The general reader and the public only know fashion photography in terms of its use by the specialist magazines and the big names in its history. Photographs of fashion shows and videos made of collections are mostly looked down on or ignored outright, and are not given the same prominence with respect to quality and quantity of exposure.
But there is other material – look books and collection catalogues, for example – that also remains unknown to the public. Look books appear in limited editions for professionals: they provide a pictorial account of the garments making up a show and are consulted by journalists and buyers. Although only a brochure of varying degrees of complexity, the look book reflects in its presentation and layout the artistic line of the fashion house in question. Its life expectancy is that of the season’s collection. The collection catalogue, by contrast, is more sophisticated: not intended as a mere inventory like the look book, it exists to present the latest batch of garments as seen by a specific photographer. In this respect it is more closely related to magazine material, with the only real difference being the packaging: sometimes these are expensive, extremely stylish publications distributed to carefully filtered clients and journalists.
A past master of the collection catalogue – he launched his own in the 80s with art director Marc Ascoli – Yohji Yamamoto brings absolute meticulousness to the genre. With photography by Nick Knight, David Sims, Paolo Roversi and later Ines van Lamsweerde, all the catalogues are on show here and demonstrate just how elegant the fit can be between clothes and pictures of clothes.
The scrupulously regular Comme des Garçons catalogues are no less radical and quintessential, and are accompanied by the magazine Six, first published by Rei Kawakubo in the 80s as backup to her collections. In Six, however, the clothes are sometimes – often, even – absent from the photographs supposedly promoting them, with the emphasis more on an underlying aesthetic philosophy.
The same agenda finds expression in the state-of-the-art material released in her sales outlets to state the theme and tone of the coming collection: all kinds of images and works of art, marked by total precision and distinctiveness.
Martin Margiela’s catalogues, by contrast, resort to a systematic vocabulary not unlike that of police mug shots or the purely factual photos used for clothing model registration in the early 20th century. With their white cloth binding they are also reminiscent of the inventory approaches of traditional museums.
Aimed at the happy few and/or the professionals, look books and collection catalogues are a vital part of getting the creator’s image across. The exhibition devoted to them will also draw on the output of a new generation of designers including Anne Valérie Hash, Charles Anastase and Bernard Wilhelm.
Olivier Saillard, exhibition curator.