From Publishers Weekly
From her perch as editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar
from 1932 to 1957, Carmel Snow (1887–1961) defined fashion for hundreds of thousands of American women for a quarter century. Her apprenticeship in fashion journalism began when Condé Nast hired her at Vogue
in 1922. Jumping ship a decade later to work for Nast's rival, Hearst's Bazaar
, Snow set out to redefine the fashion magazine to include anything—fiction, diets, theater reviews, politics—of interest to a fashionable woman. To give Bazaar
a unique and arresting visual style, she hired layout artist Alexei Brodovitch, plus a succession of innovative photographers: Man Ray, Munkasci, Dahl-Wolfe, Avedon. For verbal flair, Snow hired the always outrageous Diana Vreeland, and commissioned works from creative artists like Truman Capote and Andy Warhol. Rowlands, who freelances for the fashion press, is great at explaining the fashion world—the rise and fall of key designers, or the significance of various styles. But she's clearly uncomfortable exploring Snow's personal side; the editor never emerges as a flesh-and-blood woman until the last chapters, when she's being unwillingly retired from Bazaar
. Still, this lavishly illustrated and entertainingly informative fashion bio is "must" reading for the W
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In 1920, the thirty-three-year-old Carmel Snow was whisked from her mother's high-society dressmaking shop to be assistant fashion editor at Vogue. In 1932, she defected to Harper's Bazaar, and presided there until 1957, becoming an industry legend (she received the Légion d'Honneur for her support of French couture). Snow not only spotted trends but created them, using the magazine to boost designers such as Balenciaga, styles like the sack dress, and talents from Richard Avedon to Truman Capote. Rowlands's finely researched biography is a frothy readlike leafing through decades' worth of fashion magazinesbut Snow, however charming, had a darker side: she was ruthless in pursuit of her goals, largely ignored her society husband and docile daughters, and drank prodigiously. When in Paris, it was said, she lived on "martinis, French pastries, and vitamin B injections."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker