Vogue Covers, Ed. Robin Derrick & Robin Muir

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The Independent Culture

The first covers of British Vogue, launched in the inauspicious year of 1916, might have come from a book of nursery rhymes, but by 1917 readers were presented with a drawing of a fur-clad, kohl-eyed beauty bloodily spearing a polar bear. Though it shocks more now than then, at least it was honest about the source of fur. Another startling image came towards the end of a gorgeous run of art deco covers: a 1931 take on Botticelli's "Venus" shows a full-frontal nude, though, as the editors point out, "a cresting wave covers her modesty". Retouching enabled the first photo covers in the Thirties to attain the perfection of illustration.

Contrary to this book's caption, "What could be more British than a conversation about taste?", a 1945 photo illustrating a bitchy contretemps was clearly inspired by US comic realist Norman Rockwell. By the Sixties, covers had settled into a scarcely wavering policy of burnished pouts.

Rare deviations were allowed for Norman Parkinson's spookily glamorous Princess Anne in 1971 and a bizarrely plump shot of Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 (in this case, the retouching was done by the subject, who transformed herself into a model). Since then, covers have become ever more formulaic. Indeed, this all-important image evolved into a single template. The last shot in the book, from September 2006, shows Kate Moss ("sexy tomboy style") in her 23rd appearance on the cover. She has since notched up another four.