The still life is a genre as appreciated by mail-order catalogue makers as it is feared by major fashion magazines. The concern of fashion editors and couturiers is with the body, incarnate in a garment or accessory of the season. Long looked down on and relegated to the ‘products’ pages, the still life is a timid genre in fashion terms: too rare to become topical, too precious to be misused.
And yet there are times when it was obligatory for the big names – the same ones who photographed dresses in movement. Up until the 1950s the still life hymning a bag, sophisticated footwear or an exquisite hat was as much a part of magazine covers as the faces of the 20th century’s fashion icons.
For more than half of the last century it was part of those editorial fantasies; this at a time when the viewer still wanted to know everything about the garment, with the verbal account of the collections as important as the photographic coverage. The written and the visual – the latter including both illustrations and photographs – split the detailed descriptions that neighbourhood dressmakers and shrewd readers would follow to a T. In this near-educational(!) context it went without saying that the object-subject took precedence over the general atmosphere. Separated from its body, the accessory or garment was an invaluable fashion pointer. Outlined in the same way as on the free leaflets from the big stores, it was extolled and made sacred by the biggest names in fashion photography.
Horst P. Horst, Georges Hoyningen-Huene, Napo, Guy Bourdin, William Klein, Erwin Blumenfeld, Henry Clarke, Daniel Jouanneau, Erwan Frottin and Thomas Lagrange – to name but a few – were there to take on commissions that showed the garment as a sublime castaway.
A selection of Vogue‘s best still lifes from the 1920s up to the present day reminds us that these rare, precious clothes and accessories are made to be worn; but also that they don’t escape their destiny, which is to wait on our pleasure. Lipstick as totem, sacred eyeliner brush, items laid out like holy relics: these accessories never hide the commercial premeditation of a society that has raised the product to the status of the work of art.
Olivier Saillard, exhibition curator.
The Still Life at Vogue has been specially designed and realised by Vogue Magazine, taking inspiration from archives from 1920 to the present.
Prints produced by PICTO.