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100 years of dogs in Vogue

Forget diamonds – the ultimate fashion accessory of the last century had a tail and a wet nose. Now a book of historic Vogue shoots reveals how trends in dog ownership reflected women's lives. By Judith Watt

Wednesday 30 September 2009 00:00 BST

It was while researching back issues of British Vogue for a special millennial issue in 1999 that I came across something quite unexpected among the fashion photographs in the magazine's archive: thousands of canines. "The next best thing to having the world at your feet is to have a dog at your heels," Vogue proclaimed in 1930, and over a century of its pages, the animals have been companions, accessories, barely-legible scribbles, caricatures, stars of the grandest photographic portraits and of whimsical fashion illustrations. They are the subject of essays and sometimes treated as celebrities. Taken together, the best of the photographs and features provide a fascinating record of society's changing preferences for breeds and the evolving role of dogs in women's lives.

Later, in the course of turning all this into a new book about dogs in Vogue, I discovered that the American and French editions yielded marvellous material too: the young Dorothy Parker on fashions in dogs; a rare illustration of a Sloughi personally dressed by Gabrielle Chanel; Irving Penn's photographs of his wife, the model Lisa Fonssagrives, relaxing with her poodle Fido; a dedicated advertising section called "the Dog Mode". Political history was here too: one could see how the popularity of German dogs waxed with the Weimar Republic and waned with the outbreak of the Second World War. But most of all, dogs in Vogue have been aspirational, from Elsie de Wolfe pictured with her Pekingese Wee Toi of Downshire in 1911 to Vivienne Westwood and her wire-haired fox terrier Alexandra in 1994.

Anyone labouring under the delusion that dogs are just man's best friend and women prefer cats will think again. "History", Vogue instructed the reader, "cites more examples of faithful dogs than of faithful friends ... " Elsewhere they are described as "the only friends that money can buy". Articles before the First World War proudly describe female kennel owners breeding large dogs like Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, the Dogue de Bordeaux and, in the case of the formidable Duchess of Newcastle, Borzois (Russian wolfhounds)."It says much for the Britisher's love of a dog that every year some new breed makes its appearance," said the magazine in 1914. "It is almost always under the auspices of a woman exhibitor that the initial bark is uttered."

When American publisher Condé Nast purchased Vogue in 1909 it was an ailing New York Society weekly. He turned it into the most powerful women's style and fashion magazine of the last century, one that became a benchmark of what he called "gracious living": old money, class, the gilded, post-Victorian era that ended in 1914. Half of its readers would find themselves in its pages; the other half would aspire to be there. Now, Vogue is far more accessible, but then, every nuance of stylish living was held up for inspection, including dogs.

The first copies of the magazine in the 1910s reflected the wave of Orientalism sweeping Paris under the influence of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and the designer Paul Poiret, and so naturally dog breeds from the near and far east were favoured. As British colonial interests expanded, "novelty" imported breeds appeared in the west, such as the rare Sacred Temple dogs of Pekin, brought back by British troops from the sacked Summer Palace in Beijing, which, weighing 10lb, cost as much as $1,000. Pekingese were beloved by smart Fifth Avenue matrons like Mrs Benjamin Guinness as well as the celebrities of the day, including society interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe and her little Wee Toi of Downshire. "No woman who owns that lily of the field, a Pekingese, can be accused of selfishness," wrote dog lover Dorothy Parker in February 1917. "She simply hasn't the time to think of herself. His Serene Highness demands unceasing attention."

By 1918, Parker was maliciously writing: "Modern woman no longer hangs around gates waiting wistfully for the hero to come home. You see, she has taken his job in the factory." Over 1.75 million unmarried women were likely to remain so; others were widowed, and some of those, facing life without children, chose dogs instead. Vogue hinted darkly at the "issues" of dog-as-baby, without stating the obvious: the then-phenomenally popular Pekingese and French bulldogs lend themselves to anthropomorphism precisely because their eyes are at the front of their spherical heads, and they have retroussé noses. Suffice it to say that Paris quickly became the centre for dog clothes.

