Fashion magazines are an essential part of the fashion industry worldwide, and the medium by which fashion information is conveyed from source to consumer. The Australian market consumes more magazines per capita than any other OECD country.
European settlement of Australia coincided with late 18th-century development of fashion journalism in lifestyle magazines, accompanied by fashion plates depicting new styles. Imported fashion periodicals, such as R. Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c (1809–28), were available from Australian booksellers and in some colonial households. Detailed fashion information was printed in local and imported papers, as well as illustrated newspapers and magazines like the Australian Town and Country Journal (1870–1919), which included a fashion column and plate in each issue.
Women’s magazines proliferated after the Australian gold rushes. Many colonial periodicals carried fashion notes, but no local magazine was dedicated to the reporting of fashion until the advent of Weigel’s Journal of Fashions (1880–1947). The first fashion magazine designed, published and printed in Australia, it offered illustrated fashion articles, housekeeping hints and serialised fiction alongside a mail-order service for printed dress-making patterns.
The emergence of fashion photography is directly linked to the rapid expansion of mass print media following the invention of the photomechanical half-tone process in 1881. This led to the publication of society wedding and engagement pictures in weekly and monthly illustrated papers and magazines. Captions describing the fabric, cut and colour of clothing soon became as much about fashion and style as about society news and gossip.
As photographs provided models of aspirational dress for consumers, international society magazines like Vogue (1909– ) shifted their focus to showcasing elite clothing. Through magazines, fashion photographs started to displace hand-drawn illustrations in the business of promoting and selling clothes. Worth’s Australian Fashion Journal (1898–1901), a modest Sydney publication trading on the name of Charles Worth (1825–95), the father of haute couture, favoured illustration over photography.
Australian women had an international reputation for fashion consciousness, and the strong local market for imported fashion magazines, illustrations and photographs ensured Australian manufacturers were well informed and capable of producing the latest styles on demand. Advertorials in the daily press for Everylady’s Journal (1911–38) confirmed Australasian women still looked to foreign magazines for fashion information, but suggested that this ‘splendid Australian woman’s magazine’ rendered this unnecessary.
The beginnings of Australian fashion advertising photography appear just before World War I, commissioned by Australian retailers for dedicated sections in local newspapers and monthly cultural magazines. Sydney department store Anthony Hordern & Sons’ six-page colour advertorial for spring millinery, published in the 2 September 1907 issue of J.F. Archibald’s Lone Hand (1907–21), is an early example. But it was not until the 1920s that advertisers, publishers and photographers responded to public demand for more information about the clothes of influential women by offering details about where these garments or replicas could be obtained.
Only two Australian publications resembled dedicated fashion magazines in the 1920s: the Home (1920–42) and Fashion and Society (1929–49). The Home was established by publisher Sydney Ure Smith in 1920. Fashion editress Julia G. Lister and ‘specialist photographer’ Harold Cazneaux promoted ‘the latest and best achievements in dress ... that commerce has been able to make available for Australian wardrobes’. The Home’s first photographic cover (February/March 1931) predated Vogue by more than a year.
Realising the influence of Hollywood fashions on readers, magazine editors included regular features illustrated with studio publicity stills. Priced at sixpence, Fashion and Society’s eye-catching colour covers belied its rather pedestrian editorial content. The magazine was packed with imported movie star fashions, bolstered by advertisements for local retailers and fashion designers; staff photographer Rob Hillier snapped society comings and goings. During the war, Hillier’s largely advertorial, black and white photographs were also used on the cover.
Between 1930 and 1950, Sydney became the centre of fashion magazine publishing in Australia. While up-market magazines offered more elegant fashion drawings and photographs, cheaper magazines like New Idea (1902– ), Woman’s Budget (1906–34) and the Australian Women’s Weekly (1933– ) promoted down-to-earth images of young working girls and married women. All published similar content and, from the war years on, their covers present a pictorial parade of Australian women’s popular culture preoccupations with royal pageantry, Hollywood lifestyles and celebrity, romance, beauty and high fashion.
The end of World War II saw a resurgence of local interest in high fashion ignited by the annual parades (1946–49) sponsored by the Women’s Weekly and local department stores. (Sir) Frank Packer’s sister-in-law, Mary Hordern, was recruited to organise these glamorous showcases of French haute couture paraded by international models, simultaneously kick-starting the Australian fashion manufacturing and image-making industries and boosting the Women’s Weekly’s circulation to over 750,000.
By the 1950s, fashion advertising, editorial and illustration work had become a major specialist industry for photographers and their growing band of collaborators. Despite the addition to local magazine racks of Glamor: The Magazine for Young Women (1947–50, then absorbed into Woman) and Distinction (1947–71), there were still only two exclusive fashion magazines produced in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s: Vogue Australia (1959– ) and Flair (1956–73), both based in Sydney.
Prior to launching a full edition of VogueAustralia in 1959, British Vogue (1919– ) produced the Vogue Supplement for Australia from its Autumn/Winter 1956 issue. Rosemary Cooper, Vogue Australia’s inaugural editor, saw potential for a stand-alone edition during her first visit to Australia in 1952, and set about convincing her Condé Nast colleagues that an Australian supplement was a ‘must’.
Vogue’s genteel, mature tone was in direct contrast to the bright and breezy style of Flair, its only serious local competitor. Edited by Dorothy Dale Ryman, Flair offered a more inclusive blend of overseas fashions and Australian-made garments, styling and career advice aimed at 16- to 25-year-olds, filling the youth gap until the advent of POL (1968–86) and Dolly (1970– ). From the 1960s, colour photography played a key part in fashion reporting.
The 1970s and the 1980s saw the launch of Rag Times (1977–81), published in a newspaper format, Mode (1977–97), later absorbed into Harper’s Bazaar & Mode (1998– ), Follow Me (1982–91) and Follow Me Gentlemen (1984– 91). An innovative mix of art, music and fashion, Follow Me pre-figured the avalanche of highly individualised, locally produced independent magazines hitting Australian news-stands in the ensuing decades. New titles since the 1990s have included Black & White (1993–2007), Oyster (1995– ), Yen (2002– ), Frankie (2004– ) and Russh (2004–). Australian editions of prominent international magazines continue to be released into the local market with mixed success; recent additions include Grazia (2008–13) and the September 2013 relaunch of Elle.
The independently published bi-annual fashion/art/music magazine doingbird (2001– ) is a product of the creative partnership between Australian fashion photographer Max Doyle and editor Malcolm Watt. Available internationally online and in hard copy, doingbird sits at the crucible of art fashion photography and alternative publishing today.
REFs: M. Maynard, Out of Line (2000); D. Palmer and K. Rhodes, ‘Envisioning Independence: Fashion Photography in Australia’, in B. English and L. Pomazan (eds), Australian Fashion Unstitched (2010).