In his latest column, Business of Fashion’s Colin McDowell reviews the best fashion titles released in time for the holiday period.
The fashion adage that death needs pearls, attributed to Diana Vreeland (erroneously, I suspect) is as crass as the belief held by some fashion magazines that pictures of clothes need colour. It is a belief that has bedeviled the fashion book for years, making it the bimbo of illustrated publishing: pretty, but dumb. By and large for clothes, line, volume and scale are much more important than colour, and they are much more easily understood in black and white — things colour normally distorts.
Which is why “Dior by Avedon” (Rizzoli, £115), published by Rizzoli and priced at a whopping £115, is worth paying for. The work of one of fashion’s great creators (many would say its greatest), photographed by a truly great photographer whilst the couturier was at the top of his creative stride, printed to the highest standards, simply can’t be cheap. As every fashionista knows, quality doesn’t come at a bargain price. So, take a deep breath and hand over that card. You are buying a masterclass in design, photography and fashion history — you will not regret it.
Along with Irving Penn, Richard Avedon was the greatest fashion photographer of the late 20th century, and it all started with an assignment to shoot the collections in Paris in 1947 — the year of the “New Look.” Catching the spirit of Paris and using top models such as Susie Parker, Avedon took fabulous, statuesque pictures but he also had his models running across roads, sheltering from the rain, roller-skating in the Place de la Concorde. Couture had never been treated in such a light-hearted way before. Dior by Avedon is a history of a perfect creative coalescence: a magazine (Harper’s Bazaar); an editor (Carmel Snow, who is credited with giving the “New Look” its name); a fashion editor (Diana Vreeland who later lured Avedon away from Harper’s when she became editor of Vogue; and an inspirational art director (Alexey Brodovitch). It was the sort of marriage of true minds that could only have been made in heaven, and only happens once.
True high fashion was in its death throes only 10 years after Dior’s sudden death in 1947. In this book, what has been lost is beautifully, amusingly and dramatically photographed, to be relished in the same way as a vintage car or classic wine.
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