Babs Simpson: Vogue’s Fashion Maverick

Babs Simpson 1950

Babs Simpson: Vogue’s Fashion Maverick

One name often overlooked in fashion is Babs Simpson. She might not have the same household recognition as some of her contemporaries, but her contribution to the world of fashion is nothing short of legendary. From 1947 to 1972, Babs Simpson held the coveted position of Fashion Editor at Vogue, working alongside esteemed editors such as Edna Woolman Chase, Carmel Snow, Jessica Daves, and Diana Vreeland. Not to mention, her work in Harper’s Bazaar and House & Garden stood out from the rest. Her career exemplified an understated yet authoritative taste, a keen eye for style, and a refreshing reluctance to take herself or the fashion industry too seriously.

Born Beatrice de Menocal on April 9, 1913, in Peking, China into American aristocracy, Babs Simpson’s journey was far from ordinary. Her father was a banker with Cuban roots, while her mother, Beatrice Crosby, hailed from Washington Square, New York. Simpson’s family explored South America before settling in Boston, filling her early life with adventure.

Her venture into the world of high fashion started in 1942 when she arrived in Manhattan. In 1944, Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, spotted her potential and offered her a lowly position for $35 a week. It was the beginning of a remarkable career that would take her to the pinnacle of fashion.

In 1949, Simpson received a call from her friend, Barbara “Babe” Cushing, who was then Vogue’s fashion editor. Cushing left the magazine to get married and asked Simpson if she would be interested in taking her place. This was a pivotal moment in the fashion world as Christian Dior’s “New Look” was taking center stage.

During her tenure at Vogue, Simpson was not just a fashion editor; she was a trendsetter. Long before minimalism became a dominant fashion trend, she championed the minimal look, a choice that showcased her innovative approach to style. Her work was both influential and memorable, with one of her assistants from the 1950s recalling her penchant for “nothing but black dresses and huge jewels.” Her fashion sensibilities were ahead of their time, and her unique vision left an indelible mark on the industry.

Simpson refused to let the world of fashion completely consume her. Instead, she discovered solace in her affection for books, theater, and ballet. She embodied a woman of diverse passions, a characteristic that distinguished her in an industry frequently condemned for its one-dimensional focus. She was a woman of diverse passions, a trait that set her apart in an industry often criticized for its one-dimensional focus.

Working with distinguished editors like Chase, Daves, and Vreeland, Babs Simpson became renowned for her impeccable fashion sense. Her talent lay in capturing the essence of fashion and presenting models in the perfect light, a skill that would leave an enduring legacy. Her signature was her string of pearls.

One of the most memorable chapters in her career involved overseeing a photoshoot with a veiled Marilyn Monroe, captured by photographer Bert Stern mere weeks before the icon’s tragic demise. Reflecting on that shoot, Simpson remarked, “I remember saying to Bert on the plane back that that girl is in dire straits.”

One of her memorable moments was when photographers took pictures of models in evening dresses at the summit of an Andean mountain. The situation that left Simpson and her colleagues stranded overnight, later getting rescued by the Peruvian army the following day.

In 2006, at the age of 93, Simpson made history by becoming the oldest person ever to feature in Vogue, a testament to her timeless elegance. In 2012, at the age of 99, she was immortalized in a documentary and a book about Vogue fashion editors. She posed for a group portrait amidst a sea of black, wearing pink jeans, a symbol of her ever-evolving spirit. She passed away on January 7th, 2019.

Babs Simpson was a fashion icon who left a mark on the industry with her unique style, unwavering principles, and refreshing eccentricities. Her journey reminds us that true fashion is not merely about what one wears but how one lives and expresses themselves. Simpson’s pearls and legacy are a testament to the idea that fashion, like life, is meant to be explored with grace, wit, and, above all, style.

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