Innovation and Reinvention: Icons of Fashion Photography

Innovation and Reinvention: Icons of Fashion Photography

E xplore icons of 20th and 21st century fashion photography through lots on offer in our Photographs auction this June, from Horst P. Horst’s elegant black-and-white fashion shots of the 1940s and Irving Penn’s 90s ‘Bee (A), New York’ shot for Vogue, all the way to Mario Testino’s controversial 2003 Gucci campaign.

This image embodies two of Horst P. Horst’s most important influences: classical form and surrealism. The eroticisation and fetishisation of the deconstructed body was a topic common among the Surrealists, who often 'removed' parts of the body to decontextualise the female form. In Horst’s clever composition, one can barely tell the difference between the model’s feet and those belonging to the statue beneath her.

Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, is a monument in the history of fashion and advertising photography. The brilliant juxtaposition of the quintessentially elegant Dovima—clothed in a dress designed by the young Yves Saint-Laurent for the House of Dior—with the massive rough forms of elephants was revolutionary when it was first published in the September 1955 issue of Harper's Bazaar in 'Carmel Snow's Paris Report.' With this photograph, Avedon set a standard for inventiveness in fashion photography that has not been surpassed in the intervening years.

“Horvat’s greatest models possess a nonconformist beauty, and their personalities shine through the pages of the magazines. Nevertheless, the woman in his most famous photograph remains an enigma. She stares at the lens, one eye visible under one flawless brow bone, the other obscured by the cascade of white silk flowers from her Givenchy hat. Unusually, it is not she who commands the attention of the other protagonists: around her, the men in top hats point their binoculars in the distance, towards a horse race” (Susanna Brown, ‘Une belle chimère: Frank Horvat et la mode’, Frank Horvat 50-65 (Paris: Jeu de Paume, 2022), p. 38). A major exhibition of Horvat’s work will be open from 16 June until 17 September at the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Guy Bourdin is known for his experimental photographs imbued with suggestive narratives and hyper vibrant colours. In this advertisement for Roland Pierre shoes, two models seemingly get ready for a day at the beach, their high-heeled shoes and lipstick-stained tissues littering the sink as if they have not yet tidied up from a wild evening the night before.

Irving Penn took this image to accompany an article about various ways to plump up one’s lips – from collagen injections to Gore-Tex strips. All he needed to realise his vision were real bees (flown in from Arizona specifically for this photoshoot), and a fearless model with plump lips. Estella Warren was a good sport as the beekeeper placed bee after bee on her face, and as Penn gave her a series of directions: “Close your lips. Open just a little, a little more please. Make a different shape”.

This advertisement for Gucci debuted in the February 2003 issue of Vogue and quickly came under fire for its provocative content. Personally designed by Gucci boss Tom Ford and featuring 24-year old model Carmen Kass with the letter 'G' shaved into her pubic hair, the image was unofficially dubbed 'Pubic Enemy'.

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