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Yves Saint Laurent Movies 1&2

5 Jan
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Yves Saint Laurent, July 1960
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It looks like 2014 is going to be Yves Saint Laurent‘s turn to be immortalized on the big screen. There will be two films coming out about the life of this iconic French designer who died in 2008, despite one facing criticism from the late designer’s close companion and business partner, Pierre Bergé. The businessman – who was co-founder of the iconic house – has said that he wants to try to “ban” production of the second movie.

YSL & Pierre Bergé

Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé
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However, the second film has been backed by head of Kering (formerly known as PPR) – the conglomerate that owns Saint Laurent – Francois-Henri Pinault, who has given consent for the fashion house’s logo and designs to be used. Bergé took to Twitter to share his frustration, saying: “Two films on YSL? I hold the moral rights in the work of YSL’s image and mine have authorised that of Jalil Lespert” – in reference to his favoured film’s director. He then hinted that a trial may be in the near future. Bergé is the head of the Pierre Bergé-Saint Laurent Foundation – created to “prolong the history of the House of Saint Laurent”, while conserving a collection of 20,000 haute couture designs, accessories and sketches “that bear witness to 40 years of Yves Saint Laurent’s creativity”.

Both rival biopics currently have the working title of Yves Saint Laurent.

The first  film

YSL movie poster

Movie poster
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The first film- which has the backing of Bergé – is to be  directed by Jalil Lespert and will star French actor Pierre Niney as the late designer. Bergé has previously commented on the strong resemblance Niney has to his former companion, revealing that he almost greeted him: “Welcome Yves”.

Pictures of this movie

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YSL movie

YSL movie

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YSL movie

YSL movie

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Yves Saint Laurent opens January 8th.

It looks every dramatic, a bit over the top and every bit as glamorous as you’d expect.

Director Jalil Lespert, starts the film in 1957 as 21 year-old Saint Laurent (played by Pierre Niney, Nikolai Kinski as Karl Lagerfeld and Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre Berge. ) takes over the couture house of Dior. He is bombarded with questions from reporters but appears calm and collected. Alas, this does not last. Young Saint Laurent tears a white table-cloth dramatically, to make a sash with a bow for a glamorous client. He is temperamental: “I don’t fear critics” he proclaims. He is a diva who just wants to be alone:  “Let me sketch in peace!” he yells.

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My review:

You already  have to know a lot about Yves Saint Laurent and his friends to understand the story, otherwise you have no clue who is who and what all happens. Like the reason YSL and Karl Lagerfeld broke up as friends: YSL started a love-affair with Lagerfeld’s lover Jacques de Bascher. The movie also says a lot about Pierre Berge, who lived in the shadow of YSL and obviously had a hard time living & working with him.

The movie reveals details about YSL’s life, only Pierre Berge knew about and probably felt the need to share with the world. I don’t know what these revelations add to the legacy of YSL. It feels like Berge is still frustrated about certain events and the fact YSL couldn’t function without him and is now seeking recognition for his part in the history of YSL.

Still a nice movie to go to and see……

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The second film 

The second film- supported by Pinault – will be directed by Bertrand Bonello, with  Chanel model Gaspard Ulliel cast as the leading role opposite actress Lea Seydoux. According to The Telegraph, Bonello’s team wrote to Bergé explaining that they had not sought his blessing because they wanted true “freedom of expression”. It’s believed that the businessman’s lawyers responded immediately denying any use of his image or Saint Laurent possessions.

YSL movie poster

Movie poster of Saint Laurent film which Pierre Bergé is trying to "ban"
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Gaspar Ulliel who plays Yves Saint Laurent in the second film
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“Bergé’s role, even when Saint Laurent was alive, has been: ‘I tell the story,'” said scriptwriter Thomas Bidegain, who is working on the Bonello film. “Saint Laurent had a very complicated life and Bergé always managed the legend. That’s why he couldn’t take being dispossessed of that story.”

The French release of this movie is set for September 2014.

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Both productions are expected to focus on the early life of the designer and his relationship with Bergé.