In 1924, more women owned dogs than men. Said Vogue: "Within the past generation women have taken a foremost place in the cultivation of canine novelties. The formidable Great Dane is now almost more distinctly a woman's dog than a man's, and the Chow Chow is certainly so. To be truly in the fashion as a doglover, one must possess an Alsatian." Not mentioned is either that the Alsatian Rin Tin Tin had become one of Hollywood's newest celebrities, nor the fear that many women felt living alone or in woman-only households. Large dogs offered protection.

Then as now, looks mattered. "As with spring fashions and styles, so with dogs," read another editorial in 1932, "Both are slim and trim, and the Borzois, the Salukis, the greyhounds, made perfect reflection of the modern sleek figure." Swift and streamlined sight hounds appear repeatedly in fashion images notably Cecil Beaton's portrait of Georgia Sitwell and her borzoi Feo, a look pastiched in the early 1970s by Biba.

Canine trends take a good 10 years to evolve (the average lifetime of a dog) and certainly overlap. So in the early 1930s, Vogue showed elderly Pekingese, young and middle-aged terriers that reflected the art deco fashion silhouette of the day, like Sealyhams and Scottish terriers. By the mid 1930s wire-haired fox terriers were almost too popular for Vogue, however, especially after the release of The Thin Man in 1934, which starred Asta, a prolific dog actor of the period.

No, smart women wanted novelty, and those dogs came from the again-fashionable Germany: dachshunds, boxers, Dobermans, and the toy and miniature schnauzers. Of the latter, American Vogue enthused in 1932: "to feel thoroughly part of the fashions you will want one of these German terriers. It has style, and imparts it to its owner."

By 1939 traditional standard poodles and cocker spaniels had made a comeback, echoing the nostalgia for 19th century in fashion. But during the Second World War, a caption was likely to read "model's own" if a dog appeared. After the war, there was a rush on dogs (some breeds, like the Chihuahua and mastiff were almost extinct in Britain), and short-haired breeds and non-shedders like poodles were easy to manage, could live in flats and were easy to transport. Beaton's informal picture of his friend Lady Diana Cooper at the British Embassy in Paris, clutching a black standard poodle around her as if for warmth, is telling: it was a very cold winter. Sadly, the dog is anonymous.

Those exemplars of gracious living, the women of fashion from between the wars, faded, to be replaced by more approachable Jacqueline Bouvier, Gloria Guinness and CZ Guest; the young women of the 1960s and 1970s were too busy working and partying to pose with anything larger than a Yorkshire terrier. From 1945 until 1963, dogs in Vogue were mostly part of fashion editorial, photographed by Henry Clarke, Eugene Vernier, Helmut Newton, Norman Parkinson, Cecil Beaton and Anthony Armstrong-Jones.

When Jean Shrimpton was photographed by David Bailey with her Yorkshire terrier Bertie and her mixed-breed dog Mongie in 1963, a new informality began. In the 1970s, Helmut Newton made dogs a brooding presence, eschewing the saccharine dog-as-prop scenario that afflicts so many post-1945 images. The 1970s and 1980s had freshness and energy too, like the picture by Alex Chatelain of a girl in the Bahamas, carrying an utterly-uninterested mixed-breed dog under her arm. Then there's Mary, Lady Fretwell (founder of Passports for Pets) at the British Embassy in Paris in early 1987: minimum focus on her dogs, maximum on Lady Fretwell and the lavish interiors.

The magazine still holds up a mirror to its times and continues to tell the story of women's canine companions. Since the mid-1990s Vogue has carried more celebrity content, with "papped" dogs, shots from the runways and fashion week parties on its pages. When British Vogue published a shoot entitled Doggy Bags in 1996 it was on the cusp of a big trend: "handbag dogs", the apotheosis of which has been Paris Hilton's costumed Chihuahua, Tinkerbell. "You can't have any style at all," declared American designer Isaac Mizrahi in 1996, "without the right dog, and the right dog is a small one." One New York dog trainer told Vogue that being carried in a bag could be a bonding process: "These bags are a combination of what dogs enjoy (being close to us) and what humans enjoy (nurturing and caring for our dogs). It's a perfect balance." The handbag-sized canine with its doll/baby overtones looks set to continue, despite criticism from the RSPCA. Yet there are sensible moments, too: Vogue's image of model Lily Donaldson leading a lurcher, traditionally a poacher's dog, in 2005, and designer Marc Jacobs hugging his English Bull terrier Alfred, are dignified and touching images. And if anyone wants to know which is the most fashionable dog today, it's one from a rescue centre.

