A New Database: The Vogue Archive

Figure 1 Cover of the December 1892 first issue. Figure 1 Cover of the
December 1892 first issue.

BC Libraries recently purchased the database The Vogue Archive, an important primary resource for the study of fashion and of American and international popular culture. The database contains every page of every issue of Vogue magazine (US edition) from 1892 to the present. It includes over 400,000 pages in high resolution color and every cover, advertisement, feature, photograph, and illustration. "Images are presented in the context of the original magazine issue so users have the contextual information they need to interpret the image: not just retailer information and pricing, but cues about when and where garments were appropriate and who might wear them – invaluable for historical research and for disciplines such as theatrical costume design."

Figure 2 Collete photographed by Lee Miller. Figure 2 Collete photographed by Lee Miller.
Vogue, 1 March 1945

Though the primary focus is clearly that of fashion, The Vogue Archive offers a treasure trove of data to students of cultural studies and gender studies that allows them to survey changing social mores, tastes and aspirations from 1890s to the present and research the history of such topics as body aesthetics, changing gender roles, societal values and tastes. For example, one may follow discussions about body image from the late 19th century to today's debates about plastic surgery and Botox; examine the history of female domesticity and that of the evolving role of women in the workplace; study female role models from Coco Chanel to Beyoncé. The Vogue Archive is also particularly useful to students of the history of marketing and branding. One may research the historical development of a brand by examining advertisements, over a specific time span, of major companies such as Chanel, Versace, Revlon.

Figure 3 Advertisement: Valentino (Feb 1, 1987) Figure 3 Advertisement:
Valentino (Feb 1, 1987)

For example, a search of "Dior" in The Vogue Archive will retrieve a complete retrospective of features, photo shoots, illustrations, advertisements pertaining to the fashion house right through the most current issue. The student of film will also find the database valuable for researching the reception and public image of stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Cary Grant to more contemporary actors. Vogue has sometimes played an important, and sometimes unexpected, role in covering topics that are far removed from fashion, clothes, models and celebrities. A particularly famous report was published near the end of World War II when the war correspondent Lee Miller contributed some of the most dramatic reports and photographs that have ever appeared in Vogue. In April 1945 Miller was one of the first Americans into the recently captured concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. Her report was published in the 1 June 1945 issue of Vogue under the heading "Believe It: Lee Miller Cables from Germany." The text and photographs were harrowing:

This is Buchenwald Concentration Camp at Weimar. The photograph on the left shows a pile of starved bodies, the one above, a prisoner hanged on an iron hook, his face clubbed.
Lee Miller has been with American Armies almost since D-Day last June: she has seen the freeing of France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Alsace, crossed the Rhine into Cologne, Frankfurt to Munich. Saw the Dachau prison camp. She cabled: "No question that German civilians knew what went on. Railway siding into Dachau camp runs past villas, with trains of dead and semi-dead deportees. I usually don't take pictures of horrors. But don't think that every town and every area isn't rich with them. I hopeVoguewill feel that it can publish these pictures ...

It is difficult to imagine such a report appearing in Vogue today.

Figure 4 Christian Dior. Photograph by Henry Clarke. Figure 4 Christian Dior.
Photograph by Henry Clarke.

In the pages of Vogue one may examine the work of some of the world's greatest designers, photographers, illustrators, and stylists over the past 120 years. It is an essential vehicle for studying the history of fashion design. Its pages are replete with photographs and illustrations of and commentary on the world's greatest designers: Giorgio Armani, Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, André Courrèges, Christian Lacroix, Oscar de la Renta, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Carolina Herrera, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, Carolina Herrera, Calvin Klein, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Lang, Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen and many others. One may search for images of specific clothes by designer name and year as well as research garments and accessories in their historical and social context. In addition one may research the history of style icons, fashion modelling, and such famous models as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton and Kate Moss.

Figure 5 Self-photograph by Cecil Beaton. Figure 5 Self-photograph by Cecil Beaton.
Published in Vogue, September 15, 1968.

The Vogue Archive is a visually stunning resource of tens of thousands of art images, illustrations and photographs. Artists whose work has graced Vogue have included such luminaries as Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Christian Bérard, Georges Lepape, George Wolfe Plank, Eduardo Garcia Benito, Helen Dryden, Carl Erickson. Some of the world's leading photographers have worked for Vogue: Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Baron Adolphe de Meyer, George Hoyningen-Huené, Man Ray, André Durst, Toni Frissell, Erwin Blumenfeld, John Rawlings, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arthur Elgort, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Deborah Turbeville, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier among many others. Numerous famous writers have contributed to Vogue. For example, the following constitute just a small selection: Virginia Woolf: "Indiscretions in Literature: Wherein Our Affectations or Disaffections for Writers Come Impudently Forth" (1 June, 1925); Jean-Paul Sartre: "The Resistance 'taught that literature is no fancy activity independent of politics'" (1 July, 1945); W.H. Auden: "I have a Ferocious Bee in My Bonnet" (1 October, 1973); Colette. "Adieu à la Neige" (1 January, 1926); Tennessee Williams: "Tennessee Williams Understands Women Better Than They Can Understand Themselves" (15 March, 1951); Aldous Huxley: "Conversation with Stravinsky" (15 February, 1953). Other contributors have included John Updike, Bertrand Russell, Kate Chopin, Carson McCullers, George Bernard Shaw, Vladimir Nabokov, Frank O'Hara, Truman Capote, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Anthony Burgess and Joan Didion.

The Vogue Archive is clearly a wonderful repository of popular culture that covers many aspects of modern social history. Benefiting from sophisticated searching capabilities, with its almost half million image-rich highly colored pages, this database constitutes a fascinating primary and secondary resource that will be useful for researchers and students in a variety of disciplinary areas.

Brendan Rapple
Collection Development Librarian