Fashion Photography has a moment. In the midst of a chaotic world, filling our walls with radiant haute couture images makes everyday life seem more glamorous. That’s why buyers from around the world recently took part in two landmark auctions at the Christies in Pariswhere sartorial splendor was on display.
But why now? Why are glossy photos so trendy? Certainly recent blockbuster museum exhibits have helped shape the conversation. those years Yves Saint Laurent exhibition In the Louvre in Paris, the 2019 Christian Dior retrospective at Londons V&A Museum and the 2011 Alexander McQueen Exhibition In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC have all contributed to our passion for fashion.
Although it’s often the designers themselves who draw the most interest, fashion photographers have also attained star status. In the early years, these creatives were simply responding to a commercial need. But from the 1950s icons like Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn began to bring their own artistry to their work, creating stunning and sublime images.
Models, on the other hand, have always brought their own panache with them. Collectors are eager to snag portraits of familiar faces from their youth. “People who once dreamed before Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington or Kate Moss are now willing to afford one of the famous paintings,” he says Elodie Morel-BazinChristie’s European Head of Photography.
All of which explains why buyers far and wide have been clamoring to take home iconic fashion photography from Christie’s auction Susan von Meiss collection earlier this year. The Swiss journalist and entrepreneur is realigning her world-class range to focus on contemporary works and is selling 110 covetable collectibles. “Susanne von Meiss is a great connoisseur,” says Morel-Bazin. “Shoppers like collections like hers; they feel like they can be trusted.”
Carefully selected on the Allure theme, the items represent the crème de la crème of 20th century fashion photography. Fashionistas bid online and during a live evening sale on the standout images, all of which bear noble provenance. And while some sold for impressive sums, others went for more modest sums, allowing even first-time collectors to join in the fun.
The work “Brigitte Bauer“ (1966) by the German photographer FC Gundlach captures the Twilight Zone– steeped in zeitgeist of the Swinging Sixties featuring a woman in a psychedelic black and white bathing suit. “He was able to reflect a mixture of elegance and modernity in his photographs that corresponded to the graphic designs of the time,” emphasizes Morel-Bazin. The work sold for €8,820, a stunning estimate.
It’s all about high society flair in the 1970s image “Portrait de femme au chapeau‘ by the American photographer Henry Clarke. Brimming with elegance, the model poses diagonally, her eye-catching hat and long gloves are the essence of sophistication. The final price was €882, an absolute auction house bargain.
Unsurprisingly, snaps of famous actresses have been popular. A 1955 photo of the eternally swanlike Grace Kelly through Elliot Erwitt sold for €3,780, while a 1971 Windblown Portrait of Brigitte Bardot by Terry O’Neill fetched €8,820. The dazzling close-up shows the famous beauty smoking a cigarette.
But sometimes it’s all about the backstory. One of the most iconic images on sale also proved to be the most intriguing. “Mainbocher corset“ (1939) by Horst P. Horst shows a woman from behind donning a lace-up corset with long ties cascading at the bottom. The surreal-erotic work marks a historic moment for the photographer, who wanted to flee Paris shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Horst later recalled: “I left the studio at 4 a.m., went back to the house, got my bags and caught the 7 a.m. train Le Havre to go on board Normandy. We all had a feeling that war was coming… and life afterward would be completely different. This photo is the essence of this moment. As I took it, I thought of everything I left behind.” Estimated at €10,000, this unique work ultimately failed to find a buyer at the prestigious auction that sometimes happens in the fast-moving auction world.
The star lot of the evening was undoubtedly one of the most admired photographs in the fashion world,”Rue Aubriot‘ (1975). Fashion France through Helmut Newton. Shot on a dimly lit side street, it features an androgynous model with her hair slicked back in a classic Yves Saint Laurent Smoking Suit with a smoldering cigarette. This absolutely timeless image ended up selling for €60,480, well above its estimate, embodying the famous words of Saint Laurent himself: “Fashion fades; style is eternal.”
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.