Tonne Goodman on Ushering Celebrity, Drama, and Attainable Luxury into 'Vogue'

The legendary editor gets real about working with Mario Testino and Steven Meisel, and styling everyone from the 90s "supers" to Kim Kardashian.

by Gabriella Karefa-Johnson
Apr 19 2019, 1:48pm


If you were walking through the West Village this Tuesday evening, you might have assumed there was some sort of K-Pop performance or Kardashian Lip Kit launch around Bleecker and 11th Street.

Thus was the force of fashion kids and industry powerhouses who poured onto the sidewalk from the narrow doorway at Bookmarc to celebrate legendary stylist and former Fashion Director of Vogue magazine, Tonne Goodman, as she signed copies of her new book, Point of View: Four Decades of Fashion (Abrams).

Point of View tackles the enormous task of shedding light on a career that has quietly and at times uproariously (remember that paradigm-shifting Beyoncé cover?) informed the way that Americans consider and consume fashion media. With over 170 Vogue covers and 363 pages of iconic fashion to her name, the book is poised to become a go-to tabletop reference and sold out almost instantly, with the exception of a few copies set aside for the likes of Anna Wintour, Annie Leibovitz, Gigi Hadid, and Marc Jacobs, all of whom stopped by to support their friend and frequent collaborator.

Okay, in the spirit of journalistic integrity, now is probably the point at which I can confess that I—the president of the Tonne Goodman fan club and her former assistant—may be biased. Just before the opening, I rang up everyone’s favorite editor to spill some tea.

Gabriella Karefa-Johnson: Where to even start? The beginning is probably right. Why do you think art school didn’t work out for you?

Tonne Goodman: Well, I think that [painter] Harry Soviak did a very good job telling me I wasn’t going to be an artist! He was the most caustic guy. And you know he was right! At school, I lived in a house with two other girls. One of them was named Carol and she was such a wonderful character and she would just be drawing and drawing and drawing and everyone was uglier than the next and so on, and so on, and finally it would come to be this beautiful drawing. And that part was something I couldn’t do. If I drew something and I didn’t find it aesthetically pleasing, I wouldn’t turn it in. I couldn’t. And that process is very important for an artist. And that was it!

GKJ: Thank god(dess) that you found your way to fashion because so many of the images that the collective “we” come back to time and time again were yours. I love seeing those first appearances of the ‘90s supers in your book.

TG: You know, they were all over the place. When they were being supermodels everyone took pictures of them. One of the things that I felt badly about with Christy Turlington is that most of the major Vogue pictures happened when I was at Harper’s Bazaar so there are very few in the book. But there’s a lot of Calvin (Klein) that made it in.

GKJ: I imagine this book might feel a bit like an artist’s mid-career survey show. It could be conflicting, like you’re saying goodbye to something that you’re smack-dab in the middle of.

TG: It is kind of conflicting. But really it’s just amazing because of the sheer volume—the amount. You think, did I really do that many? And then of course you come across the picture from way back when and you think, “Oh, I remember that day.”

GKJ: At the time, did you know that the other young creatives you were working with were partners with which you could create a powerful body of work?

TG: No, you don’t. You’re just doing your job and that really was my motivation. I had a job to do. That was the bottom line. The fact that I encountered all of these wonderful people along the way was luck. When you have people that you have a good time with, and want to create something with that’s more than just an image, the working relationships form naturally. Mario was the perfect example and a great partner. We would meet the day before a shoot until three o’clock in the morning if we had to, trying on every look, accessorizing, arguing over whether that stocking should go with that dress or not.

GKJ: I think most people want to live in your pictures. Because they really do represent achievable fantasy and luxury—a lot of that I think has to do with the locations you shot. The access that you had during the Vogue years is incredible!

TG: You see the power of Vogue but also don’t forget that earlier on, like my Harper’s Bazaar days, you were your own producer. You got yourself to set, you scouted your location, you did not have the huge teams behind your pictures but the expectation was the same as it is now. And that was good training. At Vogue, the access is incredible. You could get to the Wild Wall in China; you could get to the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Mark Bradford before the fair opens. You could open doors-- and doors that needed to be opened.

GKJ: Did you ever think you’d be the kind of editor that would create some of the most iconic images in the fashion photography canon? If you think back to when you were starting out, when these pictures that we all know and love were being made, did you have a sense of what power they could hold?

TG: No, I don’t think so. I never thought I would be the one that was producing the memorable shoots. I happily accepted that that Grace [Coddington] held that spot. And I wasn’t doing, you know, the stopper pictures that Phyllis [Posnick] did. I was really there to show the clothes that you could, kind of, wear. My work at Vogue with Steven Meisel was very much about “clothes.” Those pictures came from a different collaboration than what I had with Mario because we would put on a kind of basic element of the outfit and then, in the studio, on either side of the set we’d line the accessories tables with all of the shoes, and all of the belts, and all of the hats, and all of the jewelry and literally go step by step. It was really the discovery of a look.

GKJ: Your book is so incredible because every image is just as much a Steven Klein picture as it is a Tonne Goodman picture and I’m not sure that will always exist. What is equally amazing is that there isn’t just one type of identifiable Tonne Goodman style. Sure, you’re known as the architect of this kind of modern Americana aesthetic but you’re always experimenting and showing us new sides of you in your work.

TG: Did you see the Kim Kardashian cover that I just did with Mikael Jansson?

GKJ: I love those pictures because they represent exactly what I was referring to before. They’re not Tonne Goodman doing Kim Kardashian, they just look like Kim Kardashian. And that’s because celebrity (which you ushered into the Vogue cover vernacular) and drama, and sex, are all parts of your DNA as an editor. We tell it’s your picture as easily as we can tell that a picture of Daria Werbowy in the studio is your picture.

TG: Well that is certainly a compliment. It’s not a perfect match but it works. You know that’s a bit of what happened when we were deciding what would go on the cover. Have you heard that story? Well, my daughter, Evie, saw the current cover and she thought, “It’s just too predictable. This is exactly what everybody thinks of you. It looks like you can’t do anything else and there’s more to it than that.” It’s just that the applications in a picture like the one we choice can go anywhere.

GKJ: You have got to tell me where that nude of you in the book came from.

TG: Well, you know, I was always walking around naked.

GKJ: Say more!

TG: The situation was that I was great friends with Nicky Vreeland at that time and his mother and Peter Thompkins invited me down to Miami to stay with them. I mean, the best thing about that photograph is the bush.

GKJ: I’m guessing this was in the….70’s?

TG: Don’t forget that a bikini wax in those days was like a little trim just around the suit.

GKJ: Other emblems of the 70’s in this book: hot, long-haired men. I mean, your section on Maarten, the sailor you fell for on vacation and ended up living with on a sailboat?! Heaven. I didn’t realize that you were such a man-killer. You literally had the hottest boyfriends.

TG: You know what? I never really thought about it.

“Point of View: Four Decades of Fashion” is available in bookstores now.

tonne goodman
Harper’s Bazaar