Fashion Jus

Glenda Bailey, Harper’s Bazaar: Greatest Hits

Abrams, 320pp, £39.99, ISBN 9781419700705

reviewed by Alexandra Pett

Harper’s Bazaar first hit the shelves in 1867 and has a unique place in history as America’s first fashion magazine. It is published in more than 25 countries and 15 languages and has achieved a level of fashion publishing domination that is perhaps rivalled only by Vogue. Harper’s Bazaar UK arrived in 1929 and in the years since then has consistently sought to deliver a sophisticated perspective on fashion, popular culture and life in general. A coffee table book with a couture pedigree, Harper’s Bazaar: Greatest Hits certainly ticks the boxes of fantasy, fashion and giving it lots of face. This hardbacked publication is full of gloriously lean limbed, fresh faced beings, glossily presenting a fictional universe where a woman can scale a heap of pastel-coloured cars in six inch heels without tumbling to an undignified death.

Of course the risk with this kind of high-shine glorious technicolour offering is that even a devoted disciple of America’s longest running fashion magazine might find 320 pages of front covers and photo shoots slightly numbing, no matter how iconic the images. This book, however, has been assembled by someone who clearly knows how to put together reading material for fashion fans and understands her audience well; step forward Glenda Bailey, Editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. Bailey has held the top job at the magazine for more than ten years now, before which she was the former captain at Marie Claire, which was a ship she herself launched. With her guidance, this book goes much further than a collection of polished copies of the magazine’s best shoots and it is the elements that have been included in addition to the stylish photography that give it distinct collectability.

Greatest Hits is well-organised, divided into years for ease of reference, each one titled and tagged with the defining moments of those 12 months. 2004, for example, is entitled ‘Electing for Elegance’ with a foreword remembering the departure of Tom Ford from Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and the popularity of airy chiffons, silk trenches and must-have handbags. The introduction to 2008 – ‘Chic You Can Believe In’ – covers themes of the election of American President Barack Obama, ethereal gowns, Harvard sweatshirts and investment dressing; and for 2011 – ‘Stepping Into The Future’ – the introduction is full of Upstairs Downstairs style, Louis Vuitton clad chambermaids and the role of China in the global fashion economy. This is, essentially, a chronological biography of fashion between the years of Bailey’s tenure (2001 to 2011), more akin to a fashion bible, or cultural reference book, than the magazine from which it descends.

In addition to the chronological function, the book contains all the high points of Bazaar, condensed down into a fragrant fashion jus. There is a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Taylor conducted by Kim Kardashian for the March 2011 issue, where the aged starlet proves she did indeed have the luxury of never having to say she was sorry; a charming, fictional exchange from March 2003 between Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld that is illustrated by Lagerfeld himself; and Sarah Jessica Parker’s ‘Why Don’t You’ for March 2009, where she suggests one of the secrets to happiness is maintaining ‘a bucket filled with candy’. There are of course plenty of photo shoots – Agyness Deyn channelling Michael Jackson through Yves Saint Laurent, Moschino and Stella McCartney in the ‘Thriller’ shoot from September 2009; the daring of ‘Industry Pull’, which features Marc Jacobs in a tutu, winching Naomi Campbell into the air in a ballet shoe and a thong and little else; and ‘Blown Away’ from March 2008 with model of the moment Freja Beha Erichsen posed in front of a wind machine in voluminous Lanvin and Versace.

Many of the photo shoots are inventive, daring, feature celebrities as well as models, and more than fulfil the desire for fabulous frocks and feline features: Kate Hudson in Burberry Prorsum in a diner, Emma Watson in Alexander McQueen in a Hogwarts style library, Kate Winslet carelessly hanging from the side of a building 1,000 feet over New York in Ralph Lauren. Alongside these there are photo stories that are a smart, funny and entertaining – Chloe Sevigny shot in a paparazzi style by Peter Lindbergh in September 2007 traversing ‘Best Intentions’ rehab centre in couture; Ellen Degeneres being sworn in as US president in November 2004; and the Simpsons in the August 2007 issue, rocking chic Karl Lagerfeld in Paris with the help of a yellow Linda Evangelista, Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier. All of these add a dash of humour and beauty, as well as contextualizing the fashion of the year in which they appear.

Then there are written pieces, including an article by Carrie Fisher on that courageously-shouldered Balmain jacket that defined a moment in fashion; and a short by Patti Smith on the return of the tie. Ali MacGraw writes from February 2002 of her experience as Diana Vreeland’s assistant, of the fashion legend’s lunches with Truman Capote, calls to Jackie Kennedy and demands for ‘more ostrich feathers!’ An extract from the May 2006 issue written by Rita Wilson – Tom Hanks’ wife – details her Da Vinci Code summer, spent in Paris. While her husband was occupied with filming the blockbusting movie Wilson spent her time trying to morph into a chic local – eventually resigning herself to the fact that a velvet beret alone does not a Frenchwoman make. While Harper’s Bazaar: Greatest Hits draws celebrity, politics, gossip and pop culture into its orbit, at its heart is pure fashion. The book is a fascinating overview of a decade of style, a glass against the wall to eavesdrop on couture conversations you otherwise wouldn’t get to hear, and a chance to remember iconic fashion moments from the last ten years. As Bailey herself puts it in her foreword: ‘What an adventure’.
Alexandra Pett is a freelance journalist based in London.