Polly Mellen styled the controversial Bathhouse Series & Nastassja Kinski

20 Jul

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Avedon2002Polly Mellen by Richard Avedon, 2002

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In a career that spanned more than half a century, Polly Mellen , today 90 years old, helped create some of the most indelible imagery in the history of fashion. Her work as a stylist and editor, first under the legendary Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar, and later under both Vreeland and Grace Mirabella at Vogue, helped define a new, more modern ethos about clothes and how women wore them.

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 Polly Mellen with the 90s supermodels, Linda, Naomi & Christy

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Short Biography

polly mellen

Polly Allen Mellen was born in Connecticut, in 1924. She attended Miss Porter’s School for girls,in the early ‘40s, and later work as a nurse’s aid at an Army hospital in Virginia during WWII. 

In 1949 she moved to New York and became salesgirl at Lord & Taylor and a fashion editor at Mademoiselle. Soon after she was introduced to Diana Vreeland, then a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and joins her at the magazine, where she will meet her future longtime creative collaborator, Richard Avedon. At first he is not keen on working with Polly, he finds her “to noisy”. She also worked with Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Arthur Elgort, and, more recently, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel, and Steven Klein.

Later Avedon stated: “From Vreeland’s rib came Polly Mellen,”  of the longtime Vogue fashion stylist, “from that day on, Eden never looked better” and “She was the most creative sittings editor I ever worked with.”

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Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

The Bathhouse (styled by Polly) was one of Vogue’s most controversial shoots that scandalised Vogue reader to pull out of their subscribsion, relating the images to Dachau and drug addicts (Heroin Chiq avant la lettre). It took five days with each spread taking a day to shoot. The amazing location was the Asser Levy Bath House, New York
 

Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

Bathhouse

Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

Bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville

 

Bathhouse try out

 

pre study picture 2

 

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Polly marries her first husband Louis Bell in 1952, moves to Philadelphia and has two children. After she and Louis divorced (1962), she meets Henry Wigglesworth Mellen, who becomes het second husband in 1965.

A year later she returns to New York to work for Diana Vreeland as a fashion editor at Vogue, and rekindles creative partnership with Avedon. There first collaboration for Vogue is a five week trip to Japan where they produce ‘The Great Fur Caravan’ ( read & see the post of last week!). When in 1971, Diane Vreeland leaves Vogue, Polly carries on under editor in chief Grace Mirabella and in 1979, she becomes fashion director of Vogue,  . .

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Nastassja Kinski 

During an Avedon shoot with Nastassja Kinski, Polly learned that the actress  liked animals, in particular snakes, because they are “exciting when they move”. She rushed to Avedon and insisted that the team “must send out for a snake!”
 
The result is a famous photograph of a nude, outstretched Kinski wearing only an ivory Patricia von Musulin  bracelet and a live python. This statement illustrated quite literally that fashion was about more than just beautiful clothes.

 Nastassja Kinski  .   .

.In 1991 Polly joins the staff of new Condé Nast beauty magazine Allure as creative director. Two years later she receives a lifetime achievement award at age 68 from the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.) and makes a memorable, nostalgic cameo appearance in Douglas Keeve’s fashion-industry documentary, “Unzipped.” More than ever, fans appreciated her on-air grandiosity and declarations of fashion truisms.

After a brief freelance period of two years, Polly retires from styling in 2001, 

 

GAP advertisement

At 78, Polly appears in an advertising campaign for the Gap wearing a men’s vintage T-shirt layered over a long-sleeved tee and Long & Lean jeans.
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In addition to producing unforgettable fashion stories, Polly was also inspiring young fashion talent, mentoring at-the-time-newcomers including Vera wang, Nicolas Ghesquière (whom she spotted already when he was an intern for Jean Paul Gaultier), Isaac Mizrahi, and Phoebe Philo, as well as future hair and makeup stars François Nars and Garren. Considered eccentric by some people, she was committed to never being “over it” when it came to fashion. She became known at runway shows as the editor who, when excited  by a collection, would raise her hands high above her head and clap long and loud.

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Various work by Polly Mellen

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US Vogue 1983 Polly Mellen  Helmut Newton & Hans Feurer

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Unzipped (1995)

DVD cover

Isaac Mizrahi, one of the most successful designers in high fashion, plans his fall 1994 collection. He combines inspirations such as the Hollywood Eskimo look, the Mary Tyler Moore show, and Ouija-derived advise like “dominatrix mixed with Hitchcock” into a well-received collection. A behind-the-scenes look at the creative side of fashion.

 

The best thing about UNZIPPED is it introduced me to Polly Mellen who is hilarious and brilliant.

Isaac Mizrahi.

 

 

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Polly Mellen

 

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2 Responses to “Polly Mellen styled the controversial Bathhouse Series & Nastassja Kinski”

  1. Del Reno 13 March 2015 at 00:31 #

    To be fair the Veruschka image was styled by Giorgio Sant Angelo.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Deborah Turbeville, described as the anti-Helmut Newton | - 27 July 2014

    […]  In 1975, Vogue publishes what is probably Deborahs most infamous images, the Bathhouse series: skinny and world-weary-looking women wearing maillots and robes in a bathhouse that broke nearly every rule about how models in swimsuits were supposed to look. “I didn’t expect them to cause trouble,” she later says. (I already published these pictures in my last post: Polly Mellen styled the controversial Bathhouse Series & Nastassja Kinski ) […]

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