“I had read too many stories about magazines losing image troves, whether because they were poorly maintained, thrown out by accident, or deemed unimportant to posterity. But you need only visit any designer’s studio and see the vintage portraits and fashion photographs pinned to the wall to understand that these pictures carry weight; that they are points of reference and inspiration, not simply commercial images made to sell dresses.”
Anna Wintour in the foreword to Nostalgia In Vogue.
I recall a brilliant writer , (I believe it was Hilton Als) expressing the dangerous sentiment that in fashion, people are suspicious of words and the people who ply too heavily in them. Which is to say words in fashion are often required to exist for purposes of flattery and hype and not much beyond that . "Nostalgia In Vogue", a new monograph from Rizzoli compiles sixty-three essays culled from Vogue's "Nostalgia" column and that body of writing probably represents one of the most significant treasure troves of fashion's literary aspect ever published . Those essays by the likes of Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Patti Smith, Karl Lagerfeld, Carly Simon, George Plimpton, Manolo Blahnik, Anjelica Huston and Joyce Carol Oates are in personal response to the legendary imagery of Vogue photographers including Helmut Newton, Henry Clarke, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
As such "Nostalgia In Vogue" serves as a great point of visual reference given the deft editing that mixes the expected "iconic" imagery with choices that are more personal and peculiar to each writer. I received a copy of the book not expecting it to swing with such wide intellectual range through so many decades of daring and difficult work. It makes for a really important book, obviously for its value as reference and inspiration but more importantly because "Nostalgia In Vogue" affords the rare instance of sustained thinking and writing about fashion with great passion and intelligence. The power of fashion and the emotion it evokes is beautifully explored not only by the marquee literary names but also the fashion obsessed talent that ranges from designers as disparate as Vera Wang and Helmut Lang as well as photographers such as Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon.
Being in fashion often times involves emitting an aura of practiced vapidity but the deep irony about this vital, disposable, maddeningly irrational business is that beneath the blithe surface is a tremendous amont of insight and cultural awareness on the part of its practitioners. Great fashion captures its time and these essays do serve to encapsulate not only whole sweeping cultural moments, but more importantly, the very personal emotions and passions, the inspirations and call to beauty that a powerful photograph can inspire. Maybe it's something that the Vogue empire doesn't enunciate in public, but as is clearly highlighted in "Nostalgia In Vogue" that enterprise is now its own brand with a whopping heritage. Which is perhaps the whole point of the fashion game.