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Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé
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YSL

The Iconic nude photograph 

In 1971, the same year that his radical ” 1940s” collection shocked animal activists and fashion critics, Yves Saint Laurent released his first perfume for men, Pour Homme. For its advertisements, Yves Saint Laurent posed in nude in front of the camera of a close friend, Jean Loup Sieff. Sieff who worked for Magnum and was at the apex of his fashion photography career when he took fourteen photos for Yves Saint Laurent. The photo brashly challenged conventional taboos of male nudity in mainstream advertising of the era.

YSL and Sieff rejected the conventional machismo virility that was usually used in the ads on that time, such as Old Spice (introduced in 1937) and Aramis (introduced in 1964). It was a ‘natural’ appearance after the excesses of 1960s youthquake ostentation and fantasy. Although YSL personally wished the photo become an icon of gay liberation, he looked almost a Christ-like figure, a wavy-haired and gaunt and stark naked but for his large-rimmed glasses. The photos desexualized nudity, and presented a more vulnerable, and androgynous side of humanity.

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Info for this post: 
http://www.vogue.co.uk/  
http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/yves-saint-laurent/

Oleg Cassini & Grace Kelly, a Fashion(able) Love Affair

22 Dec

Grace Kelly & Oleg Cassini

Who was Oleg Cassini?

Oleg Cassini (April 11, 1913 – March 17, 2006) was a French-born American fashion designer. Cassini dressed numerous stars creating some of the most memorable moments in international fashion and film. He garnered admiration and fame for his designs for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

His designs for the First Lady, ‘The Jackie Look’ are recognized as being the “single biggest fashion influence in history” by film costume designer, Edith Head. Cassini’s contemporary designs such as the A-line, Sheath and the Empire Strapless continue to remain influential and predominant today. His passions including sports and Native American culture fueled his work with freshness and imagination, creating innovative looks fueled by his very personal feeling that: “To be well dressed is a little like being in love.”

Jackie Kennedy & Oleg Cassini

Jackie Kennedy & Oleg Cassini
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More about Oleg Cassini for Jackie Kennedy:   https://agnautacouture.com/2013/10/27/jackie-kennedy-the-presidential-wardrobe/

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Grace Kelly in her Oscar gown by Oleg Cassini

The Love Affair

Grace Kelly was with Jean-Pierre Aumont, trying to get over the loss of Ray Milland when she met Oleg Cassini. Cassini had recently seen Grace Kelly in the film Mogambo and was already besotted when he spied her in a restaurant in New York. She was with Aumont whom Oleg Cassini already knew (they had competed for the love of Gene Tierney in the past). According to Oleg, when they met, Grace dressed ‘like a school teacher’. He encouraged her to ‘put a little sex in her clothes’. Cassini was something of a Casanova, an ‘accomplished seducer’ he set his sights on winning Grace’s heart and did so in typical fashion. ‘It was to be the greatest, most exhilarating campaign of my life.‘ He remarked later.

Cassini set about developing a plan of seduction which involved sending a dozen red roses to Grace’s home for ten days, he did not sign the card, instead he wrote ‘from the friendly florist’ on the tenth day he called her saying he was the friendly florist. He got her laughing and got her to join him on a date (she was chaperoned by her sister on this occasion).

Grace Kelly & Oleg Cassini

Grace Kelly & Oleg Cassini

Grace told Oleg she was in love with Ray Milland. The silver-tongued and confident Aries told her it was not a problem and that she would be engaged to him within a year. Grace left for LA the next day, but Oleg made sure he was seen by gossip columnists in the company of beauties such as Pier Angeli and Anita Ekberg in order that he would be seen and read about by Grace in their columns.

They eventually met up again on the French Riviera where they spent an evening together in what Oleg describes as a ‘distressingly platonic’ situation. He poured out his heart to Grace, declared the essence of his inner desires and that was it, his persistence paid off.

Oleg & Grace

Oleg Cassini & Grace Kelly

Oleg Cassini’s biggest obstacle to life-long happiness with Grace Kelly was his past (he had been married before and linked with many beautiful women) which caused a problem for Grace’s mother who considered Oleg a bad risk for a husband. Her father, who was an old-fashioned racist, considered Cassini to be too much of a foreigner (Oleg was a son of a Russian and born in Paris).

