New for Now | the origin of fashion magazines

When I travelled Amsterdam last weekend one of my highlights was the recent exhibition “New for Now” at Rijksmuseum. As a woman and fashion blogger I am very interested in fashion magazines, as an art historian I am very interested in cultural change and the relation between art and fashion. The exhibition has all of it. The history of fashion magazines started already around the year 1600 and they were in a relationship with art and artists for a long time. As you can imagine the magazines changed immensly throughout the centuries. I learned and saw so much in the exhibition that I can just recommend to go and see it for yourself or to get the catalogue. This blog post would be a whole book if I tell and show you everything. But really like to give you a good overview.


The concept

The change in women’s and men’s fashion from the year 1600 up to and including the first half of the 20th century, and the development of the fashion magazine into the fashion glossies we know today, can be seen in more than 300 prints. The exhibition was designed by designer and co-curator Christian Borstlap, in collaboration with fashion illustrators Piet Paris and Quentin Jones. Many of the prints shown are from two important collections acquired by the Rijksmuseum in 2009: the Raymond Gaudriault Collection and the MA Ghering-van Ierlant Collection. All 8,000 prints from these collections can be seen from June 2015 on the website. This is the result of a multi-year project in which the prints were catalogued, described and digitalised.

The exhibition

The exhibition starts with a nice little installation about the change in fashion. And it gives you a great deal of text information at the walls (also every print has its own information plate) about the history of fashion magazines.

It’s very fascinating that the magazines we know today started as loose, hand-coloured prints before there were actual magazines. The first real publication was “Cabinet des Modes” in 1785. There was even the profession of fashion illustrators until the drawings were supplanted by photography.



The first fashion magazine “Cabinet des Modes” appeared in November 1785. As the first real magazine it was published on a regular basis. It was available by subscription only and distributed in France and abroad. Each edition contained 8 pages and 3 hand-coloured engravings. After a year the magazine name was changed to “Magasin des Modes Nouvelles Francaises et Anglaises”. Instead of three sheets it than contained a single fold-out plate depicting clothes and accessories. The publication stopped because of the French Revolution and was succeeded afterwards by the “Journal de la Mode et du Gout”.


During the times of the French Revolution the fashion press was basicly silent. This was noticeable all over Europe. And it was not before the 1850ies that there were an explosion of fashion magazines. After the French Revolution in 1797 the “Journal des Dames et des Modes” was published. For this magazine the best draughtsmen were recruited to produce illustrations. They visited spots all over Paris to see the latest styles. On the picture you see a selection of these illustrations made in the years 1797-1839.




With the society magazine “La Mode” (1804-1866) came a change to the shown mannequins. Publisher Emile de Girardin wanted pictures that were more modern and animated. He found illustrator Paul Gavarni who had the reputation of best-dressed man in Paris and gave the magazine plates a fresh spin and brought the mannequins to life.

From the 1850s fashion magazines became more affordable and gained a wider readership. The invention of the sewing machine around 1850 made it easy for nearly everyone to make their own clothes.


With hundreds of fashion magazines in circulation the first years of the 20th century saw the launch of even more. The traditional format changed in 1912 when a new way of publishing was introduced by an alliance between publishers, fashions houses and artists in Paris. “Fashion is Art” was declared by modern fashion pioneer Paul Poiret. You see some of his dresses on the picture above, hand-coloured by Paul Iribe! As fashion was declared art by such and important man fashion magazines became art magazines.

As you can see on the picture from the exhibition Paul Poiret started a fashion revolution at his times. Different colours and especially his clean lines which required no corset underneath changed fashion forever. When Poiret hired young artist Paul Iribe who did an album of illustrations, they also changed the way how fashion was shown in magazines.


The “Arrow of Gold” gown from Paul Poiret as shown in the “Gazette du Bon Ton. Art – Modes & Frivolités” features the motif of “Yabane” which is an ancient Japanese pattern still used on kimonos today. This plate was one of ten published in the december issue of this special fashion magazine. The original dress is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by the way. The magazine “Gazette du Bon Ton” was unique because of his collaborations with artists. They were drawing the Haute Couture plates of the fashion houses and were also granted space for their own designs. In each issue, three out of ten plates were reserved for those creations.



In the 20th century, especially in the 1920s accessories became more present in the magazines with plates just about items. I totally fell in love with these two, but they have plenty in the exhibition of course. There a some about shoes, bracelets, walking sticks, lighters and so on.


The exhibition even looks back at end. Before there were fashion magazines people bought costume books and prints. From around 1560-1700 costume books provided Europeans with clothing and costumes worn by foreigners. They were organized by nationality and social rank. At the end of the 17th century, emphasis shifted to fashion. Different series of prints featured prominent individuals like Marie Antoinette or before her the entourage of Louis XIV and dictated fashion all over Europe.

On the picture above you can see the book “Of Ancient and Modern Dress of the Entire World”. This early costume book was the first to add detailed information about local customs and dresses. The author Cesare Vecellio was also the first who wrote about the history of costume. Portrayed on the picture is a woman from Flanders.

I hope you enjoyed my little review of the exhibition which is far from being complete as the exhibition is so wonderful and complex.

#exhibition | New for Now

#museum | Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

#until | 27 September 2015


7 thoughts on “New for Now | the origin of fashion magazines

  1. Thanks for the great review Michelle! Good to hear you enjoyed the exhibition.

    Best wishes,
    Linda (press office Rijksmuseum)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lieber Jan,
      vielen Dank für den Hinweis auf deinen Artikel, den ich sehr gut finde. Nun lande ich aber bereits bei der großen Frage was Ausstellungen leisten müssen und können. Wenn ich den Anspruch habe, dass die Ausstellungen all das vermittelt, was dir fehlt, dann hat sie tatsächlich versagt. Den Anspruch hatte ich nicht. Im Studium habe ich diverse Seminar zu dem Thema belegt und habe die Ausstellung als bildliche Bereicherung erlebt. Den Katalog habe ich allerdings auch nicht gekauft, weil ich ihn nicht so gut fand. Dafür gibt es natürlich zahlreiche gute Bücher zu diesen Themen. Für alle, die sich für Mode interessieren fand ich die Ausstellung dennoch empfehlenswert. Vielleicht hätte ein anderer Titel ihr gut gestanden, aber der hat natürlich auch immer einen Marketing-Zweck. Viele Grüße


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