I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the press preview of the V&A’s latest exhibition. Having already marvelled at the Glamour of Italian Fashion and Wedding Dresses throughout the ages, this time it was the turn of Horst P. Horst, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th Century, or as the V&A more simply put it, ‘Photographer of Style’.
Horst began his career as a fashion photographer for French Vogue in 1931, and subsequently shot for French, British and American Vogue for the next 44 years.
The exhibition chronicles Horst’s life and works from the early photographs of his favourite models Lund, Lya Zelensky and Lisa Fonssagrives, portraits of the likes of Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford, to his travels to Iran and up-close shots of the Palace of Persepolis.
It was upon seeing these images of the ancient palace, that Diana Vreeland, then Editor of US Harpers Bazaar, wrote to him lauding them to be “the most exciting and thrilling things that any of us have looked at for years and years and years!” It was at this point their mutual admiration was cemented and she proved a welcome relief for him when she joined as editor of US Vogue in 1962 and commissioned him and his partner Valentine Lawford. To photograph the homes of the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol and Emilio Pucci.
The retrospective rightly reinforces that Horst’s importance is not merely down to his show works, such as the intimate images of a young Carmen Dell’ Orefice, the Mainbocher corset or his countless covers for Vogue. Horst was a rebel, often frustrating Editors for constantly shooting in the shadows and later thrilling them with his surrealist take on fashion. Inspired by and often in collaboration with his famous friends Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali, Horst played with composition in a way I’ve never seen; which is what makes this exhibition so fascinating.
Whether it is the trompe l’oeil effects within portraits and beauty shots, or the way he considered and cropped a shell, rendering it completely new, is what he did best and are the photographs of triumph.
The grand scale colour photos, nearing the end of the exhibition are gasp-inducing for any lover of fashion, as is the seemingly never ending cabinet of Horst Vogue covers, that are an unabashed ode to elegance, proving that as his close friend Chanel declared, ‘style never dies’.
The projection of his home shots, with an insouciantly cool (then Princess) Diane Von Furstenburg lounging in her louche 70s living room, peering out of heavily kohled eyes and playing with her sons in one of her signature wrap dresses, all work to momentarily transport you to another time, and fully immerse you in the sensibilities of the changing eras.
I could gush for pages about his artistic still lifes, classical inspired shoots, male nudes and witty take on beauty, all of which are explored within the exhibition -as is the extent to which he prepared and the consideration that went into constructing every one of his images, but I wouldn’t want to give away more than I already have- and spoil such an enjoyable experience.
For the budding photographers, stylists or models this is an insight into the possibilities of pushing the boundaries and a reminder of how you can borrow from the past whilst making work that is wholly original. For those in search of inspiration or wanting to merely marvel at the potential granted by passion, Horst: Photographer of Style should rank highest in your list.
Horst: Photographer of Style, showing now until the 4th January 2015 at the V&A.