Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989
Herb Ritts—Herb Ritts Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum

A Look Back at 100 Years of Fashion Photography

June 26, 2018 2:52 PM EDT

For as much its critics may proclaim that fashion is frivolous or some kind of fantastical escapism, it’s worth remembering that one of fashion’s primary functions is social expression. What we choose to wear and why can speak volumes about how we live in a rapidly changing world.

Likewise, if fashion functions as a form of cultural reaction, then fashion photography is cultural record, providing context, evidence, and commentary on the particular moment in time. This couldn’t be more evident than in Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011, an exhibition opening on Tuesday in Los Angeles at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Starting with the advent of modern fashion photography in 1911 and ending with contemporary work in 2011, the exhibit is a veritable crash course in 100 years of style, showcasing the talents of legendary photographers like Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Gordon Parks, Guy Bourdin, Herb Ritts, and Inez & Vinoodh.

From Cecil Beaton’s 1941 photograph of a stoic yet soigné model amid the WWII blitz-ravaged rubble of London to Jamel Shabazz’s achingly cool street style photos of the hip hop scene in the early ‘80s in New York City, the over 160 photographs featured serve as not only a retrospective of fashion photography, but the political, cultural, and social evolution of a century.


Bathing Suits by Izod, Paris, 1930
George Hoyningen-Huene—Horst/Richard and Allison Roeder/J. Paul Getty Museum


Black Evening Dress in Flight, New York, 1963
Hiro—J. Paul Getty Museum


Renée, "The New Look of Dior," Place de la Concorde, Paris, August 1947
Richard Avedon—Richard Avedon Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum


The Latin Connection, 1982
Jamel Shabazz—J. Paul Getty Museum


Kate Moss, 1994
Glen Luchford—J. Paul Getty Museum


Diana Newman, 1966
Neal Barr—J. Paul Getty Museum


Yohji Yamamoto, Autumn/Winter, 1995
David Sims—J. Paul Getty Museum


Untitled, for Charles Jourdan, Spring 1977
Guy Bourdin—Guy Bourdin Estate/J. Paul Getty Museum


Sveta for Hussein Chalayan, 2000
Sarah Moon—J. Paul Getty Museum


Model Wearing a Gown by Augustabernard, 1936
Man Ray—Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP/J. Paul Getty Museum


The Dress-Lamp Tree, England, 2002
Tim Walker—Steven and Catherine Fink/The J. Paul Getty Museum


Fashion is Indestructible, London, 1941
Cecil Beaton—Condé Nast/Victoria and Albert Museum/J. Paul Getty Museum


Style Profile, Ni’ma Ford, December 22, 2011
Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist—Danziger Gallery/J. Paul Getty Museum


Bettina and Frances McLaughlin-Gill, New York, 1950
Gordon Parks—Gordon Parks Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum


Guinevere in Black Dress by Yohji Yamamoto, Paris, 1996
Paolo Roversi—J. Paul Getty Museum


Woman Examining Man, Saint-Tropez, 1975
Helmut Newton—Helmut Newton Estate/J. Paul Getty Museum


The Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939
Horst P. Horst—Condé Nast/J. Paul Getty Museum


Miss M, 1988
Jean-Baptiste Mondino—M+B Gallery/J. Paul Getty Museum

Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011 is on view June 26-October 21, 2018 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Kara Milstein is an associate photo editor at TIME Magazine. Follow her on Instagram.

Cady Lang is a reporter at TIME. Follow her on Twitter.

Write to Cady Lang at