Rare fashion photo exhibition set for Edinburgh

An image shot for Vogue Italia in 1989. Picture: Peter Lindbergh
An image shot for Vogue Italia in 1989. Picture: Peter Lindbergh
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Rarely-seen pictures of supermodels Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Jean Shrimpton and Cindy Crawford have gone on display in a major new exhibition in Edinburgh.

Some of the very earliest fashion photography - around 100 years old - also features into the Coming Into Fashion exhibition, which is drawn from the vast archives of publishing titan Conde Nast.

Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, David Bailey, Corinne Day and Mario Testino are among the photographers whose early pioneering work takes centre stage at the City Art Centre.

Edinburgh has secured the only UK showing of the exhibition - drawn from the Conde Nast studios in New York, Paris and London. It will visit Zurich, Paris, Florida and Tokyo after its Edinburgh run from Saturday until till mid-September.

Among the earliest pioneers featured are Paris-born Adolphe de Meyer, Vogue’s first fashion photographer, whose first picture appeared in 1933, and American photographer Edward Steichen, who is largely credited with taking the world’s first ever fashion photographs, in 1911.

However the exhibition charts the growth of the fashion industry from its earliest beginnings in France in the 17th century up until the seminal moment when New York-born Conde Montrose Nast snapped up Vogue magazine.

Other celebrated photographers featured include Helmut Newton, Erwin Blumenfield, Irving Penn, the Earl of Snowdon and Edinburgh-born Albert Watson, who carved out a hugely successful career after moving to the United States in 1970, despite being born blind in one eye.

However, intriguingly, none of the models in the exhibition are identified by name, leaving the visitor to try to guess the famous faces in front of the lens.

Nathalie Herschdorfer, curator of the exhibition, which is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival this summer, said: “The earliest work we have in the exhibition really is among the first fashion photography taken anywhere.

“Adolphe de Meyer and Edward Steichen were established photographers but they pretty much had to invent a new language, as fashion photography didn’t exist at the time.

“The interesting thing is that the models in many of the early fashion photographs were already celebrities, like Broadway actresses and dancers from the time, as well as silent film stars.

“Mr Conde Nast bought Vogue in 1909 and until the very first fashion photography appeared in it in 1914, magazines had really only had illustrations or drawings. It was just too technically difficult to reproduce on the page until then.

“As he put a lot of money into the company, it could do that for the first time, and decided to hire good photographers to do the fashion shoots and they had to make it happen, even though it was all new to them. They had no real interest in fashion, but he allowed them to use his own apartment for the shoots.

As first the models were local rich girls, but the photographers were not comfortable with them, but Mr Conde Nast decided to use Broadway actresses or dancers because they already knew how to pose and perform. From the very early days, celebrity was mixing with fashion.”

The exhibition charts the different trends and developments in fashion photography, including the use of colour for the first time in the 1930s, the golden eras of the 1940s and 1950s, when Vogue’s rivalry with Harper’s Bazaar was at its height, and the arrival of rising British stars like David Bailey in the 1960s. The exhibition features several of his early photographs of his girlfriend Jean Shrimpton, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s first supermodels and an icon of the “Swinging Sixties.”

Among the more contemporary photographs in the exhibition are those by Corinne Day, the British photographer renowned for her work with Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista.

Ms Herschdorfer added: “It’s interesting how much fashion photography has been a commentary on society.

“For example, in the 1940s, it was about bringing woman out to work and also to drive, and that is very much reflected in the magazines of the time, In the 1960s, it was more about about being joyful, freedom and having fun.

“In the 1980s, you had all the supermodels, fantastic bodies on the beach and it was about being a healthy woman.

“At that time the models started to become recognisable, but it was also interesting in the 1990s because some of the models didn’t look so comfortable, like Kate Moss. Photographers like Corinne Day, who were self-taught, created a real stir, because she had a totally different style. It was shocking at the time.”

As well as the original portraits, some of the earliest surviving issues of fashion bibles like Vogue and Glamour feature in the exhibition, which is being accompanied by a full programme of related events, including fashion shows, masterclasses with leading Scottish designers, and guest lectures.

Richard Lewis, the city council’s culture leader, added: “It really is a fantastic coup for the City Art Centre to bring Coming into Fashion to Edinburgh - the one and only opportunity to view the exhibition on these shores.

“Featuring work by some of the biggest names in the history of fashion photography, I’m sure it will be a huge draw over the summer months.”