Grace Mirabella, influential editor-in-chief of Vogue who started her own magazine, dies at 92

Grace Mirabella, who was fashion’s most influential voice during her 17 years as editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, reshaping publication towards simplicity and practicality before later launching a rival magazine called Mirabella, is died on December 23 at her Manhattan home. She was 92 years old.

The death was confirmed by a stepson, Andrew Cahan, who said there was no specific medical cause.

Mirabella started working at Vogue in the early 1950s, later describing it as a place “with gorgeous editors roaming the halls like peacocks.”

Shortly after the wayward and flamboyant Diana Vreeland was appointed editor-in-chief of the magazine in 1963, Mirabella became one of its best assistants. Vreeland made Vogue a showcase for elite, mostly European designers and jet-set readers, with clothes – like a bikini made of gold chains – rarely seen anywhere other than on a fashion show.

The magazine had a huge presence in the fashion world, but as its circulation and advertising began to wane, Vreeland was brutally fired in 1971 by her bosses from the Condé Nast magazine group, and Mirabella was installed in her place. .

“It was very difficult working for her,” Mirabella told the Washington Post in 1988. “But you can get along with someone who is difficult if you admire them.”

At a time when the women’s movement was gaining momentum, Mirabella brought a whole new sensibility to the magazine.

“I wanted to bring Vogue back to real women,” she said.

In one of her first moves, Mirabella had the red walls of Vreeland’s office repainted in shades of beige – her favorite color. She dumped Elizabeth Taylor and Cher from the cover of Vogue in favor of models such as Lauren Hutton, Patti Hansen and Lisa Taylor, who wore little makeup and had natural, no-frills hairstyles. Hutton’s jagged smile replaced the closed gaze and white eyeliner of 1960s Vogue models.

“It was fantasy, the wildest shores of love,” Mirabella said of the magazine she inherited from Vreeland. “I was a huge fan of her and followed her everywhere like a bird dog. But when I took over, it was no longer what we wanted.

Mirabella had a front row spot on fashion shows in Paris and New York, but her tailoring leaned more toward outfits women could wear to work or to parties. She took little interest in passing trends.

Rather than looking for fashion clues in Europe, she preferred the direct approach of American designers such as Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan.

“Fashion for me is not, and never has been, an end in itself,” said Mirabella in 1995. “You will never find me excited about epaulettes or caring deeply, in any way or is. gone up or down.

As editor-in-chief of Vogue, she banned the use of cigarettes in fashion photography, although advertisements for cigarettes still appear on the magazine’s pages. It also introduced greater coverage of the arts, health and social issues.

“She’s a very practical woman in her perspective, and she thinks about women in their clothes and how they wear them,” Beene said of Mirabella. “She has been a kind of martyr for modern women.”

During her years as an editor, Vogue was jam-packed with publicity, and the magazine’s circulation grew from 400,000 in 1971 to 1.25 million in 1988. But in June of that year, Mirabella was kicked out of the chair. of the editor as bluntly as Vreeland had been years before. .

Mirabella only learned of her dismissal after the news broke on television by gossip columnist Liz Smith. Her bosses at Condé Nast, owner of SI Newhouse Jr. and creative director Alexander Liberman, hadn’t bothered to tell Mirabella, 59, that she was being ousted in favor of Anna Wintour, 38.

Newhouse said it was time to “reposition Vogue for the ’90s,” as new magazines such as Elle began to gain wide readership. Mirabella accepted the change with aplomb, saying only that her dismissal was “very unattractive, for such a stylish place.”

She later explained that Conde Nast had forced a change in editorial direction on Vogue that made her “impatient to get out of there, but I didn’t have the courage to stop.”

Soon after, she met media mogul Rupert Murdoch for lunch. He put in the money to launch a new magazine with Mirabella not only at the helm, but with her name on the cover.

Mirabella magazine debuted in 1989, designed to fill a niche for slightly older women who were interested in more than just fashion. Sometimes described as a squire for women, he balanced articles on fashion with stories about filmmakers, politics, social issues, psychology, and travel.

“We won’t be doing a strapless dress series or articles on how you’ll love black dresses,” Mirabella said. Instead of following the latest trend, she urged women to develop a personal style that encompasses not only clothing but also the arts and a broader outlook on life.

She has cited an unlikely role model for deviating from the “isn’t-what-divine” school of fashion writing. His goal was to “make the fashion conversation as interesting as the baseball conversation.”

“There’s a candor, a straightness, nothing superimposed or faked in good baseball talk,” she told Barron’s in 1989. “He’s got a rhythm. It’s straightforward reporting, not syrupy stuff.

At first, Mirabella was a big success. It won awards and its circulation reached 625,000 copies. But it didn’t turn a profit, and in 1995 Murdoch sold the publication to the Hachette magazine group. By this point, Mirabella had strayed far from the post, leaving only her name on the cover. The magazine closed in 2000.

Marie Grace Mirabella was born June 10, 1929 in Newark and raised in Maplewood, NJ, as an only child. His father was a wine and liquor importer whose gambling brought his wife and daughter into debt after his death in the 1940s.

Mirabella’s Italian-born mother emphasized to her daughter the need to be financially independent, and Grace was working when she was 16.

At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, Mirabella edited the school’s journal and majored in economics. She graduated in 1950, then worked briefly in department stores before joining Vogue in a low-level job, checking photo captions. She spent two years working for fashion houses in Italy before returning to Vogue in the mid-1950s.

Mirabella was married in 1974 to surgeon William Cahan, who was one of the leading anti-smoking activists. He offered her $ 1,000 if she could give up her habit of taking two packs a day for a year. She collected the bet and then ordered an article from Mirabella on how cigarette companies were targeting women.

Her husband died in 2001. Survivors include two step-sons, Andrew Cahan of Pound Ridge, NY, and Christopher Cahan of Pacific Palisades, California; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Years later, Mirabella lectured, wrote a book on the jewelry company Tiffany, and contributed to magazines and online outlets. She was an advocate for educational opportunities for children.

Mirabella’s 1995 memoir, “In and Out of Vogue,” settled some scores with her former audience at Condé Nast, highlighting Newhouse’s “lackluster look” and describing Wintour, his successor as Vogue editor-in-chief, like “not someone I have long conversations with.”

In the book, Mirabella described her approach to the aesthetics of fashion and life.

“What has always interested me, passionately, is the style,” she wrote. “Style is the way a woman behaves and approaches the world. It’s about how she wears her clothes and it’s more: an attitude to life. “

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