OXFORD author Julie Summers flew to New York to research the life of wartime Vogue editor Audrey Withers - and discovered an missing file of vital memos.

Ms Summers, one of the country’s top historians, decided to pen a biography of the fashion expert and found there was a family connection - Audrey Withers was her first cousin twice removed.

She said: “I first came across the name Audrey Withers when I was working on a book and exhibition for Imperial War Museums called Fashion on the Ration.

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“Today the name Audrey Withers is barely known outside the world of Condé Nast, yet during the war she was described as the most powerful woman in London.

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“Intrigued, I began to research her long and remarkable career at Vogue. With the help of unseen archive material I have managed to piece together a story that throws new light not only on Audrey Withers but on the story of British Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s.

“It has been the most enjoyable research and writing experience of my career to date.”

To research the book Ms Summers sought out official and personal correspondence contained in the magazine’s archives both in London and New York.

On 25 September 1940, three weeks into the German Blitz on London, 35-year-old Audrey Withers stepped into the shoes of her American predecessor as editor of London Vogue.

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For the next three months she battled to bring out the November, December and January editions of the magazine in the teeth of fire bombs and amid the ruins of the capital.

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Ms Summers added: “What is very sad is that in London Withers and Beaton destroyed all the pre-war Vogue archive material in an effort to save paper for the war effort.

“What made up for it on my visit to the New York office last year was the discovery of an undocumented file.

“It turned out to be 900 memos from Audrey to her editor-in-chief covering 1940-1947 - it was the greatest discovery of my archive career and told the whole story of Vogue at war, a day-to-day account of what was happening in London.

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“Paris had closed down - Audrey was at the centre of Vogue’s universe for five years.

“I knew that but having found the memos I could prove it.”

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As the war progressed so the editor’s influence over the fate of Vogue grew, drawing it away from the style and preoccupations of the office in New York.

She needed her readers to believe that London Vogue had its finger on the pulse of history.

Audrey Withers had an exceptional team of top-flight talent at her disposal, including the society photographer Cecil Beaton and the model-turned-photographer-come war reporter, American Lee Miller.

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Both roamed across war-torn Europe and further afield, detailing the plight of the countries and people living under occupation.

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Ms Withers’ deft handling of her star contributors, and the importance she placed on reflecting people’s lives at home, gave this slice of literary history a real edge.

Ms Withers had a very strong sense of women’s rights and she championed the role of women in all fields. She did not see being a woman as a barrier to any position and in this she was ahead of her time. She had a female war reporter who ended up reporting on the Battle of St Malo from the inside; she was a founder member of the Women’s Press Club in 1943

Dressed for War tells the story of the struggle between the personalities who shaped Vogue for the second half of the 20th century – and beyond.

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Ms Summers said wartime fashion trends for recycling garments and materials are now once again in vogue.

She added: “It’s a very big thing now - the fashion world looking at how to create a sustainable future.”

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Some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century worked for Vogue under Audrey Withers’s editorship. They included: Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, Lee Miller, Clifford Coffin, John Deakin, Irving Penn and Antony Armstrong Jones. Designers of the era included Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Digby Morton, Edward Molyneux, Charles Creed and Bianca Mosca.

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One of Ms Summers previous books is Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War, which was published in 2015.

Dressed for War by Julie Summers is published by Simon & Schuster on February 6, price £20.