Above Abraham Pelham Haute Couture, Paris, 1999 by Jean-Marie Périer and below Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale
2011, only 11 couture houses remain in Paris. This is the smallest
number since the founding of the French federation. Couture is fashion
as art. It is an original work with a great investment of time and
resources in order to express values of beauty. Because the fashion
industry treats all the creations as commodities, it is also a product.
The clients, from fourth generation Chanel wearers to Middle East
nouveau riche, are just a tiny percentage of the world. Custom clothing
will always be made, but the point of the French system is to raise the
bar of the custom clothing to the highest standard, to encourage
integrity of design and aesthetic value.
Left original Chanel couture presentation and in 2010, below Chanel couture
impressive as the designs, the couture shows are also an enormous
investment of time and resources. The events are the greatest beauty
pageants in the world, a performance of luxury for a limited number. The
art performances that call our contemporary culture into question
cannot reach the extravagance of couture. But unlike an art performance,
the display is not a form that is intended to be preserved. It is a
momentary, seasonal form intended for reality.
is a short history of fashion photography through the 1970s. Part II,
the 1980s through the present, follows this post at the bottom and here.
Guy Bourdin, 1978
order to discuss fashion photography, it should first be understood as a
unique type of photograph, one that is simultaneously documentary and
art work. In addressing fashion photography in his book The Fashion
System, Roland Barthes explains that the
world is a backdrop. That backdrop can be transformed into particular
stages for specific theater themes. The theater of meaning in fashion
then walks the line between the serious and the whimsical.
Barthes identifies 3 common strategies in the fashion photograph:
1. literal representation: the catalog shot displaying the garment
Tom Kublin, Balenciaga, 1953
2. romanticized: fashion becomes referential, a storywhere real life becomes art like in acting out dreams
Chris Von Wangenheim, Vogue, 1979
3. mockery: a
model in an outrageous situation using unreal juxtapositions, unlike
the previous there is no romance or reason but total absurdity
John Rawlings, Vogue, 1954
Barthes describes fashion photography as an exorcism in which everything in the photo is made “outrageous” so that the garment alone seems real and convincing.
Fashion photography also ultimately creates a disappointment of meaning
by its establishment of mystery that has no resolution. It produces
meaningful signs but does not offer explanation. I have tested Barthes
theory with contemporary fashion photos here.
Many early fashion photographers were connected to wealth and the literary society as cameras and photo printing were costly. The first collection of fashion photographs is considered to be a small book of the Countess of Castiglione in various looks from her own closet,taken by Pierre-Louise Pierson in 1856.
Pierson, The Countess of Castiglione, 1856
in cameras and printing eventually led to the development of widespread
fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Baron de Meyer
(1868 - 1946) called "The Debussy of the Camera", was born Demeyer
Watson and came to London and married into the title Baron de Meyer.
His main characteristic was use of backlighting and the soft-focus lens.
He was very considerate of composition with complementary vertical
elements, grounding his images with a sense of authority and formality.
However, the whimsical element is also present, as each image seems to
reference a fantasy. A relationship to the larger artistic style of Art
Nouveau is also evident.
Baron de Meyer, 1920
Edward Jean Steichen (1879-1973) was born in Luxembourg, but his family moved to the USA in 1881. With Alfred Stieglitz,
he founded the Photo-Secession Galleries in New York. He first
photographed fashion models in 1911 for the magazine "Art and
Decoration", and then worked with Conde Nast during the 20s. He worked primarily with model Marian Morehouse,
wife of the poet E.E. Cummings. Steichen is said to have established
the glamour of fashion photography. He delivered drama and sought out
celebrities for portraits. He also developed studio lighting by adding
side lights to a central key light.
Steichen, Model Marion Morehouse and other in Kangere, 1926
Steichen, Evening shoes by Vida Moore, 1927
Steichein for Vogue, 1928
(1900 - 1968) was another of the aristocratic practitioners of early
fashion photography, and did most of his most memorable work between the
mid-twenties to the end of WWII. He was born in St Petersburg, but
moved to Paris in 1920, where he first did illustration and then
photography with a classical emphasis. He moved to New York in 1935, and
worked mainly for Harper's Bazaar.
Hoyningen-Huene, Vionnet dress, 1931
Hoyningen-Huene, July 6, 1929, for Vogue & 1930
Horst P. Horst (born 1906-1999) was a friend of Hoyningen-Huene,
and also had a fascination for classical imagery. He made a detailed
study of classical poses, using Greek sculpture and classical paintings,
paying special attention to the positioning of hands. Much of the early
fashion photography emphasizes the body with the clothes.
Dali costumes for Vogue, 1939 and cover, 1940
Martin Munkacsi (1896-1983)
was a Hungarian Jew who photographed Berlin street style until 1934
when he fled to the United States. He then worked for Harper’s Bazaar
shooting both fashion and celebrities.
Munkcacsi, Haper's Bazaar, July 1935
(1904 - 1980) was based in London. Like Horst, he also used elaborate
studio props and experimented with surrealism. Beaton took on the rich
and famous more than any other early fashion photographer. He sometimes
considered a portraitist.
