vreeland understood the relationship between culture and fashion. She once said “You can see the approaching revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” Diana Vreeland discovered Twiggy. It was Diana Vreeland with her finger on the pulse of pop culture who advised a young Jackie Kennedy on fashion.  It was D.V. who told Manolo Blahnik to design shoes. She also put Diane Von Furstenberg’s first little wrap dress “in Vogue”.  

With the “Kim and Kanye cover Anna Wintour has proved she really knows how to sell magazines– in case anyone has forgotten what business Vogue is in. The success of the cover also underscores the power of celebrities to set trends and sell products. I have no doubt that Diana Vreeland would have put Kim and Kanye on the cover of Vogue not because of their fashion but because they are fashion now – for better or worse.

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Gracey Hitchcock

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Jezebel, Vogue, and retouching

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Recently there was a lot of chat around Jezebel magazine’s so-called expose of Lena Dunham’s unphotoshopped images from her recent shoot for Vogue 

Jezebel obtained the untouched original photos for $10,000 – possibly from some disgruntled Vogue staffer – after it placed an ad. Jezebel has used this kind of cheap trick before. It then detailed how Dunham’s pictures were digitally altered. 

“This is about Vogue,” said the article in Jezebel, “and what Vogue decides to do with a specific woman who has very publicly stated that she’s fine just the way she is, and the world needs to get on board with that.” 

However, it became immediately clear that most of the photo changes were minor. Lena Dunham was still unalterably Lena Dunham flaws and all. 

“Lena is a strong, confident woman who charts her own path—and that, to my mind, makes her an inspiring role model and the perfect cover for our February issue,” said Vogue editor Anna Wintour in a statement to Good Morning America. 

“Lena has been acclaimed in so many ways, rightly being described as the voice of her generation. But the quality I admire most about her is that she is fearless; fearless in how she works, in her choices, and, of course, about fashion.”

I worked as an editor helping to launch Russian edition of Vogue and while it is a very different magazine than American Vogue one thing I can tell you about magazines like the Vogue that idea that models and images are photoshopped to death is ridiculous – at least to my knowledge – and insulting to editors, photographers, models, and art directors, who are all experts at their craft.

 

Photoshopping is used to tweak images.  Sometimes to make them “come alive” other times to remove a small distracting flaw or two. It does not serve to create a “goddess-like image”. Magazine images are meant to be dramatic and to tell a story. The tweaks to Dunham’s image were so small Jezebel was doing nothing more than trying to draw attention to it by attacking an important magazine. Dunham has said she has no issues the photos and “felt supported by Vogue” during the shoot.  

In addition, many of Jezebel’s assumptions about the photos have been proven to be untrue. Jezebel argued the image of Dunham with a bird on her head was a fake. But Vogue provided its own unretouched photo, showing the people who staged the scene actually putting the pigeon atop the Girls’ star’s head.  

It was Vogue’s touché moment. 

Ordinary people, both men and women, have been altering their own photos on Facebook and Instagram as much or more than Dunham’s were altered by Vogue for years.  Static images, especially photos snapped by amateurs, often don’t capture a person’s true likeness. I think it is these types of images that often lead to the bad self-images many women have. A little knowledge about how to take a good picture that actually looks like you makes most women feel much more secure and happy about their appearance.

 

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Pizazz!

The new documentary film, The Eye Has to Travel, reveals the fascinating story of Diana Vreeland, the late, legendary fashion editor who created a unique persona while turning Vogue into the iconic and influential magazine it remains today.
 
Diana was born in Paris, into a fashionable and flamboyant family, and was self-made in the truest sense of the word. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was brilliant, creative, and daring – and she needed that resourcefulness; her beautiful mother called her “my ugly little monster.” So, Diana quickly learned to stand up for herself, and how to stand out from the crowd. She understood the power of clothes and wit, because they were her armor. The magical illusions Diana Vreeland created on the pages of Vogue, she first created for herself.
 
Before Madonna “expressed herself” or Lady Gaga was “born that way,” Diana Vreeland preached the gospel of style and self-expression. “You gotta have style,” Vreeland said. “It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.”
 
