Currently Reading – In and Out of Vogue, Grace Mirabella

I love autobiographies, but I must say that I’m always a little suspicious of them.  What exactly is it that the author has chosen *not* to tell?  I mean, think about it; if you were writing the story of your life wouldn’t you chose to leave out a thing or two?  Or maybe you would tweak the facts just a little to make you not look like such a jerk.

So that is how I approach the reading of an autobiography.  I just assume the writer is not laying it all out there, and that way I don’t get mad when I suspect she is holding back.  And, yes, Grace Mirabella does hold back.

But no matter, I loved this book anyway, if for no other reason than she gives the most marvelous inside view of working in fashion in the 1950s.  Before she became editor of Vogue in 1971, Mirabella worked her way up through the ranks, but before that she held various jobs in fashion retailing and manufacturing.  It’s a fascinating story and it makes searching out this book worth the time and money.

I imagine the most anticipated parts of the book were the chapters on Mirabella’s relationship with Diana  Vreeland.  Soon after Vreeland’s arrival at Vogue in 1962,  Mirabella decided she just could not work with her, and began seeking other employment.  Vreeland found out and countered by making Mirabella an offer she could not refuse – that of becoming Vreeland’s assistant.

It was a strange professional relationship that worked, with the flamboyant, over-the-top Vreeland’s ideas being brought to life by the practical no-nonsense Mirabella.  Mirabella got to be very good at translating Vreeland-speak: “I’m looking for the suggestion of something I’ve never seen.”

Throughout the 1960s, Vreeland’s vision for Vogue was in step with the zeitgeist of the time, but as the 1970s turned away from flower children with body paint and flowers in their hair, she either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, change.  The bosses at Conde Nast (publisher of Vogue) grew exasperated when it became obvious that Vreeland would not listen to their demands for change.  So, in 1971 Vreeland was fired and her job was given to Grace Mirabella.  The two never spoke again, something that Mirabella said she regretted.

She talked a bit about the legend of Diana Vreeland, and about how people do not have a true picture of what she was really like.  It is obvious that Mirabella had great affection for Vreeland the person, but not for Vreeland the legend.

In that way, Mirabella began her seventeen years as editor of Vogue.  If Vreeland was totally out of step with the 1970s, then Mirabella was perfect for it.  She was the champion of designers like Halston and  Geoffrey Beene and Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren who were making clothes for the lives women were living.  Her problems began when in the 1980s fashion began to turn more flamboyant.  She confessed that she did not understand what Christian Lacroix was about.

Of course, the story goes full circle when Anna Wintour applied for a job at Vogue, and during the interview when asked what position interested her, informed Mirabella that she wanted her job.  And several years later, that is exactly what she got.  Grace Mirabella found out about her firing and Wintour’s hiring from a TV report.

When this book was written in 1995, it had only been seven years since Mirabella’s firing.  In the meantime, she started Mirabella magazine with backing from Rupert Murdock, a magazine that eventually folded.  By then Mirabella had retired from the publishing world.  She is still alive, and recently attended the launch of a new book and documentary about Vreeland, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.

When Mirabella’s book was released in 1995, it was suspected that she was ready to get even with a few people by telling exactly what she knew and thought about them.  And while it’s by no means a nasty retaliation for the events at Vogue, she sure has some entertaining things to say about people.  I’ll end with a few favorites.

About Andy Warhol and his followers – “..the whole Factory crew smelling like unwashed underwear and pot, milling around the Vogue offices with a camera.”

About photographer Richard Avedon – “He achieved some of his best effects with girls who were utterly strung out  on dope…”

About the guests at a party given by Yves Saint Laurent – “…it was a ridiculously flaky crowd, filled with fashion victims and hangers-on and would-be actors and writers, and some aristocrats – all swingers of the refinedly degenerate type that you found around Europe in those years.”

About John Fairchild, publisher of Women’s Wear Daily – “…Fairchild built his power and his fortune by living off people obsessed with seeing their faces in print.  He lived off scandal, off competition, and off fear.”

About Anna Wintour – “I think, in retrospect, that she was so sure she’d soon end up in my job that she considered me more of a momentary inconvenience than a person she might have to answer to or contend with.”

Fun stuff!


Filed under Currently Reading

15 responses to “Currently Reading – In and Out of Vogue, Grace Mirabella

  1. earnedbeauty

    I love autobiographies as well so a big Thank you for this! May I share a portion of this with my readers?


  2. What fantastic quotes! It sounds like a fantastic read!


  3. wonderful review. i like your writing style.


  4. A fabulous review Lizzie. What an interesting life. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  5. I need to read this book. I’m sure she didn’t talk about the loss of advertising from couture houses and department stores whose clothing was no longer featured in the magazine editorials. I’ve always felt that the Vogue magazines in my collection published during the Mirabelli years are the most boring.


    • Yes, you would enjoy this one, Jody. She does talk at length about the relationship between editorial content and advertising, and admits that she would talk about the Lacroix collections in the “What’s New” section, but that the clothes were rarely photographed for editorial. And she mentions getting calls from angry designers because they felt slighted.

      It’s a complicated story, but it all involves the styles of the time and Mirabella’s own ideas of what a fashion magazine ought to offer. Ironically, in 1986 she asked to be moved to Self, which I think would have been a great fit for her. But she was left at Vogue in a situation for which she was not suited.


  6. Thanks for the review, Lizzie. This sounds like the perfect follow-up read to D.V.!


    • You know what? The first thing I did when I finished this book was pick up D.V. and reread it! I’ll be reviewing it next, but WOW! what a difference. I don’t think Vreeland even mentions Mirabella by name in the book, but they do recount some of the same stories, most notably, that of the suicide of Vogue society editor, Margaret Case. You would think they were talking about two different situations!


  7. Great review! Isn’t it interesting that 1971 became so pivotal? It seems to be the ‘end’ of the hippie/mod/flower child era and the beginning of the 70’s as we know it.


  8. Pingback: Currently Reading _ DV by Diana Vreeland | The Vintage Traveler

  9. Pingback: Vintage Tips, Tutorials and Links Round-Up | Penny Dreadful Vintage

  10. By coincidence, just bought a copy for £1.25 on Amazon. A Vreeland-Wintour sandwich.


  11. Pingback: Vogue, October, 1971 | The Vintage Traveler

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