If you work in fashion, you probably end up visiting the V&A as a pilgrimage every six months or so, for it is comprehensive and enthralling in equal measures for the history of fashion. This season one of the V&A's special exhibitions is on the internationally renowned Vogue photographer Horst which costs to view but is well worth every penny.
The exhibition takes you on the journey of Horst P Horst (1906-99) through his photographs of his favourite muses, the dresses of ten of the shots are on display and then the exhibition moves onto his Vogue cover shoots.The photos are iconic and point to a different era of beauty with their narrow shaped eyebrows, carefully quaffed hair and rouged lips. The timeless allure literally made me want to run out, arch my eyebrows, buy a classic Chanel deepest red lipstick and wear it with a waist cinching skirt with a pair of retro stockings with sexy seams up the back....oh and wear a pair of high heels and long gloves. The lighting, the elegance and the luxurious clothing create a look which is high fashion and use fabulous sets - see below for a video from British Vogue.
‘Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.’
What is interesting, is that just when you're thinking 'ooh it was so much more natural back then, look how effortlessly glamorous it was before they invented photoshop and started whacking Kim Kardashian's bare ass on the cover,' you realise they were just as controlled back then. One of Horst's models Lud (Ludmila Feodoseyevna) had her boobs and hips operated on to change shape and create her perfect figure. Shots, even back then were retouched - you can see Horst's notes on the pictures. He manipulated photos to create a certain look or shape, images were just as controlled then as they are now. The image above was actually retouched as decided by the editor at the time as she didn't like the gap between the corset and the models back - Horst preferred the original.
Furthermore the covers of the magazines featured a few words of text, increasing year or year and were no different from those words we see today - obsession with perfection and doing everything. From 'Your 90 Day Plan' because lord knows we NEED a plan, menu schemes and colour schemes. Back in the day Vogue's tag line used to be 'How to Spend if you have more Taste than Money.' This was a time of war and post war - not so much focus on just spending for the hell of it.
Finally for fashion marketers, I loved this rather fabulous video which was unearthed in the Conde Nast archives and is handily titles Fashion Means Business. Even though we dress fashion up into a beautiful, breathtakingly expensive, just ever so slightly out of reach proposition, this serves to highlight the pure business facts which were as true then as they are now. Fashion is influenced most often from the top, from haute couture and catwalk shows, from a few editors who handpick certain pieces, favour designers (favour designers who advertise), and ultimately influence a generation. It also reminded me of the clip from Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep explains to Anne Hathaway how as anti fashion as she appeared, underneath it, her plain jumper had been influenced by the people in a fashion magazine. Money my friends, makes the world go round, and marketing makes it spin.
Fashion Means Business - Conde Nast & Horst A History
"The world still looks to Paris despite its temporary eclipse during the war as the historic source of creative fashion. But though a Paris label still carries great prestige, big names in fashion emerged from across the Atlantic. The editors of fashion magazines like Vogue play an important part. Constantly on the alert for new fashion trends, these magazines select for illustration the clothes and accessories they consider most significant. Photographed by specialists like Horst and glamorised by noted models, editors selections are passed on to the fashion team. The influence of fashion magazines is far greater than their circulation figures would indicate. For their readers include leaders of the dress industry and those few hundred well-dressed women whose acceptance of a new style idea is enough to launch it as high fashion."
The Horst retrospective runs until January 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - get tickets here.