Grace was persuaded not to marry designer Oleg by her mother and father. “Do you realise if my mother hadn’t been so difficult about Oleg Cassini, I probably would have married him?” the screen goddess is quoted as saying. Marrying into the Monaco royal family in 1956 was an apparent attempt to gain the approval of her father, who had failed to congratulate her on any of her past accomplishments, including the Oscar she was awarded for The Country Girl.

Once married, Grace realised that there was no way of continuing the Hollywood career that she had so loved and began to regret not choosing a marriage that would have allowed her to work. “How many wonderful roles I might have played by now?” she apparently lamented. “How might my life have turned out? That one decision (to marry Prince Rainier) changed my entire future.”

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Grace Kelly 

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What Oleg Cassini had to say

Oleg, who never remarried, did let the regret tinge his voice when he talked about what might have been: “I fell in love with Grace after I saw her in Mogambo. When she broke up with Milland she sent me a postcard asking me to come to the south of France while she filmed To Catch a Thief. ‘Those who love me follow me,’ she wrote.

“Well, I let my dress collections go to hell, and I flew to Cannes. She was warm and funny and caring, also very disciplined about her work. She never stayed out past 11 p.m. Up till now our relationship had been platonic, but we had such a wonderful time that she asked me what my intentions were. I told her I wanted to marry her. We became secretly engaged.

sjcf_01_img0066Oleg Cassini with his wife actress Gene Tierney, 1941. 

“Later I saw sharks in the water. It was 1955, and Paris Match introduced Grace to Prince Rainier as a photo publicity stunt for a magazine article. I thought nothing of it. She said Rainier was nice, but that was it.

“We came back to New York and Grace was becoming a superstar. Neither of her parents liked me. The weekend I spent in Ocean City was the worst of my life. I had my own room, but I had to walk through her parents’ bedroom to get there.

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Grace Kelly & Oleg Cassini

“She kept seeing me despite her family’s opposition, even suggesting we get married right away. She told me to find a priest who would marry us. I agreed, but then she got sick and rundown. Once she recovered, she had changed her mind. Her parents had talked her out of it. I didn’t see her again until she called to tell me she was engaged to Prince Rainier.”

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350x500_grace-kelly-wedding-1Grace Kelly on her wedding day with Prince Rainier. 

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Books by Oleg Cassini

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The Wedding Dress

The quintessential book on the wedding dress, newly revised and updated in a collector’s edition, is an exciting look at the variety of luxurious wedding dresses, which both celebrates and reveals their beauty, sophistication, and romance.   From Jacqueline Kennedy to Grace Kelly, Oleg Cassini’s designs are synonymous with the world’s most glamorous women. The same electrifying elegance resonates with his magnificently crafted bridal gowns. This informative presentation discusses every aspect of the wedding dress—the ultimate expression of a bride’s personality and the focal point of her day. This book showcases a wide range of styles by such fashion luminaries as Cassini, Chanel, Dior, Armani, and McQueen, among others. The beautiful fashions, photographed by such notable photographers as Patrick Demarchelier, Benno Graziani, Horst, Arthur Elgort, Milton Greene, David LaChapelle, and Irving Penn capture the effervescent spirit that is associated with the wedding dress. The Wedding Dress begins with an overview of the sumptuous wedding gown, chronicling its history  from royal weddings to today’s celebrities. The book presents a variety of silhouettes—from elegant Empire-style floor-length gowns to flirty short dresses and sophisticated suits. The same electrifying elegance resonates, whether an informal ceremony, a formal evening affair or a spontaneous trip to City Hall. Also featured are some of the best weddings in the world, including celebrity, society, and high fashion weddings. This stylish look at the wedding dress is not only an essential resource for the bride-to-be but for everyone interested in fashion.

http://www.amazon.com/Wedding-Dress-Revised-Updated-Collectors/dp/0847841820/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387464881&sr=1-2&keywords=the+wedding+dress+by+oleg+cassini

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Book cover

A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House    

A gorgeously revised edition of this fashion favorite book, which combines Cassini’s memoirs of working closely with Jacqueline Kennedy during her brief White House years, his fashion philosophies and ideas, and the iconography of the early 1960s style and energy of the Kennedy years.  Jacqueline Kennedy’s selection of Oleg Cassini to design her personal wardrobe as First Lady was not only fashion history, but political history as well. As the creator of the “Jackie look,” Cassini made the First Lady one of the best-dressed women in the world and a glamorous icon of the Kennedy era.

