Rediscovering Vogue on its 120th Birthday

I’ll never forget the day when I found two cardboard boxes full of my mother’s old Vogue magazines in the basement: I was in my early teens at the time and completely oblivious to fashion. Flipping through the stacks of magazines she had collected over time—and, evidently, hadn’t had the heart to get rid of—was like stepping into a parallel universe. I didn’t quite know what to make of everything I saw at first, but I was fascinated. Most of all, I was fascinated by the models, especially Cindy Crawford, who was the model at the time and seemed to appear on every second page, donning some kind of otherworldly gown here, an over-the-top ensemble there. These women weren’t human: they were goddesses.

Upon my first discovery of it, Vogue wasn’t something that mirrored or even existed in the same plane of reality as the world I lived in—a lower-middle class suburban life wherein the majority of my closet consisted of whatever thrift store finds my mother dug up for me and the rare special-occasion purchase from the strip mall’s single “trendy” tween store. The contents of the magazine seemed to depict narratives from some kind of fictional world, or so it seemed to me, and I was its captive audience, drinking in every detail of every page until I had memorized virtually every issue. To this day, the one cover that stands out as most memorable is the November 1988 issue of model Michaela Bercu wearing a beaded Christian Lacroix jacket and Guess jeans—which also happened to be Anna Wintour’s debut issue.

Needless to say, Vogue brought out the same thing in me that had prevented my mother from discarding these fashion relics: an investment in the dream of fantastically impossible glamour; of impeccably ageless style; of beauty that could transcend generations and still remain relevant and alluring when picked out of a dusty cardboard box hiding in the corner of a basement. It’s the intangible quality Vogue has perfected since its inception, and the thing that’s kept it alive to see its 120th anniversary this year.

Fast forward to today. A shelf on my bookcase is dedicated to the Vogues I’ve purchased over the years and haven’t justified letting go of: the all-encompassing September issues. I’m not a follower of any organized religion, but I can understand how someone who is would be terrified to let go of a copy of their Bible. Of course, these publications don’t hold the key to any kind of spiritual salvation per se, but I would argue that they present a similar kind of offering: comfort, hope, faith—a glimpse into a seemingly unreachable nirvana of wealth and beauty.

As my taste for fashion evolved since my initial discovery of the magazine, so has my relationship with Vogue. What was first a physical depiction of a nonexistent world became a little more real after visiting fashion meccas like New York, Paris, and London. These places proved that the pages of Vogue were extracted from reality rather than the imagination of a council of fashion gods (though the latter is true, to an extent). Rather than crush my adoration for it, this only served to cement my devotion to the magazine. Now I could put palpable feelings to the images in the magazine, associate them with real sights and sounds like I couldn’t before. It was like meeting a pen-pal for the first time after writing to each other for years.

I can understand why I was so drawn to the images in the magazine when I first encountered them. They spoke to me of a potential, however slight and far-off, of existing in that world one day, of mingling with and maybe even being one of the impossibly long-legged women drowning in jewels or sequins or leather or whatever was big at the time. Not that I would admit or recognize it back then—as far as I was concerned, I was doomed to remain in the same average teenage existence for the rest of eternity.

I’m not that awkward teenage girl from a working-class family anymore: I’ve happily discovered that everyone does grow out of that life eventually, whether they like it or not, and I’m incredibly happy with the life I’ve made for myself since. But even upon opening the 120th anniversary issue of Vogue today—the biggest September issue ever, sure to get a spot on my bookshelf—I’m still greeted with feelings I have and always will come to associate with the magazine. They’re similar to the feelings I got walking down the streets of Manhattan the couple of times I was there: the expectation of finding something new and unknown around every corner; the excitement of being witness to something greatly important; and the fascination of immaculate glamour ever so slightly out of reach.

Vogue isn’t in the business of selling fashion—it’s in the business of selling dreams. And until I’ve reached a point where they’re no longer dreams, I’ll always have a place in my heart (and my bookshelf) for the next September issue.

All images photographed by me from the September 2012 issue of Vogue.


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