The cleverly-made documentary matches an hour and thirty six minutes of interviews, mostly with Vreeland herself, to riveting archival footage. After being fired from Vogue Magazine, Vreeland had the author and journalist George Plimpton interview her for her own autobiography D.V.
 
Fortuitously, Plimpton had the foresight to tape the 36 hours of conversations that make up the bulk of the film.
 
Diana Vreeland profoundly influenced me as young girl. I would pore over each issue of her magazine. I was transfixed by her vision of the world, and too young to know it wasn’t real. I began a lifelong love affair, not with clothes, but with fashion, as it was portrayed in the pages of Diana Vreeland’s Vogue. I still have a crystalline recall of the famous photos she commissioned from Richard Avedon of Veruschka. The model was wrapped in miles of blond hair, posing on a stunning palomino horse. Chic shots of Marisa Berenson, draped in jewels with fabulous mod makeup and hair, were staged in Morocco. It was all so delicious and exciting.
 
Diana Vreeland taught me the importance of fashion. “Vogue always did stand for people’s lives,” she once said. “I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later."  
 
Thank heaven for my father. He never worried that I was too young to read Vogue. He fed my magazine and fashion habits even while I was in junior high. My grandmother, who had worked for the only couture house in Boston and adored clothes, also fed my passion. I regret that neither of them lived long enough to share how excited I was to work for glossy fashion magazines. I would have loved to tell them about helping to launch Vogue Russia.
 
I knew some people thought my London Mod makeup and miniskirts were outrageous, but I adored those looks. Diana Vreeland faced the same censure for her style. “When I arrived in America,” she said, “I had these very dark red nails which some people objected to, but then some people object to absolutely everything.” 
 
When my husband was offered the chance to work as the CTV News bureau chief in Moscow in the 1990s, I was beside myself with excitement. Many people were surprised. It seems that many wives had greeted similar assignments with trepidation. This was a superb opportunity for my husband, but I was excited for myself, too. Fresh in my mind were Diana Vreeland’s rhapsodies over “her beloved Russians.” I remembered every word she had ever commissioned or uttered about the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and the brilliant dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky.
 
Once in Moscow, I was determined to discover the secret beauty treatments that Vogue hinted about in all those articles I had read years before. I was soon a regular at the Russian banya, or steam bath. In the pages of Mrs. Vreeland’s Vogue, the banya had been painted as temple of mysterious beauty rituals. It was true. I luxuriated in the steam, massage, and facials. I had regular and fabulous pedicures. I relished the company of beautiful and generous Russian women. I was hooked. No one could drag me to pricy western salons for second-rate treatments; I had found real Russian beauty heaven. (Things have changed and now there are now many options in Moscow.) I wasn’t at all interested in the popular expat group trips to banyas to eat and drink too much – horrors! No, my beauty rituals were sacred. This was my chance to dig deeply into the feminine side of Russia, and I delighted in it.
 
Diana Vreeland’s inspiration led me to my first major assignment for a glossy magazine in Moscow. I was asked to write about massage for Russian Elle. That led to my becoming first beauty director at Vogue Russia and part of its launch team.
 
I thought of Diana Vreeland often in Moscow. When I listened to her full-throated voice in The Eye Must Travel, I was transported back to those days.
 
When Vreeland was fired from Vogue, she fell into a deep depression. But she soon got the chance to organize fashion exhibits at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and continue her work in a dramatic new way. Her exhibits drew crowds of international celebrities and there were long lines for days to get into see them.
 
She was 70 years old.
 
“There’s only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself,” Diana Vreeland famously said. It is fabulous advice from a woman who did just that with style, courage, originality, and as she would say, “pizzazz”.
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Anna and living artfully

Quel scandal! Anna Wintour wore the same dress twice! What is it about the pursuit of personal excellence that irks so many people? The need to pick on accomplished, polished people perplexes me.
 
Many people vilify Anna Wintour because she seems perfect, or almost perfect. Her flawless exterior, discipline, and iron will seem to rub people the wrong way. Yet, to my knowledge she has committed no crimes, made no sex tapes, been involved in no scandals, or defrauded anyone. That makes her a celebrity-saint these days.
 
