Fashion photography is no longer seen as just advertising with an ego. For contemporary art collectors and image enthusiasts, the creativity and breadth of approach to fashion is now being taken seriously. Enter Proud Galleries’ show The Dior Collection, running from February 7 to April 7, which looks at how the iconic house not only revitalised design but transformed and influenced the representation of femininity.
The focus of the show is on the first two decades of the label – the years of the New Look that emerged in the wake of the second world war. The “curving, opulent day silhouette”, as Harper’s Bazaar called it, was captured by many photographers, including the four represented at the exhibition: Bert Stern, Mark Shaw, Norman Parkinson and Jerry Schatzberg. These are images of couture clothes dripping with luxury, ranging from big editorial shoots in Life magazine to fast and intimate behind-the-scenes photos.
The way each of the four photographers approached their subject and the materiality of the clothes is refreshingly varied. The best-known image in the show is Bert Stern’s Looking Over Shoulder, of Marilyn Monroe wearing a backless black Dior dress during her last-ever shoot with Stern. Alongside this beautiful and haunting work are photographs that exude glamour and sophistication. Norman Parkinson’s 1974 colour image of Dior creative director Marc Bohan for British Vogue is architectural and very modern, while his 1949 photo of his wife Wenda wearing Dior in Paris is the epitome of soft-focus beauty. Mark Shaw’s masked figure in a rococo Lola dress from 1958 exudes sex appeal. In contrast, Jerry Schatzberg’s work-in-progress photographs are full of joy and humour.
This show provides a beautiful document to the heyday of couture and postwar extravagance and beauty. It also illustrates how photography, and society itself, was changing from something rigid to a more emotional, free and truly expressive era.