“You can’t do it of just people wearing sweatpants and pajamas — as good as they may look,” said Graydon Carter of the decision to change the format of International Best Dressed List amid the pandemic.
The list may only be in its second year on Air Mail, the weekly online newsletter he founded in 2019 after departing Vanity Fair (and taking the I.B.D.L. franchise with him), but it’s actually celebrating its 80th anniversary.
That gave Air Mail the opportunity to dig back into the I.B.D.L.’s archives to honor 20 women arbiters of style throughout its history, as opposed to the usual rating of the year’s best dressed.
In pre-pandemic times, readers voted by ballot, and more recently online, but this time they were selected by Carter, Amy Fine Collins, Reinaldo Herrera (husband of Carolina Herrera) and Aimee Bell (a former Vanity Fair editor), who inherited the list from Eleanor Lambert. She founded it in 1940 and ran it until her death in 2003 when it moved to Vanity Fair.
“As we all know, 2020 was a very unusual year and there were few occasions to see people out and about wearing clothes. Most people that we would normally be observing we could only see through social media or television,” added Fine Collins, an author, journalist and editor at large. “We ended up looking backwards and finding women whose style has just endured and who continue to inspire.”
Among the 20 women making the list are Marlene Dietrich, Tina Chow, Princess Diana of Wales, Iman, Rihanna, Fran Lebowitz, Lady Gaga, Lena Horne, Gloria Guinness and Diana Ross.
“What’s interesting is when you go back into these records you find some women have been forgotten, some women have been revived in popularity at some point and then vanished again and some just crop up freshly as influencers,” continued Fine Collins. “A great example of what I’m talking about is Princess Di, who was a personality one didn’t hear much about especially in the fashion world and suddenly in the past year — and it may have something to do with how people have been watching the crown and watching streaming series — Princess Di has become even a bigger style leader if possible than when she was alive so it’s quite interesting. She definitely had to be one of the people we selected.”
Only one is a new inductee to the list: Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet and first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate that has taken America by storm and is preparing to perform at Sunday’s Super Bowl, with Fine Collins writing that she “fully embraces the metaphorical meaning of clothing.”
“It’s my way to lean into the history that came before me and all the people supporting me,” Gorman, who wore yellow Prada as a tribute to the first lady, and a ring in the form of a gold-vermeil birdcage, to salute fellow inaugural poet Maya Angelou at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, told Vogue.
On how the I.B.D.L. performed in its first year on Air Mail, Carter had “no idea.” “I don’t follow that sort of thing at all,” he said. “I look at the metrics and they go in one eyeball and out the other.”
It was a different story, though, when asked how the site as a whole performed in 2020, with Carter stating that it has done “exceptionally” — not losing a single advertiser and growing circulation by around 10 percent per month.
And he expects it to do even better after the pandemic, as much of its content was originally planned around travel and arts.
Carter also didn’t seem too worried about competitors like Substack, which has surged in popularity during the pandemic, calling the San Francisco-based newsletter platform “wonderful.”
As for magazines, he still reads them but mostly on Apple News Plus, with the exception being Yankee, of which he is still a print subscriber.
“If we started Spy magazine now we would’ve done it completely online rather than print,” he concluded. “Unfortunately I think that the age of the print magazine — except for big hipster $20 copy magazines — I think it has probably seen its better days.”
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