Beaton, Paula Gellibrand, 1928
Beaton, Charles James gowns, Vogue, 1948
Beaton, Twiggy, 1967
John Rawlings (1912-1970) was an important staff photographer for Conde Nast. He shot 200 Vogue and Glamour covers, leaving 30,000 photos in the archive.
Rawlings, Vogue, July 1947
Rawlings, Vogue, 1953
Rawlings, Mary Jane Russell, Vogue, 1953
also worked for Harper's Bazaar as one of the first female fashion
photographers. Not long after her arrival at the magazine in 1935, she
was also one of the first to use one-shot Kodachrome, which had just been brought onto the market.
Dahl-Wolfe, Harper's Bazaar, 1951
Dahl-Wolfe, Harper's Bazaar, n.d.
(1897-1969) fled to the US after making collages of Hitler. He was an
experimenter in photography, who made creative use of color and
lighting, as well as cut outs. He worked for both Vogue and Harper’s
Bazaar and experimented with film.
Blumenfeld, Vogue, 1949 & 1950
Blumenfeld, Harper's Bazaar, 1950's
Blumenfeld, film stills
Irving Penn (1917-2009)
rose to popularity in the 1950’s by working with Vogue. He emphasized
the clean, carefully composed image which made him successful at
accessory and beauty shots. He is also known for working with the body
Penn, Colette, 1951
Penn, Top Models for Vogue, 1947
Irving Penn, Mouth, for L'Oreal. NY, 1986 and Kate Moss, 1996
(1913-1990) worked at Harper’s Bazaar. A contemporary of Beaton, he
also photographed the beau monde during the twenties and thirties, but,
as he explains, with certain differences: "I was hardly aware of other
photographers' work until I went to Harper's, when I learnt about
Durst and Beaton. But the women in their photographs were a rarefied
few, an elitist handful. My women behaved quite differently - they drove
cars, went shopping, had children and kicked the dog. I wanted to
capture that side of women. I wanted them out in the fields jumping over
the haycocks - I did not think they needed their knees bolted together.
There was always room in a magazine for the scent-laden marble-floored
studios with lilies falling out of great bowls of flowers. but there was
also room for my sort of photography." Parkinson was based in London and is recognized for reality location shooting.
Parkinson, Queen, 1960
Parkinson, Jerry Hall, 1975
The one photographer who more than any other came to symbolise the new direction of fashion photography after the Second World War is Richard Avedon. He gained
his first professional photographic experience in the Merchant Marines,
taking ID photos. It was the innovative, 'in-and-out-of-focus' style of
his shots of merchant seamen twins that caught the eye of Harper's
Bazaar art director Alexei Brodovitch,
and persuaded him to try some fashion photos for the magazine. Soon,
Avedon came to be regarded as the number one young photographer, creator
of the "NewVision."
Avedon’s style is described succinctly by Cecil Beaton and Gail Buckland: "His
pictures showed young ladies enjoying life to the full as they preened
and jumped with joy in their Paris confections. Avedon's photographs did
not perhaps have technical perfection, and they were all the better for
this, for they created the statement that he wished to make-of movement
caught forever by his lens."
Richard Avedon's modernism, had sweeping effect on photography, and
there was a consequent rejection of the earlier, more "classical" style.
For more photos see http://www.richardavedon.com/.
David Bailey has
long been one of the most famous commercial photographers in the world.
He has worked for magazines and newspapers from Vogue to the Daily
Telegraph, photographing most of the key cultural figures from the
worlds of pop music, literature and theatre with a simple and dramatic
style. He has remarked that his approach was inspired by the the style
and free expression of working girls in dance halls. Bailey continues to
have a successful and high profile career as a photographer and film
Bailey, Catherine Deneuve, 1966
Jean Shrimpton in coat by London of Sloane Street, British Vogue, January 1964
photography in the 1970's had a greater liberation that reflected the
era. Not only were the models more uninhibited but the photographers
were challenging the conventional boundaries. Helmut Newton,
born in Berlin, Germany, in 1920. He received his training in Berlin,
but spent time in Australia and Singapore. He held an Australian
passport and lived in Monaco and Los Angeles where he died in a car
photographers have managed to polarise the art scene on such a regular
basis as Helmut Newton. It is split into those who are his fans, and
admire his photographs, and his embittered opponents, who denigrate him
as a fashionable passing craze, or as a woman-hater." Quoted
in "Photographie des 20. Jahrhunderts. His pictures, mostly set in
expensive hotels, or on the streets of the chic capitals of Europe,
feature tall, long-limbed women, often nude, some androgynous. Each
picture features an action or situation, inviting viewers to imagine the
before and after for themselves.
Newton, Big Nudes, 1975
Newton, Big Nudes, 1975
Newton, Kylie Bax, 1996
was a contemporary of Newton working France. His advertisements for
Charles Jourdan shoes raised the question of what is actually being
was born in England and was an editor of Harper’s Bazaar before
becoming a photographer in the same era as Newton and Bourdin. She also
emphasized a sexualized female form but with a softer focus.
Turbeville, Bath House, 1975
Chris Von Wangenheim also worked during the 1970's in Germany. He is best known for his work with Dior accessories.