"Dogs In Vogue: A Century of Canine Chic" by Judith Watt is published next week in hardback by Little, Brown (£40). To pre-order a copy for the special price of £36 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit

A Girl's Best Friend: Dogs in Vogue

The Go-Betweens, by Marc Hom, May 1997

Vivienne Westwood with her wire-haired fox terrier Alexandra in the bicycle basket. Miss Westwood and model are wearing the designer's Red Label spring/summer 1997 collection. 'Vogue' once described her as the 'Queen of King's Road', cycling from her home in Clapham to her shop World's End. Her forte is taking elements of British dress and twisting them around, from tweeds to the traditional twinset and pearls. And for a designer who has a label called 'Anglomania' her choice of a wire-haired fox terrier is not surprising: it's so English, and its great era of popularity was the inter-war period of well-cut tweeds and courageous eccentricity.

Cover by Eduardo Benito, June/July 1930

Beach trousers and suntans were made popular by Chanel in the late 1920s – 'for the summer, one must be outdoors; the first rapture of being in the open air all day is at its height'. The financial situation meant readers must practise economy and, for the first time, Vogue Patterns is advertised on the cover. Benito illustrated over 90 covers for 'Vogue'. Here, mistress and dog are playing; the dog watches the woman's face and waits for the ball to be thrown so she can head up the beach after it. It's a fantasy dog, though: a greyhound shape, but with a busy tail and body elongated by a third.

Editor's note, by John Rawlings, April 1944

'Mrs John Rawlings, fashion editor, stands against a kaleidoscope screen of 'Vogue' pages – a golden monochrome in a silk crepe dress designed by Falkenstein'.

In 1944, 'Vogue' featured its much planned 'Editor's Note' in which eight of its fashion editors 'handed themselves over to photographers and artists' to show how each one dressed to suit her own distinct type and how she planned her wardrobe. This piece led with 'Babs' Rawlings – the British-born former wife of Comte Rene Bouet-Willaumez, she married John Rawlings in 1942 – posing with one of her two cocker spaniels.

The Duchess of Windsor wearing Mainbocher and accompanied by a greyhound, by Cecil Beaton American 'Vogue', June 1937

Mrs Ernest Simpson's name was increasingly linked with the Prince of Wales from 1932, when they were introduced by his then mistress, Lady Furness. Wallis Simpson was immaculate in her elegance; shortly after the death of George V in 1936, 'Vogue' wrote that 'Mrs Ernest Simpson is now the best dressed woman in town'. Later that year, however, Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry 'the woman I love' and British 'Vogue' ceased its coverage of her. Edward had given Mrs Simpson a Cairn puppy called Slipper, nicknamed Mr Loo, with whom she fled from Britain to stay with friends in France in 1937. (Curiously, in 1932, 'Vogue' had described Cairns as 'the wife's friend, the lover's solace, the companionate angle in any emotional triangle... He may claim to be "under royal patronage" for the Prince has a Cairn'.) Sadly, Slipper was bitten by a viper when he was chasing rabbits with the host's Scotties, causing great distress when he died on 6 April, shortly before this photograph was taken.

The investment guide to suits, by Hans Hammarskjold, September 1954

Matita, an upmarket wholesale fashion brand, had form when it came to pedigree dogs posing with models, as fashion editor Pat Cunningham well knew. In this gentle tongue-in-cheek photograph, the model is wearing a Matita camelhair suit that blends with the golden coat of the Pembroke corgi, Crinny, last seen in 'Vogue' photographed by Cecil Beaton. Crinny is looking to the right of Hans Hammarskjold's camera, presumably at her mistress.

Lady Diana Cooper at the British Embassy in Paris, by Cecil Beaton, 1946

In 1928 'Vogue' called Lady Diana Cooper 'the most adulated beauty of her generation'. A woman of quick wit, warmth and humour, whether in the role of debutante, nurse, actress, hostess, farmer, mechanic, or ambassadress, in every guise 'Vogue' celebrated her. Beaton took this informal photograph of his friend cuddling a standard poodle, when her husband was an ambassador to France. (Vogue didn't publish the picture until 1969). Never a slave to fashion, her 'style' was entirely natural and she is wearing the same pre-war dress – probably by Molyneux – throughout the shoot. When it came to dogs she was equally idiosyncratic. Her first Bedlington was called Major. A second, Major II, was sent to the Aquitania to join her when she was performing in Max Reinhardt's production of 'The Miracle' in 1924. He was the gift of an admirer, Bertram Cruger, who accompanied the puppy on the voyage from Britain. Lady Diana was later inseparable from her Chihuahuas.

