(1877 to 1957)
Claim to fame: Turned Vogue, where she worked for more than 50 years, 38 of them as editor in chief, into the undisputed leader among fashion magazines.
Quote: “Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.”
Life in 300 words or less: Edna Woolman Chase’s major accomplishments are more likely to be filed under Fashion than under Editing. During World War I, for example, when Parisian couturiers could no longer get their creations across the Atlantic, she organized America’s first fashion show, giving domestic designers some previously denied cachet. As Time magazine would later characterize her rise, Chase “began playing to the rising U.S. upper middle class” by publishing photos of smartly dressed high-society types and selling dress patterns “so that every U.S. woman could look as chic.”
As an editor, however, she did give young Dorothy Rothschild (later Parker) a start as a combination writer, fact-checker, and proofreader; it was for Chase’s Vogue that the future Mrs. Parker wrote her oft-quoted line “brevity is the soul of lingerie.” Chase also published Thomas Wolfe, sent reporters to cover World War II, and, perhaps most surprisingly for a fashion editor, ran photos of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Though the woman who comes across in her memoirs seems reasonably down to earth, a more-imperious Chase appears in other works. Marion Meade, a biographer of Dorothy Parker, describes her as an “autocrat” who insisted her ill-paid junior staffers arrive each day in hats, white gloves, and black silk stockings. Another story, perhaps apocryphal, has her telling her staff that hurling oneself in front of a speeding subway train (as one apparently had) was too crass an exit for Vogue women and that a quiet overdose was preferable.
For more: Chase, and daughter Ilka, an author and actress, collaborated on her autobiography, “Always in Vogue,” published by Doubleday in 1954. Several of Chase’s successors at Vogue also followed her in publishing memoirs, including Grace Mirabella, later editor of Mirabella magazine, whose “In and Out of Vogue” (Doubleday, 1995) is a masterpiece of score settling. Liz Tilberis published her memoir, “No Time to Die” (Little, Brown), in 1998 before her death the following year. Chase’s flamboyant successor Diana Vreeland is the subject of several books, including her own “D.V.” (Knopf, 1984) and the more recent “Diana Vreeland,” by Eleanor Dwight (William Morrow, 2002). — Greg Daugherty, 9/08, 10/18