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“The best cover is always the next one, the one you haven’t seen yet.”
Fashion journalism originated in the 18th century, and Cabinet des Modes is considered the first fashion magazine. The evolution of fashion magazine cover designs chronicles the journey of the fashion industry, the design process and the printing technology. The evolution of the fashion magazine also speaks volumes of the evolving culture and customs and the portrayal of women. From Vogue, Vanity Fair to Harper Bazaar, the best fashion magazine covers of the last 100 years with their bold typography, vibrant colours and captivating images mirror the evolution of fashion journalism and social movements.
Let’s take a look at the 100 years of the fashion magazines' cover page journey.
1900s: Defining the ‘Modern’ Woman
The Cosmopolitan magazine serves as the benchmark to define modern women of this era regarding sexuality, relationships, entertainment, and beauty. The front cover illustrates wholesome women and famed artwork. The cover includes no text, except the publication's name, and the colours are pretty dull compared to modern-day covers.
In contrast, Vogue labelled as the 'encyclopedia of fashion’, depicts a woman in a red dress adorned with a hat and red flowers. The highlight of its cover is a simple floral design surrounding the picture, along with the title of the publication at the top. Except for the red colour, the choice of the colour palette is dull in sharp contrast indicating the tremendous evolution of the magazine cover page over the decades.
1910s: The Jazz Age
1914 saw the reincarnation of the magazine Dress as Vanity Fair after being taken over by Conde Nast. Its bold cover design with vibrant colours and sharp contrast exemplifies the leadership of its founding editor Frank Crownishield. The striking feature of the magazine is its cover is uncluttered, bold images that owe to craft of the legendary team counting Edward Steichen, Baron de Meyer, Nickolas Muray, Anton Bruehl, George Hoyningen-Huene, Lusha Nelson, to name a few. The illustration of a man and woman dancing in the moonlight symbolises the reigning popularity of Jazz.
Born in 1867 as “a repository of fashion, pleasure, and instruction,” for the modern US woman, Harper Bazaar's cover in the 1910s illustrates a woman playing golf, clearly indicating its theme and target audience- women's lifestyle. The cover contains minimal text except for the title and date, and nothing about its content can be inferred from the cover design.
1920s: Roaring Twenties
Illustrated by Georges Lepape, the striking feature of the Vogue cover page is elegant, free-hand style typography similar to artwork as text and logo did not have a defined placement or size.
In contrast, Harper Bazaar’s covers with a vivid colour palette and design uphold the themes of the Roaring ‘20s, depicting a dancing woman clad in shades of red, yellow and orange.
1930s: The Great Depression
This decade witnessed the entry of women into the workforce to make ends meet. Hence, as indicated by the Cosmopolitan cover, women were more confident than ever. The cover is illustrated with bolder, vibrant colours of red and purple, with a much more distinct text.
The Vanity Fair cover page shows a melancholic woman exemplifying the masses' emotions during the Great Depression.
1940s- World War-II
The 1940s cover of the Harper Bazaar heralds a paradigm shift in design in terms of change in spelling to 'Bazaar' and realistic artwork. These changes were among several innovations introduced by art director Alexey Brodovitch.
This decade also witnessed the meteoric rise of Marie Claire. Its fashion and beauty content, coupled with elaborate articles, was an instant hit among fashion enthusiasts. The magazine's cover design set in a luxury paper illustrated with stunning artwork and sketches reflected the tastes of its target audience.
1950s: The Rise of Female Stars
This decade saw the rise of female stars- Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor and magazines such as Cosmopolitan used their photographs for the first time instead of artwork.
In the 1950s, Vogue adopted Didone typefaces that were to become an integral design component of its front cover for decades. The key characteristic typeface is elegant hairline strokes that complement photographs and bolder strokes that make the text stand out. Set against a grey background, the 1950’s Vogue cover depicts a picture of women surrounded by black text, which is symbolic of the classy design unique to Vogue.
1960s: The Era of Liberal Women
With Helen Gurley Brown at the helm, Cosmopolitan witnessed a significant revamp from a wholesome literary magazine into a read for liberal women. The design also underwent a transformation with illustration and artwork giving way to scantily clad women underlining that this era focused on single independent and career-oriented women.
Elle also witnessed its reincarnation into a hardcore fashion magazine with its 1960s cover graced by a model dressed in a conservative, stylish jacket. The cover design is a simple set in black and white background with only the magazine title in green.
1970s: Trend of Bold Colours
With various colours and font sizes, the cover design of both Vogue and Marie Claire of this decade marks a continuation of the previous decade. Both covers are text-heavy, with photographs of a bolder and more confident woman.
1980s: The reign of Striking Colours
The impressive line-up of photographers, writers and celebrities under the leadership of Tina Brown propelled Vanity Fair to newer heights in 1983. Its 1980s cover depicts the King of Pop- Michael Jackson, with a bold and minimal text in yellow to give a solid striking effect.
Similarly, the Harper’s Bazaar used bold, colourful fonts with typography for varying sizes aligning with the reigning trend of vivid colours.
1990s: Adieu to 20th century
Marking the continuation of a bold colour palette, Vogue's cover experiments with diverse font sizes to create attractive covers. Powerful female role models of the decade were featured on the covers.
The 1990s decade saw the evolution of Marie Claire's cover themes from a fashionable to a liberal woman, as indicated by its bold and distinct text in blue.
2000s: Dawn of a new millennium
Cosmopolitan welcomed the new millennium with a photograph of a model dressed in bold and vibrant colours and varying text styles. This cover page speaks volumes of the overhaul in cover page design that came along with the turn of the century. Founded in 1991 by Linda Wells, Allure catapulted to the leading publications of this decade. The front cover in bright colours and varying fonts capture the viewers' attention is typical of the design of beauty magazines of the 2000s.
2022: Then and Now
Harper's Bazaar, America's first fashion magazine, has retained its glory as a sought-after fashion publication. It is now published in 37 countries, and the magazine celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. The magazine shut its operations briefly in 2020, but with the subsiding of the pandemic, it is roaring again.
Vogue continues its golden run onto its 15th year in India. Its striking cover was the June 2019 magazine issue titled 'Forces of Fashion, which featured a bevy of celebrities- Kareena Kapoor, Karan Johar, Diljit Dosanjh and Natasha Poonawala.
In the past few decades, the scope of fashion journalism has broadened to include conversations on business of fashion, fashion sustainability and circular economy. Social media is the new capital of fashion journalism, but fashion magazines still have takers. This is due to a favourable perception of the credibility of the written word and the comfort of reading offline. With the proliferation of emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, magazines are increasingly experimenting with their cover page designs. For instance, the W magazine's cover page of the September 2017 issue is a sneak peek into the future of fashion magazines design. Brought to life by The Mill, a visual effects production studio, this issue features an AR-powered image of Katy Perry on the cover. Though resembling a traditional one, the image comes to life when viewed through a smartphone's or tablet's lens. With more and more publications hopping onto the innovation bandwagon, the fashion magazine cover page journey isexciting, unpredictable, yet alluring.
Disclaimer- Each magazine holds a copyright for the design of its cover page.
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