One of the best bits about my day job are when I get to take myself off to the library to check a page number or a reference in something as beautiful as La Gazette du Bon Ton. There's a set in the collection of the National Art Library, and in various other museums and collections around the world.
Though not a household name, I'm almost positive you'll recognise some of the images that have come from the pages of this magazine. Published only from 1912 until 1925, the gorgeous colour plates of illustrations, showing what was the latest in Parisian couture, remain the main selling point now, as they must have done back then. Easy Art have, in fact, just issued some of the illustrations as prints, including the design below, probably eager to make the most of Gatsby fever.
La Gazette was established by Lucien Vogel to be a luxury lifestyle magazine with a yearly subscription cost that would go into the hundreds today. Edna Woolman Chase describes it as "one of the most delightful small magazines ever produced". Couturiers of the day, such as Paul Poiret, Charles Worth and Jeanne Paquin, would sign contracts so their fashions would only be reproduced in the pages of La Gazette. Their designs were lovingly depicted by illustrators such as Georges Barbier, Erté and Paul Iribe and reproduced in a special section of "hand-coloured plates engraved on hand-made paper." The thick pages feel every bit as luxurious to browse (oh-so-cautiously now) today. Even then, Vogel was looking back in history, to a time when fashion plates and their artists were held in much higher esteem than in the early twentieth century. With his magazine, as Woolman Chase describes, before his "delighted eyes, a school flowered in which the students were all fine draftsmen with creative ability."
The illustrations are absolute gold for fashion researchers, not just because they illustrate the fashions of the Art Deco in their glittering glory. They also show the shifting silhouettes of the period, and the whole range of occasions a wealthy woman would need to be dressed for. Above are some tailored afternoon outfits from the collection of Georges Doeuillet in 1920, for example, illustrated by Fernand Simeon.
This opulent waistcoat with fur-trimmed jacket designed by Worth is presented as a suitable ensemble for visiting the races in this 1913 illustration. They showed resort clothes, evening dress and even cars, for the magazine was devoted to the fine arts of living in all its forms, reinforced in the magazine's copy as well as in its illustrations.
So, what happened to the magazine? Although Woolman Chase describes it as "a casualty of the First World War", it had been bought by Condé Nast in the early days of the war with the intention of using the material for a US publication, La Gazette du Bon Genre. But Woolman Chase argues, Nast was always more concerned about keeping the circle of artists who were working on the magazine, but also contributing to Vogue, away from the acquiring grasp of Hearst, and the original idea which made the magazine so special became diluted and eventually fell by the wayside. Vogel stayed firmly within the Nast empire for several years, founding L'Illustration modes, which became Le Jardin des Modes, and then working as artistic director for French Vogue.
Even the very sensible Woolman Chase mourned the death of La Gazette. She argues that, "looked at today, the work of the gifted group of artists who created it is still fresh and elegant." A century or so later, looking at the illustrations, whether in poster or the original or whatever form, it remains hard to disagree.