Princess Radziwill with Thomas, her pug, by Henry Clarke, August 1960

Lee Radziwill [née Bouvier] was the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, who was shortly to become America's first lady. Lee's first marriage ended in divorce and her second, in 1959, was to Prince Stanilas Radziwill, an ex-pat Polish nobleman. Henry Clarke photographed her at Turville Grange, her 18th-century country house in the Thames Valley, with her pug, Thomas, who would accompany her to tea at the Ritz. As children, the Bouvier girls had a number of dogs as pets that included a dachshund, a Scottish terrier, a spaniel and a white bull terrier. Thomas represents a return to favour of the pug.

Naomi Campbell and Dolce by Patrick Demarchelier, December 2007

Naomi Campbell 'takes on London' from Mayfair to Holborn, in a story of 'uptown glamour' by fashion director Lucinda Chambers. Here, Campbell is outside the Dorchester, assisted by doormen Neil Walker, Neville Payne and James Purdy, with Dolce, her Yorkshire terrier, seated in a leather Louis Vuitton dog-carrier.

Jean Shrimpton and Bertie, by Eugene Vernier, February 1963

'I have always been crazy about animals,' said Jean Shrimpton, the first model to epitomise the 'look' of the 1960s. 'One of the most pleasing signs of acceptance is that I can take my dog around the studio with me.' She and David Bailey met in 1960 and soon became a couple; in 1961 his first photograph of her appeared in 'Vogue'. They kept a minor menagerie, with their dogs and Bailey's pet birds. Bailey gave her a Yorkshire terrier puppy she named Bertie. He 'is a tiny mite, but great company', she wrote in 'The Truth About Modelling' (1964).

Gilding the embassy: Lady Fretwell and her dogs, by James Mortimer, March 1987

Lady Mary Fretwell, wife of Sir John, British Ambassador to Paris, at breakfast in the gallery overlooking the Embassy gardens. The Fretwells had spent years on diplomatic postings and each time they returned to Britain, they would have to quarantine the dogs for six months. Returning from Paris in 1987, Bettie, their favourite Basset (seen here), was placed in kennels and suffered terribly: 'He was a different dog after the experience and died soon afterwards.' The experience led to Lady Mary founding Passport for Pets, a 10,000-strong organisation that sought to replace the quarantine system with inoculations and blood tests that verified cats and dogs as rabies-free. On 28 February 2000 the first phase of the Pet Travel Scheme was implemented.

Vogue's eye view: sun body special in the Bahamas by Alex Chatelain, May 1979

Photographer Alex Chatelain was originally commissioned to work for British 'Vogue' by its art director, Terry Jones, and was one of a group of young French photographers based in Paris in the late 1970s that included Arthur Elgort and Partrick Demarchelier. They challenged the formality of fashion photography and expressed an upbeat, outdoor spontaneity in their work. 'Stretch out in the sun. The body in question is yours, now bronzed and bared in new ways ... Sun bodies in sun shock scarlet and lemon.' Photographed at Shark's Creek, Great Harbour Cay, the model is in Fendi's thin-strap Lycra suit. The dog, twisting to get away, provides a neutral note in this lively Technicolor-bright story.

A right royal to-do, by Mario Testino, December 2001

'Vogue's "Royal Salute" began,' said British 'Vogue' editor Alexandra Shulman, 'when our creative director, Robin Derrick, arrived in my office, laden with boxes piled high with large envelopes. Inside were photographs of the royal family dating back to the start of the 20th century, pulled from the depths of the 'Vogue' archive. Although most had, at some time or other, been published in the magazine, this had taken place over so many years that there were wonderful pictures that I had never seen before. It seemed ridiculous to leave these photographic treasures lying unseen in our library, so I decided to publish them in a special issue.' No homage to the British royal family would have been complete without the Pembroke corgi, and here are four, bedecked in ribbons, seated above, beside and upon the model in her vintage satin corset-dress by John Galliano.

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