Object study: Summer 1955 Vogue South Africa and Rhodesia

Object study: Summer 1955 Vogue South Africa and Rhodesia

The 1955 Vogue Supplement: South Africa and Rhodesia at the center of this curatorial project is an A4 magazine consisting of forty-one pages in total composed of photography, illustration and text. Two metal staples and glue bind the pages together, with some strips of preservatory sellotape added as it aged. Whilst it is in relatively good condition for its sixty-five years, there are some obvious signs of wear including cracks on the spine and small tears on the pages throughout. It was printed by Sun Printers Limited based in London and published by Conde Nast Publications Ltd. based at 37 Golden Square, London. The cover of the magazine bears a handwritten annotation reading, “FIRST S.A. VOGUE”, however this is not confirmed. 

This supplement was printed for the Southern African region; it is called Vogue: South Africa and Rhodesia. It belongs within the genre of women's fashion magazines where the content covers elite women’s fashion, beauty and make-up, housekeeping and decor, entertaining and advertisements for fashion and textile retailers in South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Stuttafords and Barbour, who had locations in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Harare (then Salisbury). The supplement follows a layout still favoured by fashion magazines today, opening with a few spreads of advertisements, a letter from the editor, followed by editorials and articles interspersed with more advertisements.

Vogue magazine was founded in 1892 by Princeton-education American publisher, Arthur Baldwin Turnure, as a weekly journal for both men and women that documented New York’s high society and covered social gatherings and etiquette and provided reviews of theatre productions, literature and music (Borrelli-Persson, 2017). In 1909, Conde Montrose Nast, founder and owner of Conde Nast Publications, bought Vogue magazine. It was the first publication of what would become the Conde Nast publishing empire. Today Conde Nast holds over a dozen internationally distributed magazine titles including The World of Interiors, Architectural Digest, The New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair (Conde Nast Russia, 2020). Under Nast’s direction, Vogue became a monthly magazine featuring “high editorial quality” photography (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010), which became a trademark of the publishing house. The content gradually steered towards a sole focus on women’s fashion (Conde Nast Russia, 2020).

Nast, in his 1931 essay “Class Publications” wrote, “the publisher, the editor, the advertising manager and circulation man must conspire not only to get all their readers from the one particular class to which the magazine is dedicated, but rigorously to exclude all others” (quoted by Yamamoto, 2020:127). The late 1800’s saw an emergence of illustrated fashion magazines in Europe and America and with them, the editor as a public figure and tastemaker. Rosemary Cooper is credited as the editor of this 1955 Vogue supplement. Cooper, best known as the founding editor of Vogue Australia from 1959 onwards, was a British journalist (McCann, 2019) whose training included writing articles for British Vogue, “Travelog: South Africa”, in 1958 and editing British Vogue international supplements such as this 1955 Vogue South Africa and Rhodesia supplement. The editor of Vogue Britain in 1955 was Audrey Withers, who served as editor-in-chief from 1940 until 1960 (Pentelow, 2017). Withers would have had some influence on the direction of this 1955 Vogue supplement, as an extension of the publication she helmed. Both Cooper and Withers, in their positions as editors, would have been expected to ensure that their publications uphold the tenet of the publishing house and its explicitly exclusionary policies.

Like many of its contemporaries, this 1955 Vogue supplement is populated solely by white, female models who emulate a lithe, youthful beauty aesthetic promoted by mass media. It is also the dominant aesthetic that endures today (De Perhuis & Findlay, 2019:234). Other models include one real male model posed in the background of the editorial ‘Under Velvet Skies’ (pages 40-41), six illustrations showing men, and four illustrations showing children, however they are all white too. The decisions about the bodies represented in the pages of this 1955 Vogue supplement are clear reflections of Nast’s ‘class publication’ strategy, a conscious exclusion of anybody outside of the white elite, but is furthered as a racist strategy. The deliberate erasure of black bodies from ‘white’ spaces is what links this magazine to the architecture of colonialism and, in the South African context specifically, to the architecture of apartheid and forced removals – the socio-political locus in which this 1955 Vogue supplement was circulated.

