Some magazine covers are instant hits, while others only become iconic in time, whether they feature actors, singers or models. More often than not, controversial covers become important pop culture imagery, whether they’re related to the world of fashion or not.
See the most iconic magazine covers, from Anna Wintour’s first US Vogue magazine cover to Rolling Stone covers that contributed to lasting legacies of musicians and made a real mark.
LIFE (April 1952)
Marylin Monroe’s most famous magazine cover may be for Playboy, but the sultry actress is also featured among the most iconic magazine covers, thanks to her black and white Life Magazine cover. Timeless and elegant, the picture helped solidify her image as a legend.
Rolling Stone (January 1981)
One of the best magazine covers of all time, the iconic image was photographed by Annie Leibovitz. John Lennon was shot and died hours later and the photograph that shows him and Yoko Ono in an affectionate pose ended up as the cover of the magazine for the tribute issue dedicated to the former member of The Beatles.
Vanity Fair (August 1991)
Another portrait by Annie Leibovitz made the list of most iconic magazine covers, despite initial controversy. The naked and pregnant Demi Moore was already an A-list actor, coming off the huge success of “Ghost”, but the picture cemented her status and celebrated the beauty of the female body in a daring way, with a pose that’s been replicated many times.
Rolling Stone (February 2020)
Another controversial Rolling Stone cover shows Kanye West as Jesus. The picture was taken shortly after the rapper for a Grammy award for “Jesus Walks” and the controversial imagery was just the first step in West’s controversial image. While Kanye’s ego always seem oversized to some, the artist continued to deliver challenging music, so the image might be his best portrait.
Vogue (November 1988)
Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover is definitely one of the most iconic magazine covers and set the tone for the new direction of the magazine. Shot outdoors, the image added modernity to Vogue, especially through the combination of a $10,000 Christian Lacroix bejeweled sweater with cheap faded jeans in the same look.
Harper’s Bazaar (September 1992)
Iconic magazine covers rarely coincide with big anniversaries, but Harper’s Bazaar got it right for its 125th anniversary. Featuring an iconic pose from Linda Evangelista, one of the biggest supermodels of the ‘90s, the cover shines thanks to its simplicity, that perfectly reflects its transformation into one of the biggest fashion powerhouses in print publishing.
People (September 1997)
Princess Diana appeared on the cover of People more than 50 times, but her most well-known cover is the tribute one, shortly after her death. The black and white picture is definitely one of the most iconic magazine covers and it was also the best selling issue of People magazine, a record that was only broken by the 2020 World Trade Center cover.
GQ (January 2020)
Nude covers generate instant controversy, but few become truly iconic. After years of the media portraying Jennifer Aniston as a victim, the actress turned her image around with a truly iconic pose on the cover of GQ. Wearing only a red, white and blue necktie, Aniston manage to turn up the sexy for an unforgettable spread and cover.
Harper’s Bazaar (April 1965)
One of the most iconic images of the ‘60s, the Harper’s Bazaar cover that features Jean Shrimpton in a pink helmet has become one of most emblematic photographs from a decade known for a fashion revolution as much as social change. Photographed by Richard Avedon, the cover remains one of Harper’s Bazaar’s all time best and it definitely belongs next to the most iconic magazine covers.
Rolling Stone (September 1993)
A decade before the wardrobe malfunction that almost destroyed her career, Janet Jackson revealed the full picture she used as the album art for her “janet.” album. Going topless on the cover of Rolling Stone created a big controversy, but the cover stood the test of time as a truly iconic image.
See also:Worst Celebrity Magazine Covers