During the 1000 days of the Kennedy administration, Cassini designed over 300 outfits for Jackie Kennedy—coats, dresses, evening gowns, suits, and day wear—and coordinated every aspect of her wardrobe, from shoes and hats to gloves and handbags. In this book, Cassini offers a fascinating and comprehensive view of his role as Jackie’s personal couturier, a position that allowed him unprecedented access to both Jackie and John Kennedy as a designer and a trusted friend. From the details of his first meetings with the First Lady to his thoughts on Jackie’s clothes and their legacy, Cassini’s recollections are far-ranging and informative. Also included are Cassini’s original sketches accompanied by 200 color and black-and-white photographs of the First Lady as she tours India, France, England, and Italy, shows off the White House, and hosts state dinners and family gatherings. Public moments as well as private ones capture the great elegance and charm of one of the most admired and emulated women in the world.

http://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Days-Magic-Dressing-Jacqueline/dp/0847819000

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Grace KellyGrace Kelly

Marpessa Hennink’s Collaboration with Ferdinando Scianna and Dolce & Gabbana resulted in Iconic Pictures

1 Dec

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Short Biography

Among the 80s and 90s top models, the Dutch model Marpessa plays a particular role, thanks to her extrovert personality and her unusual beauty If it is true that the name of a person holds part of his destiny, then to be called Marpessa, like the nymph disputed between the god Apollo and the warrior Idas, or like the Afro-American actress turned by Marcel Camus into the carioca Eurydice of the Black Orpheus, means having an aura of beauty that is almost mythic. This is the case of Marpessa Hennink, which entered the Olympus of the top models between the middle 80s and the early 90s. She was born in Amsterdam from Dutch parents, and her father had origins from Suriname; at 16 years old she decided to begin her career as a model. Her strong will and her daredevil personality, that mirrored her unique way of walking, don’t let her give up when Eileen Ford, pioneer of the model management that passed by the Dutch city for some castings, rejects her.

Before there was Cindy and Christy and Naomi – and for a while, during – there was Marpessa. An olive-eyed, gravel-voiced Amsterdammer whose mixed-race lineage left her feeling an outsider among her strapping, fair classmates but also made her endlessly versatile for fashion shoots, and one of the great catwalk prowlers. “Modelling made me so much happier about myself. Before that, I was like a black sheep and then all of a sudden in Milan it was ‘Ooh bella’.” For a time, she was ubiquitous.

Then, in 1993, she bowed out. “Grunge killed it for me,” she says, waving her cigarette as if to brush away a pesky fly. “I wanted to be in fashion to be beautiful and elegant, not to walk around looking like a junkie.

You can feel her agent’s anguish even now – walking away just as the big money began to cascade down the model chain. “Don’t worry, I made plenty,” she cackles.

I get the impression she made plenty more “in retirement” in Ibiza, where she had her daughter Ariel, now 10, and established an idyllic-sounding life of haute hippiedom and lucrative property development.

Doing up homes for affluent would-be bohos is sweet revenge for a model who for 12 years never had time to unpack, let alone hang a picture. Her life seems to have been a constant process of balancing and amendments. “My mum was quite a hippie and into sewing things and studying homoeopathy – and this was Holland in the Seventies, we weren’t exactly at the vanguard of fashion. So when I got to Paris I really went for it, clothes-wise.

She reckons she was the first model to dress the part off duty. Not that they were ever really off. By the late Eighties the supermodel culture was fomenting nicely; theirs was the fame that only requires a first name. She and Linda (Evangelista) were fashion-obsessed, trotting around in their Alaïa leggings and Chanel jackets. “We wanted to look as good off the catwalk as we did on. Before us models didn’t dress nicely at all,” she reports disapprovingly. “It’s not supporting the business is it? I won’t mention names but some, especially the American girls, wore the ugliest cotton knickers even to their fittings.