A prominent shopping destination of Cape Town’s city center in 1955 was the Stuttafords department store on Adderley Street. Occupying its Adderley Street location since the late 1800’s, Stuttafords attracted a “wealthy and famous” clientele (Marwood, 2017:30) including, in 1947, Queen Elizabeth (Marwood, 2017:157). Stuttafords also occupies a prominent position in this 1955 Vogue supplement, which features goods for sale at the store in each of the editorials and almost all of the advertisements. The advertised goods include textiles for dressmaking, undergarments and beauty products. The prescribed demographic of the clientele and products advertised indicate that Stuttafords was a luxury shopping destination for a colonial, white elite. It was also a place to meet, as the upper floor featured a balcony tearoom from which its white clientele would, almost metaphorically, survey the goings on of Adderley Street from their elevated positions, a position to see and be seen. Position and seeing are further complicated by the plate-glass windows on the ground floor, installed during the 1870’s as one of the first in South Africa (Marwood, 2017:55). The development of plate glass in the 1800’s allowed for retailers to display their goods, not only to customers in stores, but now also passers by. This created an opportunity for department stores such as Stuttafords to use this new display place to play on ideas of spectacle, desire and aspiration (Rappaport, 1996:65). The black public of Cape Town’s city center in this period would be viewing Stuttafords’ wares solely through these windows. The luxury products, their associated prices and experiences on offer at Stuttafords echo the deliberate exclusionary practices of Conde Nast’s “class publishing” circulation policy. Whilst Stuttafords flaunted its expensive wares through their window displays, this 1955 Vogue supplement operates as a window through which the black viewer can view, but not experience, the products for a white, elite aesthetic.

In this reading of the 1955 Vogue supplement it becomes clearer how it acted as a visual documentation of both racism and classicism, in this way emulating the racist ideologies of both colonialism and apartheid. I will be engaging with this magazine by focusing on the deliberate exclusion and erasure of black bodies, both in South African urban centers and the pages of this magazine supplement. I look at the Movie Snaps and Drum magazine archives that offer counter-narratives in which black South Africans made and participated in fashion. And whilst they might not have been invited into the Stuttafords store or photographed for Vogue, I will consider how they reached through those windows, real and metaphorical, and exerted their presence and participation in modernity through fashion and the occupation of urban spaces.


Borrelli-Persson, L. 2017. Sarah Jessica Parker Narrates the First Years of Fashion in Vogue, Starting in 1892. Available: https://www.vogue.com/article/vogue125-video-fashion-history-sarah-jessica-parker-year-1892 [2020, October 9]

Conde Nast Russia. 2020. History. Available: www.condenast.ru/en/portfolio/magazines/vogue/history. [2020, October 9]

De Perhuis, K. & Findlay, R. 2019. The Fashionable Ideal: How Fashion Travels. Fashion Theory (23)2:219-242.

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Vogue: American magazine. Available: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Vogue-American-magazine [2020, October 14]

Marwood, J. 2017. The History of Stuttafords Department Stores of South Africa: 1858 - 2017: Expansion, Takeovers, Makeovers, Collapse. (Unpublished)

McCann, E. 2019. Editor’s Letter. Available: https://www.pressreader.com/australia/vogue-australia-9FAU/20191201/281517932942093 [2020, October 9]

Pentelow, O. 2017. Vogue Editors Through The Years. Available: https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/past-british-vogue-editors-history?image=5d545662516374000824586c [2020, October 9]

Rappaport, E. 1996. “The Halls of Temptation”: Gender, Politics and the Construction of the Department Store in Late Victorian London. Journal of British Studies 35(1):58-83.

Yamamoto, Y. 2020. When Faulkner Was in Vogue: The American Women’s Magazine. The Journal of Modern Periodical Studies. 11 (1): 127-143.