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Moment 26: Art of Fashion

Art has captured fashion's every nuance, first with stylized illustrations, then with professional photography and now with images captured on digital devices.

An early sketch by Steven Meisel for WWD and one of his photos for the paper from a Betsey Johnson fashion shoot
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Throughout the first half of WWD's history, stylized illustrations tracked fashion's every mood and nuance. Major illustrators traveled to the Paris couture shows—when no photographers were allowed—and drew for WWD. For years they produced graphic images for the front page and for major fashion magazines. Leading illustrators in the first half of the 20th century were Eric, George Barbier, Erté, George Lepape, Marcel Vertés, René Bouet-Willaumez, Christian Bérard, René Bouché, Tod Draz and René Gruau. In the second half of the 21st century, highly stylized drawings were done by Antonio Lopez, Kenneth Paul Block, Mats Gustafson, Steven Stipelman, Joe Eula and Michaele Vollbracht. And photographer Steven Meisel got his start in the Seventies as an illustrator for WWD.

By the late Fifties, fashion magazines began to phase out illustrations in favor of photography, which brought more precision and movement to their pages. Three of the most influential photographers, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, energized fashion image-making. Avedon's work showed movement and vigor as he redefined the modern woman and gave her a free style, while Penn's pictures were more cerebral and reflected his early training as a painter. Newton became known for his sexually provocative images that captured everything from Yves Saint Laurent in the era of Le Smoking to Amazonian women in corsets (or no corset at all). As marketing became more sophisticated in the Eighties and Nineties, photographers took more risks and their ads became as anticipated as the magazines' editorial shoots. Case in point: Avedon's "Three Diors," a humorous campaign that ran from 1982 to 1984; Bruce Weber's erotically charged Calvin Klein Underwear ads in 1982, and the controversial, suggestive and highly stylized Steven Meisel ads for fashion houses like Versace, Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana in the Nineties. Photographers became as famous as the designers they were hired to sell, often charging day rates of between $70,000 and $130,000, not including royalties. Other lensmen such as Mario Sorrenti, Juergen Teller, Herb Ritts, Patrick DeMarchelier, Craig McDean, the late Corinne Day, Ellen von Unwerth, Steven Klein, Paulo Roversi, the team of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, among others, produced edgy ad campaigns and editorial spreads, surreal photographs and documentary-style images. By implementing gritty realism or overt sexuality, the images provoked an emotional response, rather than the simple promotion of merchandise. In the Nineties, photographers were out to directly provoke and were blamed for glamorizing heroin chic, the waif look and even pornography. As the first decade of the 21st century unfolded, digital photography, smart phones and instant image transmission took over the landscape and dramatically changed the way photographers and editors work.