Fashion journalism during times of war can reveal more than just pretty outfits. Take for example the photojournalism of Lee Miller during World War II. Serving as a war correspondent for British Vogue, the former model’s work blended the horrors of Nazi-ruled Europe with reporting on women’s lives. She even had the chance to bath in Hitler’s bathtub, which resulted into one of her most iconic photographs.
In more recent times, the Syrian Civil War has become a widely discussed topic in the fashion industry, ranging from where to donate to the decline of the country’s iconic textile industry. American Vogue even had a blunder of an article that praised Asthma al-Assad as “glamorous, young, and very chic–the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.”
Syria Through The Vreeland Lens
Although reporting on the Syrian Civil War is now common, there have been two significant moments in Vogue’s history where the publication blended Western fashion with Syrian architecture, art, and ways of life. The first occurred during the reign of Diana Vreeland, who as American Vogue’s editor-in-chief from 1962 to 1971 sent her staff to shoot editorials overseas. “You’d take a couple of models, the photographer Henry Clarke, his English assistant Nelson and a hairdresser (usually Olivier a French coiffeur from Alexandre in Paris) and off we went for say three to four weeks to Syria and Jordan,” explained Paris editor of American Vogue Susan Train of the 1965 excursions.
Models Brigitte Bauer and Editha Dussler were assigned to pose in front of Roman columns in Palmyra wearing bright white dresses with angular cutouts and sweeping necklines with three-dimensional hairstyles in various conical shapes sitting atop their heads. They were adorned with over-sized earrings, rings, and cuffs, who appeared like suntanned goddesses cutting a figure in a Roman scene. Fifty years later, ISIS bombings have caused some of the ruins to collapse.
Following the Road
Vogue UK revisited Syria in a May 2009 editorial starring supermodel Stella Tennant titled, “The Road to Damascus.” The editorial featured Tennant in gleaming suits and dresses while posing with locals near cultural icons like the Umayyad Mosque. The stunning editorial was shot two years before the start of the country’s civil war, and when compared to the photographs of the country now, displays how quick it all has changed.