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Still Haute, Less Haughty. The dowager queen of women's magazines gets a makeover from the new editor in chief. THE FACE OF FASHION

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SIZZLING and sassy, the January cover of Vogue is anything but wintry. And nothing like the magazine used to look. Standing on the beach is a black model, in white wool Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket, black bikini, athletic legs, her tousled hair swept up by a bandana.

Gone is the old standard of beauty - the flawless, ``don't touch me'' face framed by jewels and couture. Instead, Vogue's recent covers are youthful, vibrant, and European - like the new editor in chief herself, Anna Wintour.

``If Vogue doesn't change, then it's not really doing its job,'' says Ms. Wintour, noting that more than anything it's a change of thinking about fashion.

The changes shake a firm foundation. For nearly 80 years Vogue has been the ``fashion bible'' of clothes and culture for American women. Started in 1892 as a high-society weekly in Victorian New York, Vogue was recast in 1909 when Cond'e Nast of St. Louis bought it and tried out his idea of targeting a specific audience: upper-class women.

It has attracted the best photographers: Steichen, Beaton, Avedon, Newton. The legacy of top journalists includes Clare Booth Luce and Joan Didion. Grandes dames editors include Edna Woolman Chase (editor from 1914 to 1952), Diana Vreeland (1963 to 1973), and Grace Mirabella (1973 to June 1988). Vogue is owned by S.I. Newhouse Jr., whose roster includes 12 magazines, among them GQ, Gourmet, Cond'e Nast's Traveler, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker.

Today fashion leader Vogue sells 1.2 million copies monthly and carries more ad pages than any other magazine of its kind. Says Valerie Steele, writer and fashion historian, Vogue is ``very important symbolically as well as in real terms.'' She cites the way ``just the term vogue has entered the English language'' with such frequency and authority, especially ``the reality and the image of the Vogue fashion editor as being a real authority, a real fashion power.'' The latest dance in New York's downtown clubs these days is ``the Vogue.''

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