Magazine / Culture / Exhibitions

Exhibition: Harper's Bazaar. First in Fashion, Paris

Teodora Cozma
On Nov 23rd, 2020

The "Harper's Bazaar. First in Fashion" exhibition, hosted by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, is designed to show the living heart and soul of Harper's Bazaar and how fashion blossomed in the magazine's pages. The exhibition examines and reconstructs a one-of-a-kind journey through 152 years of history.

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Harper's Bazar: A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure and Instruction

The exhibition "Harper's Bazaar. First in Fashion" is an eclectic mix of the historical, artistic, cultural and poetic exploration of the fashion magazines from the first one launched in New York in 1867 to the present day. The subtitle of the first issue, "Harper's Bazar: A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure and Instruction", hints at what the magazine's pages hosted and discovered throughout the 152 years of publication: the multidimensions of women as beautiful, elegant, intelligent, literary, cultured and fun-loving.

According to Dame Glenda Bailey, former Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar (2001-2020), "the mission today remains very much the same: to delight, inform, and inspire women to explore and embrace the possibilities of fashion".

Fashion magazines are "compelling [as] artefacts: they are forever of a time, and the best of them don't simply chronicle history but capture the sights and the smells and the air, unlike any other medium."

Dame Glenda Bailey

The exhibition, hosted by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, is designed to show the living heart and soul of Harper's Bazaar and how fashion blossomed in its pages. The structure of the visit follows the tagline "Harper Bazar: A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure and Instruction", examines it and reconstructs it in a one-of-a-kind journey through 152 years of history.

A Repository

The "Harper's Bazaar. First in Fashion" exhibition focuses on the conservation of a fashion collection, involving collecting and caring for the dresses, designs and custom pieces. Furthermore, the show associates the items with the images that contextualised them within the design environment of the day. The exhibition is alive because the visitor can see the process from taking the design of a dress to the end version of capturing it onto the pages of the magazine.


The visit is an experience similar to the activity of leafing through a magazine while discovering key periods and legendary figures within their environment. The enjoyment for the visitor comes from learning about the dresses, sketches, design patents and fashion shows photos.

Iconic garments from Chanel, Vionnet, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Dior show not only the beauty of the clothes and the brilliance of the designer, but also how women's fashion and society has changed throughout the 152 years of publication of Harper's Bazaar.


The visitor is learning about the field of fashion history by studying chronologically the displays staged on two floors of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. The viewer can learn about the production of Harper's Bazaar and how the magazine's visuals have evolved from drawings to prints, to posed photographs, and from black and white photography to colour.

First American Fashion Magazine

Fashion plates were defined since the eighteen-century showing a full-length isolated figure, lacking individuality, with a complete and detailed outfit against a banal background. Harper's Bazar (spelt with one "A" until 1929) was the first American magazine to dedicate itself to exploring women's lives through the lenses of fashion.

Taking inspiration from the German publication "Der Bazar", in November 1867 Harper & Brothers published the first issue, "Harper's Bazar: A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure and Instruction". Harper's Bazar launched as a weekly magazine until 1901 when it became a monthly publication. Periodicity was an essential aspect of the magazine capturing seasonal concepts and artistic eras. The frequency of the publication made it relevant as the times imposed the need for women to change outfits several times a day, depending on social circumstances.

First Editor-in-Chief

Mary Louise Booth, first Editor-in-Chief, was a journalist and historian, and her pioneering feminism, patriotism and love for all things French were the ingredients of Harper's Bazar's style. The magazine was a reflection of her personality and promoted throughout the magazine the art of good living, literary and artistic expression, and the idea of social progress. The first issue sold 80,000 copies in just three weeks, and Miss Booth became one of the best-paid women of her time.

Mary L. Booth invited contemporary authors such as Charles Dickens to contribute to the literary mission of Harper's Bazar since the first year of printing. The magazine was designed in the literary salon tradition, representing and commenting on the latest artistic and intellectual news. The approached kept readers coming back by acquiring status as both a trend-setting and conscious rising publication.

First Publication to Advocate for Women's Suffrage

Harper's Bazar's first editor-in-chief, Mary Louise Booth, was a supporter of the women's suffrage movement. She has set an editorial line following her opinions, publishing articles that pleaded the cause of women's suffrage. Visitors can see the seriocomic manifesto for the women's right to vote from the page of November 28 1868's issue - titled "Why Should We Not Vote?" and a page from the June 12, 1869, issue showing eight portraits of "The champions of Woman's Suffrage" including Anna Dickinson and Susan B. Anthony.

First Magazine to Feature Denim and Bikinis

Carmel Snow, then Harper's Bazaar's editor-in-chief (1934 - 1957), spotted Diana Vreeland, in 1936, dancing in a Chanel dress at St. Regis Hotel in New York, and asked her to write a column for the magazine titled "Why don't you …?".

Vreeland became fashion editor in 1939 and had a significant impact on the magazine's photographic identity, contributing to the choice of models, accessories and shooting locations. During these times, photographer Luis Dahl-Wolfe, used coloured film to capture earth tones and tanned skin. During the war, outdoor shots of sportswear and daywear from the American collections replaced the Paris fashions and the legend says that Vreeland's love of sunlight influenced the fashion for jeans and bikinis.

First Magazine to Celebrate Dior's New Look

In February 1947, Carmel Snow grasped the impact of Christian Dior's first collection and coined the title "New Look" of the style that would dominate the post-war years. Dior's designed his dresses as sculptures, often having bustiers or boned corsets, creating sharply defined silhouettes. The designs reflected the transformation of the old world now under the influence of the Americans.

In the post-war years, there was a fascination with American fashion. Dior was proposing in his first collection a return to the luxury, romanticism and certain outdated bourgeois traditions of pre-war France through his "femme-fleur". Dior's New Look incorporated elements of American culture into the designs such as provocative curves of the pin-up girls and the femmes fatales of films noir derived from the American burlesque. Dior's first collection became synonymous with modernity.

First Magazine to Have a Man on its Cover

In 1970s, improvements to the optical quality of the telephoto and multi-layered lens, along with better processing techniques for the colour film, the portrait became a trend for extremely close-up photographs. The face details were captured by the sharp focus of the lens, such as eyelashes, eyebrows and tanned skin. The face details became article subjects, later described in the beauty section of the magazine. The success of such portraits depended heavily on mastering the art of makeup and lighting, to show a shadow-free face and to create the effect of a halo around the hair through backlighting techniques.

Richard Avedon introduced the extreme close-up techniques in portraits, cropping the image so the face would fill the entire cover. Previous portraits were missing the sharpness of the photography such as the 1956 portrait of Audrey Hepburn, the first actress on the cover of Harper's Bazaar.

The Harper's Bazaar's February 1965 cover surprised the audience with the portrait of actor Steve McQueen. The photograph shows an incredible amount of details of the actor's face and marked the first time a man was on the cover of a women's fashion magazine. The co-art director Ruth Ansel stirred the readers' interest by creating a mysterious cover for February 1965. The ingenuity and outside the box thinking stirred the curiosity about the glamourous woman whose hand belongs to.

"Harper's Bazaar: First in Fashion" is the first exhibition dedicated to a fashion magazine in which the visitor can experience more than just the archives of the publication. It is an all-rounded experience encompassing the photographs, designs, clothes and men and women behind the magazine, travelling through 152 years of fashion, culture and society changes.

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