People seem okay with lovely-looking models, because — in spite of the Tyra Banks and Heidi Klums who have proven to be crack business women — many models often appear messy and troubled.  They have well-reported problems with eating issues, drugs, and men.
 
Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, has been called an ice queen, alien, dominatrix, and worse.  I do not know Anna Wintour. I have never met her, but I admire her. I have worked in the magazine business and it is rife with colossal egos, and it demands very hard work.  Anna Wintour made that point recently in an interview with David Letterman.  She was promoting RJ Cutler’s documentary The September Issue, which is about her magazine and her role in it.
 
Reading the reviews of the film, one could wonder why so many critics review Anna Wintour instead of the film, especially when it is doubtful they have ever met her. As Letterman pointed out in the first moments his interview, he knows little about Vogue magazine, but he knows a lot about Wintour.  He said she had “transcended what she did”.
 
I think there is much to be learned from women like Anna Wintour who provoke so much ire and controversy and wield so much power. By her own admission, she did not excel academically. Her father was a successful English newspaper editor. According to Anna Wintour, he determined she would be the editor of Vogue, “and so it was decided.”  She told Sixty Minutes correspondent Morley Safer this a few years ago; the implication that she had to met her father’s expectation was clear.
 
Wintour has worn her hair in the same signature style since she was 15.  She is in impeccable shape, yet it is widely reported that she eats.  She keeps her slim figure by exercising and playing tennis — with her son when she can. She is divorced and has raised two children.
 
Granted, she has lot of help to maintain her look this stage of her life.  Vogue pays for her hair and make-up to be done daily.  She also has an extravagant clothing allowance.  But, if you look back over her life, she has always appeared the same, even before the lavish perks.
 
Fame editor of Vogue, Anna WintourWhen asked about her reputation as slave driver and “_itch”, she points out that many of her staff members have worked for her for more than 20 years.  It is hard to believe that key long-time employees Grace Coddington and Andre Leon Talley –or the score of talented people who have worked all these years at Vogue — would have had to look very hard to find well-paying glamorous jobs elsewhere.
 
No darlings, I think women like Anna Wintour are great examples of people who make the most of their personal assets. I think it is as useful to study Anna’s look as her Vogue editorials. How foolish was the journalist who recently accused her of a fashion faux pas for wearing the same perfect Carolina Herrera print dress on Letterman because she had also worn it to the The Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards.  Did this journalist ask herself what message Ms. Wintour was trying to send; that she is a hardworking editor with impeccable taste or a red-carpet hopping celebrity?  Vogue describes good pieces from significant designers as an investment.  So, can a classic print dress not be worn for a season without garnering ridicule?
 
I’m definitely not in Ms. Wintour’s league wardrobe-wise (sigh!), but I have collected some fabulous dresses over years.  I would not hesitate to wear any of them on any number of occasions.  They suit me, are timeless, and look fabulous.  The respected designer Oscar de la Renta said in recent Vanity Fair interview, “fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable.  Style is more about being yourself.” Anna Wintour is nothing if not herself — and bravo to that.
 
Fashion is the key to avoiding the kiss of dowdiness.  Fashion is fun.  Fashion is the mainstay of Ms. Wintour’s livelihood and the raison d’etre of Vogue.  But women without style are never chic, well-dressed, or distinctive. 
 
A younger women friend once accused me of “controlling my image” when I preferred to give her a photograph than just let her snap one.  She was right.  I was amused it piqued her, especially as she was so insecure about her look and always fussed with her appearance.  I explained I didn’t particularly care to be photographed, but had learned to take a decent photo, and therefore preferred to give out good ones.  Most of them are just snaps, but good ones.  After all photos are forever.
 
Darlings, you have one life and you can live it artfully.  You can dress well, eat well, entertain well — and conduct you yourself with grace — or you can slosh through life. The choice is yours. Style is very personal and it is not about money, dresses, or even glamour; it is about discipline, choices, and vision.
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