Iediting Vogue, have been entrusted with most privileged stewardship: to tell our own stories and reflect not only who we are, but also who has helped us along the way to our distinct Australian identity and style. It is an unmissable fact that many of these are the truly remarkable women who have graced our pages over six decades – one of the longest histories of a Vogue anywhere in the world. “There are now four Vogues,” wrote Rosemary Cooper in her editor’s letter for the first ever standalone Australian issue in August 1959. “American Vogue, English Vogue, French Vogue and Vogue Australia.” Over the past 60 years, Vogue Australia has grown with Australia and Australians. And in this exciting digital age offering unlimited opportunity, we have so much more growing to do.
In 1959, Bernie Leser, who escaped Nazi Germany as a boy at the outbreak of war, succeeded in launching Vogue in his adopted homeland. The first issue, featuring a young model named Tania Mallet on the cover, was shot by the great Norman Parkinson in England and captured a dreamy sunset-like sky and shells. I like to think the magic and wonder of the image reflects the Australia he imagined – a real-life Land of Oz. Mallet, who went on to be a Bond girl, is in fact Helen Mirren’s cousin, and sadly passed away earlier this year before I had the chance to meet her.
Another talent who went on to be a giant in the world of fashion photography, Helmut Newton, had also escaped war-torn Europe to land in Melbourne, and set up his first photography studio in the 1950s. His early covers capture Australian beaches and lifestyle in a fashionable manner. One of my favourites is his image of a woman sunbaking next to a kangaroo. Another is his striking image of the stunning Maggie Tabberer, who would go on to become a national treasure.
I had the pleasure of lunching recently with Maggie and her contemporary Leo Schofield, who was an influential advertising professional at the time Vogue was launched. Both of them knew Bernie and Sheila Scotter, the first long-serving editor, well. I listened as they reminisced about those days.
The creative output of all of those extraordinary people set the foundations and tone for 50-plus more years of collaboration and inspiration with wonderful talent. This time frame has allowed Vogue editors, photographers, writers and stylists to tell our social history as it has gone from amorphous to mercurial to uniquely distinguished by the verve and boldness that comes from being our own island nation, and to highlight the “open, friendly, unneurotic” women the magazine described in 1968.
Of course, that means a truly rich cross-section in fields from beauty, health, art, science and technology, film and literature to our fascination with celebrity culture (and our unprecedented access to
it) and now, delightfully, more than ever, coding, innovation, sport and environment – the other beauty that has been the backdrop to many a shoot.
From the burgeoning voices of women to the groundswell of young activists and agitators today, Vogue has photographed politicians, princesses (Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary, not once, but twice), role models, champions, truth-tellers, storytellers, change-makers and tastemakers.
The now chairman of Vogue’s parent company Condé Nast, Jonathan Newhouse, took over as president at the start of 1990, and one of his responsibilities was to look after Condé Nast Australia, as outlined in the eulogy he gave for Bernie in New York (see page 64).
On his first visit, he discovered the Australian company had 95 staff, and 94 were women. The only man was a chain-smoking driver named Tony. Women filled all other roles in the company, from executives to sales people, editors, journalists, accountants and, of course, the president, Eve Harmon, and editorial director, June McCallum.
Thanks to his legacy and the editorships of Bernie’s colleagues Rosemary Cooper, Sheila Scotter, Eve Harmon, June McCallum and Nancy Pilcher, and then later Marion Hume, Juliet Ashworth andmy predecessor Kirstie Clements, who edited for 13 years, Vogue Australia has not only survived but thrives (read ‘From the editor’s desk’, from page 76).
At the close of the 80s, a thriving publishing enterprise composed entirely of females was most unusual. But I guess Vogue Australia has always been a bit unusual. When asked to describe what makes our title unique among our 24 sister Vogue titles around the world, I always come back to one word: spirited.
When Bernie was asked why Vogue Australia succeeded he said: “Because Australia was ready for it.” And today this still rings true. As our audience has increased, thanks to its love of our online daily newsroom, our extensive social media platforms, our public and ticketed events, and our new Vogue VIP membership program, which puts our most valuable customers – our subscribers – at the forefront of everything we do, so has our responsibility to use the ever-growing influence of the brand responsibly.
At Vogue we have always celebrated creativity. Creativity is at the heart of innovation, and many of the problems the world is facing will require that magic ingredient in order to be resolved. With this magazine I would like to think we offer hope and highlight some possible solutions.
I also believe in inclusivity, but by that I mean being inclusive of everyone rather than just one side of an argument. I think of life as a see-saw. See-saws are not fun if they are crashing to the ground on either side. I suggest that realistic balance, celebrating success and generally looking for the good is the role of Vogue.
When I got this job the era of digital disruption was well underway and I had cause to consider Vogue’s purpose. Why, in an age of usergenerated content on social media channels and free digital imagery and journalism, did our readers – indeed the world – need Vogue?
I came to the conclusion that Vogue’s role was to document the fashion Zeitgeist, our popular culture and, primarily, the women of our times through the prism of the visions of our most talented and creative designers. And in creating that imagery we were creating pictures to help tell the story of who we are – pictures that people will hang on their walls in the years to come.
So I was thrilled when the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) chose to celebrate our portraiture this year in Women in Vogue: Celebrating Sixty Years in Australia.
This issue, I feel, adds to the rich tapestry of our storytelling, which the NPG has highlighted. We have featured many wonderful Australians in our 60th edition, but I chose three in particular to highlight: Nicole Kidman, Gemma Ward and Adut Akech.
