hiring the irish -- 1/10/20

Today's selection -- from Condé Nast by Susan Ronald. In the 1920s, Condé Nast defied convention by hiring Carmel White, the 34-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants to be fashion editor of his premier publication, Vogue magazine. It was an era in which the Irish were shunned:

"Carmel's appointment as a fashion editor at Vogue was extraor­dinary for a raft of reasons. Most obviously, she was a young woman without previous experience working for any fashion magazine, much less the fashion publication. More significantly, in the 1920s most establishments warned against employing minority groups, posting signs outside their doors that 'No Irish,' 'No Jews,' and 'No Negroes' need apply -- even in sophisticated New York City. Catholics were just as bad for some. These were the days of Pres­ident Warren Gamaliel Harding, who was deeply suspicious of 'all those immigrants.' He signed into law a quick fix to restrict them, so America's extreme Right could elevate the cause of social pu­rity and the protection of women to a more contemporary and dis­turbing level. These were the days when the Ku Klux Klan spread its fearsome message beyond the Deep South, and when noisy an­archists, communists, and socialists abounded in American cit­ies. These were the days when the sham trial of anarchists Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker and night watchman, and Bartolomeo Van­zetti, a fishmonger, for the murder of the guard and paymaster of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company during an armed robbery had become the cause célèbre of writers, artists, and academics. Both Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley campaigned for their pardon after their conviction in July 1921. Condé, too, disliked any antediluvian notions that prejudiced freedom in society. He always hired the most talented men and women from minority gene pools, or new immigrants, and didn't care if they were bisex­ual, lesbian, or gay either. What mattered was talent.

Carmel White Snow

"In London, 1922 saw Elspeth Champcommunal quietly return to the House of Worth as a designer, understanding at last that she was no editor of magazines. More than likely Elspeth suggested Dorothy Todd, another champion of the Bloomsbury Set, as her successor. Both women inhabited the same highbrow world, and both women were lesbians. Still, Todd was hardly what anyone could call a fashion icon. Her friends described her as 'energetic, portly, determined, louche, exasperating, intelligent, raddled, commercial, "imperious and enterprising" ... a short, square, crop­headed, double-breasted, bow-tied lady.' So much for friends in highbrow places.

"Todd apparently had led a life filled with blank pages clouded by an inky and often muddled past. Her grandson, Olivier Todd, recalled that 'she always seemed to be wearing an austere iron-­grey suit with a black velvet collar, in her buttonhole she had a fresh carnation, white or crimson, changed every day. She moved about in a trail of eau-de-cologne which she took from a round mauve bottle.' While Condé, Frank, and Edna were slaving over Vogue's thirtieth anniversary issue in 1922, Todd, freshly back in London from her 'training session' in New York, was busy manip­ulating Condé's successful American formula into a British Vogue."

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Susan Ronald


Condé Nast


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2019 by Susan Ronald


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