Coming into Fashion – A Century of Photography at Condé Nast

By Jenni Davidson | 10 July 2013

Exhibition review: Coming into Fashion – A Century of Photography at Condé Nast, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until September 8 2013

A photo of a woman holding a whistle
Sebastian Kim, Teen Vogue (January 2011)© Sebastian Kim
Magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Glamour are synonymous with high glamour fashion photography and Condé Nast, the publisher behind those brands, has amassed quite a back catalogue.

Edinburgh’s City Art Centre has dipped into the publisher’s archives and picked a selection of the best images for Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast.

Hand-illustrated fashion magazines first appeared in France during the 17th century. However, they really came into their own with the move to photography.

The first fashion photographs were taken by the American photographer Edward Steichen for Condé Nast in 1911, and the century since then has seen the rise of the celebrity fashion photographer and the styled photo shoot as an art form.

Household names such as Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton, David Bailey and Mario Testino cut their teeth on the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair.

With ten decades of history and the work of 80 photographers, it’s difficult to pick highlights from the exhibition.

The black and white images of Gatsby-eque flapper fashion from the 1910s and 1920s are much simpler than many of the elaborately styled scenes that follow them.

Alarming but dramatically of its time is a 1938 image by Erwin Blumenfeld of a model hanging over the edge of skyscraper with her dress billowing in the wind.

Constantin Joffé’s 1945 picture of a slender model, clad in a brown suit and hat emerging from a green taxi, illustrates a post-war convergence of the glamorous and the wearable.

An accessories shot for American Vogue in 1943 by John Rawlings featuring just a model’s head and two hands seems surprisingly contemporary. It looks like a precursor to later digital image manipulation, but is achieved in the more prosaic way of popping the model’s head and hands through a sheet of white paper.

One of the strangest shots in the exhibition is Guy Bourdain’s 1955 photograph for French Vogue of a well-dressed model in a broad-brimmed hat below three dead cows with their tongues hanging out.

David Bailey’s modern, informal shots are full of movement. They encapsulate the youthful fashion of that 1960s, while the 1970s saw the more overtly sexual images of the likes of Albert Watson and Hans Feurer.

Peter Lindbergh’s 1989 photograph of Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Lynn Koester and Ulli Stein Meier dressed as the Beatles humorously references the rise of the celebrity model in the 1980s.

While Coming into Fashion tracks the changing styles of the last century and the development of fashion photography as an art form, it also shows the timelessness of a classic image: many of the photographs could just as easily appear as a retro-styled shoot today.

It just goes to show, if it’s in Vogue, it’s in vogue.

  • Open 10am-7pm (12pm-7pm Sunday). Admission £2.50-£5 (family ticket £11). Follow the centre on Twitter @EdinCulture.

More pictures:

A photo of three different coloured feet protruding from a red stage curtain
Miles Aldridge, Vogue Italia (September 2002)© Miles Aldridge
A photo of four women in bathing suits sitting on a desert beach backs to the camera
Clifford Coffin, American Vogue (June 1949)© 1949 Condé Nast
A photo of four female models in bathing suits standing within a shower
Deborah Turbeville, American Vogue (May 1975)© 1975 Condé Nast
A photo of a glamorous woman in a furry hat emerging from a green car
ConstantinJoffé, American Vogue (September 1945)© 1945 Condé Nast
A photo of a woman applying lipstick
John Rawlings, American Vogue (March 1943)© 1943 Condé Nast
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