Explore a Century of Fashion Photography at Condé Nast

3 minute read

From his earliest days as a publisher at the turn of the 19th century, Condé Nast was an astute talent scout, quick to grasp the possibilities presented by photography at the forefront of the avantgarde. He launched the careers of top photographers like Franca Sozzanieager who was eager to capture the best of haute couture. He employed editors and art directors like Diana Vreeland and Alexander Liberman who made the Condé Nast studios in New York, Paris and London laboratories of creativity. And quickly, the pages of his magazines—predominantly his flagship, Vogue, and later Vanity Fair and Glamour—became a major force not only in fashion magazines but in the evolution of visual culture.

More than 100 years later, these images are being made public in Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast. The exhibit, a collaboration with the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and Switzerland based photography curator Nathalie Herschdorfer, is a selection of 160 images that represent developments of fashion photography over 100 years.

“The printed page is the medium of the 20th century and so most people were educated to photography through the magazine,” Herschdorfer says. “It is important to go back to history and see how this photography history started.”

Herschdorfer was the first curator outside Condé Nast to get complete access to the archives in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she navigated among eight million images that distill the taste of every era. She opened box after box, thumbing through magazines and original prints. “I was not looking for specific photographers or icons,” she says. “I wanted to make a selection that represented the history of fashion photography but also included those iconic photos that stood well enough on their own, across any era.”

Each photograph is a fragment of a larger story, prompting the viewer to build their own narrative around each: one woman emerges from a green taxicab in a perfectly-tailored 1940s sheath dress; another adjusts her wide-brimmed hat that captured 1950s elegance. Deborah Turbeville’s iconic swimsuit models of course made the cut, as well as Inez & Vinoodh’s edgy punk rock shoot.

“Fashion photography is a way to understand how we represent the construction of female beauty and how it has changed over the years,” she says. “While it’s about selling beauty, selling fashion, it’s also about selling dreams. It can show precisely how the clothes are done, but it can also reflect an idea, an atmosphere, a feeling.”

Some images made in the 1940s could still work today on a magazine cover, Herschdorfer says. “They belong to a specific period but are still visually strong today, without regard to the page it was on, the era it came from or the product it was selling.”

Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast is being held at KYOTOGRAPHIE International Photography Festival 2016 in Japan until May 22, 2016.

Rachel Lowry is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Model with head and forearms sticking through white board or paper, wearing olive glove, bracelets, and applying lipstick
American Vogue, March 1943John Rawlings—Condé Nast
Woman silhouetted under red cross
American Vogue, March 1945Erwin Blumenfeld—Condé Nast
Love, Spring/Summer 2011Sølve Sundsbø—Art + Commerce
Model wearing a tight-fitting brown rayon dress with draped torso, a Vogue pattern, together with mink fur hat and stole from Gunther's.
American Vogue, September 1945Constantin Joffé—Condé Nast
Anne Catherine Lacroix - Vogue Paris, 2002
French Vogue, October 2002Inez & Vinoodh—Gagosian Gallery
Vogue Paris - February 1955
French Vogue, February 1955Guy Bourdin—Art + Commerce
Five models posed in shower room of East 23rd Street Swimming Pool, NYC, wearing, from left to right: white maillot by Jean-Louis Scherrer with wrapped gauze sarong; white maillot with sheer second-skin by Stephen Burrows; white maillot with criss-cross straps by Courr�ges Boutique; oversized terry poncho by Ungaro; All hair by Fran�ois of Suga and makeup by Sandra Linter
American Vogue, May 1975Deborah Turbeville—Condé Nast
Duplicate of four back-views of seated models in swimsuits by Cole of California, Mabs, Caltex amd Catalina, and bathing caps
American Vogue, June 1949Clifford Coffin—Condé Nast
Vogue Italia, September 2002Miles Aldridge

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