Marpessa, for the record, wore La Perla and Hermès. “I invented the It bag,” she laughs. She almost had an Hermès bag named after her – there was a collaboration in the offing but Ibiza got in the way.

She is an intriguing contradiction of laid-back and fastidious. But so is her parentage: her mother, the world’s “strictest hippie”, her father, a tailor “who used to go mad if he saw me up a ladder paint-stripping a wall in a Chanel jacket”.

Which would have been quite likely. She has around 17, at least two couture. She had “a particular relationship with Karl” when she was modelling. She doesn’t mean anything romantic, unless you count the creative connection that flourished between the big models of the Eighties and Nineties and the designers. She was in at the beginning, when Versace escalated the fee wars by paying models $50,000 to do one show and Dolce & Gabbana paid the models in clothes. “Models had much more input then than now,” she says. “The designers would listen to what we had to say during the fittings and sometimes they’d change the clothes because of it.” And sometimes they wouldn’t. “Then you’d have to wear something hideous on the catwalk and just pretend it was fabulous.

Apart from her hair, which she says she can never get right herself, she’s abnormally low-maintenance – no exercise, no special beauty tips, apart from total sunblock 364 days a year and one intriguing exercise she shows me to lift your boobs (smile downwards, flex your cheeks upwards, ladies, and feel the burn). She’s a compelling argument for not messing around with injectibles. In Ibiza she floated around in sun dresses (by her friend Yvonne Sporre who also decamped to the island) and lots of antique gold jewellery.

She’s wonderful at making things look effortless and as if they don’t matter very much – it’s the Chanel jacket-up-a-ladder philosophy. Secretly I think she worked quite hard in Ibiza, buying and selling real estate, as she calls it, engaging in the odd spot of modelling (she’s been in Vogue more this year than at any other time in her career) and ensuring friends like Valentino and Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana had a good time whenever they came to visit.

And then, last year, when Dolce & Gabbana launched its Alta Moda (haute couture) line, it offered her a job in Milan. When I ask her title she looks at me pityingly. “We don’t have titles.” If they did, hers would be something like “Person Who Takes Care Of Clients And Makes Wearing Alta Moda Look Easy”. Because amazingly, wearing lace dresses worth tens of thousands of pounds without looking like a museum piece can be quite tricky. So can those clients, even though she diplomatically insists they’re a breeze. Perhaps they’re simply in awe.

(By Lisa Armstrong | 06 August 2013)

http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG10224775/Lessons-from-the-Stylish-Marpessa-Hennink.html

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Collaboration with Ferdinando Scianna and Dolce & Gabbana

The long collaboration with Magnum photographer Ferdinando Scianna, with whom she shot the first D&G catalogues and campaigns and various editorial spreads, resulted in the publication of the book Marpessa, in 1993.

The first time Ferdinando Scianna has seen the top-model Marpessa, it was in photography, a small photography issued from the collection fall-winter 87, showed by the two italian designers Dolce & Gabbana. They asked him to work for them. Scianna knew nothing about fashion. It was his first experience. Like Scianna, Domenico Dolce was born in Sicilia. And for this collection, the clothes were inspired by Sicilia. As a photographer, Scianna was looking for the virtue of his earlier books on Sicilia to shoot Marpessa. The book surpasses the classic definition of fashion photographs. It’s simply like an sensual italian movie in black & white, as a long time ago…

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Young Dolce & Gabbana waiting in a car during the photo shoot on Sicilia

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book cover Marpessa

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marpessa-R%C3%A9cit-Ferdinando-Scianna/dp/2859491503

(all pictures above by Ferdinando Scianna)

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DOLCE AND GABBANA ALTA MODA

April 27, 2013

Marpessa’s elegance and charme, as well as that glint in her eye make her a truly unique beauty, at any age. Muse to Dolce&Gabbana and queen on the runway and advertisement campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, Marpessa was a different kind of super model.

Today her innate elegance make her relevant and still a muse to Dolce&Gabbana, to their Alta Moda Collection in particular, where know how, quiet luxury and attention to detail are key.

Vogue Spain      Photographer: Giampaolo Sgura, stylist: Sara Fernandéz

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My Beautiful Vintage Christian Dior Dress Suit

22 Sep

Dior dress suit

I found this beautiful Christian Dior dress suit about 15 years ago in a second-hand shop (that’s how vintage shops were called at the time). The place belonged to an ex-girlfriend of my neighbour and he advised me to walk in there once in a while, because between all the regular second-hand stock, sometimes real treasures could be found. That’s how I came to know of the shop, which was situated in a neighbourhood you would normally never look for extraordinary second-hand finds.

I got to now the owner, who one day tipped me, a wardrobe of an old lady would arrive and probably it contained some great finds. Being a collector of vintage clothes, shoes and handbags,  I got really excited with the prospect.

That day I walked in and immediately spotted the Christian Dior dress suit, which was hanging behind the counter. I didn’t want to seem to eager, so I walked around the shop, looking for other beautiful things, but nothing could beat the Dior suit. I went to the owner and informed about the price of the suit, but of course she already had noticed I my excitement ( I am the worst actor in the world) about the suit and had upgraded the price to a number she had never asked for a garment in her shop before. But I had fallen in love with the suit, which was made out from  black bouclé fabric and didn’t even try to negotiate about the price.

That is how I got to own the suit and for all these years I have taken good care of it. Because Christian Dior was the first one to number his garments, I knew I could find out more about the sui;, the year it was made (somewhere in the 1940ties?) and maybe even if it was made to order for a certain person. I didn’t do anything about this, till about a month ago. I emailed to Dior Paris about the suit and I was advised to photograph it from every side and send these pictures, together with a letter with all possible information about it, to Dior Heritage.

This week I got an email from Dior Heritage, to thank me for the photographs  and if I was willing to consider selling the suit to Dior. I haven’t thought about selling it before, but the idea of the suit returning to Dior after all these years seems very appealing to me, even romantic……

I have been able to study the suit and I want to share the pictures, so others can also see how it was made.

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The label in the back of the jacket. The number in the label is quiet faded:  30442

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Top front of the jacket with close look on the finishing work of the collar.

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The jacket has a ‘fake’ bow belt, which closes with a hook-and-eye underneath the bow

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The jacket open showing the full front of the dress, with beads and sequences on the top

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Close-up beads and sequences work

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Top front of the dress

??????????????????????????????? Back of the dress, which shows the dress looks like a two-piece, but it is one piece!

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The dress inside-out. the lining of the top is made from silk fabric

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The dress has two zippers in the back; one trough the silk lining+skirt and one in the beaded top which can open completely from top to bottom and has an extra hook-and-eye to keep it perfectly closed.

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The bottom of the inside out dress, with extra wide seams (in case it has be be made bigger)

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The label inside the dress

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Edward Steichen, a Painter by training turned to Photography

4 Aug

Edward Steichen

February 14, 2006 a photograph of a pond taken by Edward Steichen sold for more than $2.9 million, easily setting a world record for the highest amount a photograph has sold for at auction, Sotheby’s said (today this record has been broken a few times). The photograph, titled ”The Pond-Moonlight” and taken in Mamaroneck, Westchester County in 1904.

There are only three prints which were made under Steichen’s supervision, and are a great example of a rare vintage photograph by an artist who had an influence on later 20th-century photographers. Steichen’s early painterly photographs, possibly naive to our image-soaked modern eyes, helped establish photography as an art form.

The Pond-Moonlight PHOTO AUCTION

A few days ago I went to an exhibition with photographs by Edward Steichen and realised I recognized so many of his pictures, but knew nothing of the man himself. Reading about his tumultuous life, I got fascinated with this multi talent.

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Edward Steichen was born in Luxembourg in 1879, migrated with his parents to the United States only two years later, eventually settling in Milwaukee. In his mid-teens be became an apprentice lithographer and took up photography as a hobby. But his first love was painting and it was painting that inspired him to travel to Paris in 1900. Years later Steichen destroyed the canvasses in his possession, instead he learned to achieve Impressionist effects in his photographs, by blurring his lenses with petroleum jelly or manipulating his negatives and prints in the darkroom.

If it looked like a painting, it was art”.

(the photographer struggled to gain the recognition as an artist)

Self Portraits

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Steichen Steichen with his wife Clara Smith Edward Steichen Edward Steichen .

Steichen’s pictorialist period ended in 1917, when he joined the United States Army and created an aerial photography unit in northern France to gather intelligence about artillery positions and troop movements behind enemy lines. And after the war, Steichen’s lifelong interest in horticulture resulted in near-abstract images of flowers, plants and insects.

Then he went through a bad and expensive divorce. By 1922, when Steichen was 43, he was undergoing what we now call a midlife crisis. He had serious misgivings about his talent as a painter and told fellow photographer Paul Strand that he was sick and tired of being poor. He needed something to renew his energies and a means of making his alimony and child-support payments.

Flowers

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Steichen Sunflower 1920

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A crucial change happened in 1923, when Condé Nast offered him a job as chief photographer for Vanity Fair, which meant essentially house portraitist, but regular fashion work for Vogue was also part of the deal, following Baron Adolphe de Meyer, who was fashion photography’s first star. Some of his pears felt like Steichen was selling out to commercialism.

Steichen’s portraits for Vanity Fair brought him new fame. In part because of the status of celebrity subjects as Gloria Swanson and an incredibly handsome Gary Cooper. But on his Vogue assignments Steichen produced pictures as extremely careful and precise  as any painting by Gainsborough or Sargent—even though he needed to fill page after page, month after month.

gloria_swanson by edward steichen Gloria SwansonGary Cooper by Edward SteichenGary Cooper

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Steichen’s corner-to-corner attentiveness, coupled with his painterly training, allowed him to make fashion pictures that ranged in style from classic 19th-century illustrations to Art Nouveau and Art Deco. “He was designing with his camera and after starting out as a [soft-focus] pictorialist, he brought sharp focus to bear and had a tremendous effect on the field.”

Typical of his work is a 1933 picture of a model wearing a patterned dress by a designer named Cheney. Steichen poses her in front of a two-tone background covered with calligraphic curves that echo the dress, then adds a white hat, scarf and gloves, a bentwood chair and tulips—all of which make a composition reminiscent of a Matisse painting. But he also used movie conventions to make even studio photographs—which are by definition artificial—appear to be life at its most enviable. If two women and a man sat at a well-appointed dinner table, Steichen made sure that part of another table, set with equal lavishness, appeared behind them, turning the studio into a fine restaurant in which the black dresses and tuxedo found their proper context. 09_Steichen_Design-for-Stehli-Silks  Matchsticks and matchboxes study for fabricSteichen_Morehouse+piano_448 Piano of Steichen’s own design, one of his favorite props .

Astonishing is a pattern of matchsticks and matchboxes he photographed as a study for a fabric (silk) design. And his work as a designer appears in his Condé Nast work in the form of a piano of his own design he favored as a prop.

In 1937 he ended his contract with Condé Nast and devoted his time to raising Delphiniums (common name larkspur). He  became an accomplished gardener in France. During WWII he put on the uniform of a Navy officer and never returned to photographing clothes, though he kept taking pictures untill his death in 1973 at the age of 93.

Portraits

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Pola Negri

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Katharine Hepburn

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Lillian Gish

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Edward Steichen was recognized in his lifetime as one of the great photographers of the 20th century. 

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Fashion

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Marion Morehouse

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Steichen had the instinct of a communicator who was supremely confident in his eye as an artist. And if he was criticized for using art to sell clothes and magazines, he saw no reason to apologize. ”I don’t know any form of art that isn’t or hasn’t been commercial,” Steichen said in old age. After all, he added with no small immodesty, Michelangelo also liked to be paid well for his work.

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(information for this post comes from the Smithsonian magazine, article by Owen Edwards)