This is the Village Voice‘s second full issue dedicated to fashion — but the paper’s history of fashion coverage runs far deeper than that. From 1985 to ’86, the Voice published Vue, a style magazine that ran six times within the paper, featuring an array of photographers better known for their gallery work than for fashion pictures, among them Nan Goldin, Larry Fink, William Wegman, Gilles Peress, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia.
The visual side of Vue was spearheaded by Yolanda Cuomo, a graphic designer whose work would go on to encompass collaborations with Twyla Tharp as well as projects with the Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus estates. Cuomo was handpicked to art-direct the magazine by the Voice‘s fashion editor, Mary Peacock, who oversaw Vue. “My thing was, the Voice was about great writers,” recalls Cuomo. “And so I wanted [Vue] to be about great photography.”
The magazine was shaped by Peacock’s playful, avant-garde approach to style. Peacock edited and sometimes wrote for the Voice‘s weekly style section, “V.” In a column on jumpsuits, she referenced the front-zipping uniforms of George Orwell’s 1984, noting, “[When] it comes to sex, there’s nothing you can get out of faster than an outfit held together by only one zipper.” Her sensibility shone through in Vue‘s imagery, which mixed the aesthetic edge of Soho galleries with the anarchic whimsy of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
The preview issue, which ran 32 pages in the Voice‘s November 5, 1985, edition, was called View and combined one-off features (like Fink’s black-and-white series covering a stylish evening at the Palladium nightclub) with what would become recurring elements: “Storefront Couture,” profiles of new designers in the city; “Shop Till You Drop,” a shopping-guide primer on “NYC’s favorite sport”; and “Ask Sister Soignee,” a spin-off of Cynthia Heimel’s Problem Lady column, in which the author of books like Sex Tips for Girls fed dryly humorous advice to fashion-curious readers. (“Lurking beneath your correct prose I can sense a man quaking with anxiety,” Heimel wrote in response to a husband worried about a “strange device [he] found in [his] wife’s lingerie drawer.”) But much of the writing in Vue applied the Voice‘s strength in cultural criticism to fashion. In “Why Clothes Are ‘Silly,’ ” Jeff Weinstein — then the Voice‘s art editor and restaurant critic — concluded: “Clothing is dangerous to treat seriously, because sex and pleasure have frightened the history of ideas for centuries.”
Vue was born in part as a publishing mandate, Peacock says, to help bring in ad dollars. Nevertheless, she and Cuomo were left with complete editorial control. “Total freedom” is how Cuomo sums it up; adds Peacock, “It was very ambitious and arty, but it wasn’t ad-bait. Yolanda and I just went off the rails in terms of what [publishing] wanted.”
Perhaps because of this independence, many who worked on Vue look back on the experience with fondness. Sylvia Plachy, the longtime Voice staff photographer, joyfully describes photo shoots she conducted with a near-total lack of oversight. “They left it up to me,” she recalls of “POOF! Your Skirt Is Full,” for which she photographed beskirted models in Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Cemetery. “It was a very unusual way of doing fashion; the whole thing was quite freeing,” she says. “I could have made a whole style out of photographing fashion in cemeteries.” For “The Dish on Hats,” Plachy captured celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert wearing a variety of toppers in a friend’s home on Central Park West. “No publicity people, no nothing,” Plachy remembers. “With each hat, she became a different person. An actress is the best model, because they can become people.”
For Richard Corman — famous for his portraits of Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and many others — the joy of Vue was Cuomo’s willingness to break barriers. “None of us were necessarily fashion photographers,” he says. “It just brought a different sensibility.” Given the directive to “do a story on shoes,” he got inventive. For “Investigations of a Dog,” he shot at sidewalk level and brought warmth and surprise to high-end footwear by including expressive canines in the frame. “I wanted this to be a piece that said something about New York, which was such a creative carnival,” he says.
A remarkable boldness can be found, too, in “Masculine/Feminine,” a series for which Goldin photographed women, some pregnant, wearing lingerie in the Russian and Turkish Baths on East 10th Street. “The publisher was like, ‘This is really controversial. I don’t know if we can run the Nan shoot,’ ” Cuomo recalls. “And I said, ‘Look, if the Voice can’t do controversy, who can?’ ” It ended up being a thrill, she says: “Even Howard Stern went on the radio and said how the portfolio was disgusting.”
The risks taken with the striking photography and off-center design have given Vue a reputation that has outlasted its abbreviated lifespan. “I don’t really care about fashion,” Cuomo admits. “For me, it’s just a theater for the imagination. And that was what Vue was like.”
“I was surprised that it stopped after just six issues,” Corman says, “but it makes those issues even more iconic and memorable.” And, he notes, nothing like other fashion magazines of the time. “There was nothing traditional about it, and I think that’s what was kind of great. In terms of the styling and the sensibility, it feels 21st-century. I think, in some ways, today it’s more relevant than it ever was.”
Take a look at more fashion coverage from Vue‘s 1985 to ’86 run:
More from the Voice’s spring fashion issue: