Most Americans realize that Irish immigrants built many of their railroads, but fewer people know that one Irish immigrant built their sense of style for more than twenty years. Carmel Snow, a native of Dalkey in south County Dublin, was the visionary editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar from 1933 until 1957. She quickly transformed not only the magazine but also the American fashion world.
Carmel was born in 1887, and five years later her life changed dramatically when her father Peter White died suddenly. He exported Irish crafts, and her mother Annie was a dressmaker. Peter died shortly after agreeing to run the Irish exhibit at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. Annie stepped up and took the job in his place. After the fair, she decided to stay in the USA. She initially opened an Irish craft shop, and later took a job at a high fashion dress shop. Young Carmel often travelled with her to fashion shows.
During World War I, Carmel went back to Paris, where she had seen so many fashion shows, with the Red Cross. She managed women working for the organization. After the war, she settled in New York City. There, she began writing about French fashion for the New York Times. Later, she took up a job as assistant fashion editor at Vogue Magazine. She eventually became fashion editor. Carmel also married George Snow and had three children while working for Vogue. The magazine promoted her, but wouldn’t give her the creative freedom to follow her instincts.
At the Helm of Harper’s Bazaar
Shrewd as she was stylish, Carmel left the comforts of Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar in late 1932. It seemed an odd move to some to leave a successful magazine for one that was widely seen as frumpy and out-of-date, especially in the fashion world.
As fashion editor, Carmel revived the fading magazine so successfully that they quickly promoted her to editor in chief. Finally, she could pursue her own vision, and she introduced ideas that are now such staples it is odd to think there was a time when they were unheard of. Her greatest strength was her gift for spotting talent and bringing new people onboard. She was a champion of designer Sybil Connolly, whose use of traditional Irish fabrics such as Carickmacross Lace, Irish Linen and Donegal Tweed introduced these textiles to many. Carmel staged the famous picture by Martin Munkasci of a model running. It was the first time a fashion magazine used a photo of a model actually moving. Munkasci’s previous work had been in news and sports photography, not fashion. Carmel loved photo shoots on location instead of a studio, another innovation that is now the norm.
Carmel herself was a fashion icon with her signature pearl necklaces. But she was interested in much more than clothes, and she knew her readers were too. She began including other topics in Harper’s Bazaar, quipping that she was serving not only the well-dressed woman but the well-dressed mind. A powerhouse who steered the magazine in a new direction, and despite her famous fondness for liquid lunches, she worked there until she was 70. Carmel Snow died at age 74 in 1961.