In Vogue, we of course celebrate fashion, but what makes fashion come alive is the woman who wears it. These three women have not only worn fashion exceptionally well, they have also lived extraordinary lives in it.
“When asked to describe what makes our title unique among our 24 sister
Vogue titles around the world I always come back to one word: spirited”
Nicole embodies what I think Vogue Australia should be. She is world-class in her field, sophisticated, knowledgeable and intelligent, but also gracious, kind and democratic (she notices and thanks everyone on set, from the person who gets her a tea or steams her dresses to the photographer whose talents and creative vision she also deeply respects). She has also been incredibly generous to me as an editor.
For this cover, the eighth she has shot for this magazine, she is dressed in the finest couture as envisioned by our fashion director Christine Centenera, and is covered in diamonds. A 60th anniversary is traditionally celebrated with these gems, so Christine and I set about to find the finest for this occasion.
Cartier was Vogue Australia’s first international luxury jewellery advertiser, arriving in Australia in David Jones in the 1970s. It was important to me that the diamond choices we made for this cover connected to our past and spoke of our longevity, both in publishing and in partnerships such as the one with Cartier. When we previewed the pieces featured on this cover in Paris in July we were smitten.
Gemma Ward is a mega-model and mum who has returned home. At Vogue, I call the talented young staff who travel to work in London, New York and beyond for a spell, before returning, my “boomerangs”. We have a very good track record of placing these young staffers within the Vogue family overseas. The feedback on their work consistently makes me proud. Australians are hard workers and up for a challenge, and I like that.
So Gemma is a boomerang, too. She and her husband have brought their young family back to live in one of the most precious and spiritual places near the famed Byron Bay in New South Wales. The pictures (from page 238) tell her story.
Adut. Where to start with Adut? She, like our founder Bernie, is proof of the success and importance of Australia’s willingness to welcome refugees. Immigration has been at the centre of the growth, prosperity and rich social and cultural advancement of our country.
But this is where I get to the rather difficult subject of the lack of Indigenous storytelling in our Vogue’s history. Australia is proudly home to the longest continuous living human culture, stretching and connecting back 65,000 years. And yet, as a Sydney-born and raised woman, I am embarrassingly ignorant of it. Publishing this edition has given me the chance to start to educate myself – and perhaps you, our reader.
As good fortune would have it, the incredible Bangarra Dance Theatre is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year too, and so we had the opportunity to photograph some of its dancers dressed in archival costumes at beautiful Little Bay in Sydney. I thank Yvonne Weldon for her poignant piece ‘True country’ (page 274) and her guidance for our upcoming celebrations in Sydney. And also NGV director Tony Ellwood for introducing us to photographer Michael Cook (page 268), and NGV’s curator of Indigenous art, Myles Russell- Cook, for profiling artist-jeweller Maree Clarke and artistfashion designer Lyn-Al Young (see page 178). I hope the celebration of Indigenous culture and talents will be woven into Vogue for the next 60 years and beyond.
In 1962, Vogue republished a story by American journalist Marilyn Mercer titled: ‘Australia; a man’s world, for better or worse?’ As I mentioned in my letter last month, this viewpoint was largely drawn from her observation of the dominance of sport in our culture.
“We have featured many wonderful Australians in our 60th edition, but I chose three to highlight: Nicole Kidman, Gemma Ward and Adut Akech”
“We are indeed the lucky country, but we are also clever, creative and capable”
How important then is the work of the women featured in ‘State of play’ (from page 154), who are creating opportunities for females in sports traditionally dominated by men both on and off the fields.
On a personal note, I would like to acknowledge Condé Nast, led by chairman Jonathan Newhouse, Roger Lynch, Anna Wintour and Wolfgang Blau, for their ongoing support and championing our Vogue and its unique written and visual voice from down-under. And our publishing home, News Corp, led by co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch, who is supported by his wife Sarah ( Vogue Australia’s most prolific cover girl, with 11 published during her modelling career), executive chairman Michael Miller, Penny Fowler and Nicholas Gray, for providing Vogue its home for the past 12 years and an entrepreneurial environment in which the brand has prospered and grown. Thanks to those executives also for backing some of my big ideas to make Australia better, such as the Vogue Codes campaign, which aims to engage more women in STEM by making tech and engineering more fashionable and the industries more inclusive.
And now it is time for the celebrations to begin. With a good dose of Aussie humour, I will be handing over the editorship to the hysterically funny Celeste Barber on December 12 for just one day to lead us to achieve a world record with the biggest Vogue- ing event ever on Bondi Beach. Thanks to NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, NSW Minister for Tourism, Stuart Ayres and Destination NSW, for opening up my home city of Sydney to us so that we can take the story of our Vogue and all the remarkable Australians we feature to the world.
As Maggie Tabberer notes in ‘Face value’ (from page 316), a former British Vogue editor was sent out to show us how to do Vogue when we launched in 1959, no doubt assuming we were a somewhat barren cultural landscape.
This December, in celebration of the 60th, we will welcome the present editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, to a confident, unique and culturally self-assured country. Just imagine what we might look like in another 60 years’ time.
Most importantly, I thank the staff of Vogue today for the talent, commitment and passion they pour into every word and image. We are indeed the Lucky Country, but we are also a clever, creative and capable nation, and the team I have the pleasure to work alongside at Vogue epitomises that.