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Saturday, October 19, 2013

EZee Art - Horst P. Horst Photography

There are many people I would like to write about, but Horst P. Horst has always been very dear to my heart. My favorite photograph of all times is The Mainbocher Corset, shot by him in 1939 at the studios of Vogue, Paris on the Champs-Elysees. The picture, which marked the end of his work for some time, later became his most cited fashion photograph.

“I like taking photographs, because I like life. And I love photographing people best of all, because most of all I love humanity.” - Horst P. Horst 
Horst P. Horst by Cecil Beaton for Vogue, 1948
 When Horst made this modest personal statement, he was doing no less than summing up an epic career as one of the twentieth century’s most privileged witnesses. As one of the old masters of Fashion photography, he captured  and defined the glamour  of the interwar Parisian chic.
“We never thought of it as fashion when I was in Paris. . . . It was l’élégance, the way we lived,” he told The New York Times in 1991.
Horst P. Horst - his real name was Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann - was born in 1906 in Weissenfels on the Saale River in Germany. Horst studied briefly in Hamburg at the School of Commercial Arts before migrating to the Seine, where the young, blond, handsome photographer soon felt himself at home. He sought his friends among the exalted bourgeoisie with an interest in art, or among precisely those commercial artists who were especially successful in fashion and fashion publicity. At that time, by his own account, he was a rather aimless young man, and he had never even heard of Vogue magazine, when at a café in Paris in 1930 he met the Baltic Baron von Hoyningen-Huene, already one of the great fashion photographers of his time. The slightly older exiled aristocrat became a particularly important and influential friend to Horst. The younger photographer, well built but somewhat short, often stood as model for Hoyningen-Huene, and thus gradually established a foothold in fashion photography for himself. Horst soon began living with Hoyningen-Huene, becoming his assistant, protégé, occasional model, and intimate companion. His mentor introduced him to international café society and its luminaries: Jean Cocteau, Christian Bérard, Jean-Michel Frank, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Luchino Visconti, and Cole Porter—all of whom would become friends as well as subjects. As Vogue’s Diana Vreeland would later remark, “Fashion, for him, was a great entrée into a period, a way of life.”

Horst fully came into his own capturing the most glittering personalities of the day, from the Duchess of Windsor and Marlene Dietrich to Gertrude Stein and Salvador Dalí. (Along the way, he would become Luchino Visconti’s lover, introduce Elsa Schiaparelli to the Bedouin women who taught her how to drape dresses, and give Coco Chanel the Tyrolean jacket that inspired her iconic tweed jacket.)

Horst P. Horst- Coco Chanel (Reclining), 1937

Horst P. Horst- Coco Chanel, 1937

Horst P. Horst- Elsa Schiaparelli, c. 1934

Horst P. Horst- Joan Crawford, 1938

Horst P. Horst- Marlene Dietrich, 1942

Horst P. Horst - Diana Vreeland 1979

Horst remained the classicist among photographers. Women, he once said, he photographed like goddesses: "almost unattainable, slightly statuesque, and in Olympian peace." Stage-like settings along with all kinds of props and accessories emphasize his affinity to the classic world.

Horst P. Horst- Ginger Rogers, 1936

Horst P. Horst- Helen Bennett modelling in Seligmann Gallery - series of variants, 1938

So here it is again: the corset. Enlightened doctors had warned against it; Coco Chanel had combated it. In the eyes of the reform movement of the 1920s, the corset was nothing less than a relict of feudal times and the expression of a highly unhealthy way of life. But now, suddenly, on the eve of the Second World War, it had reappeared. More precisely: it appeared in the fashion shows of 1939. Dresses, coats, jackets once again showed a waist, thus making a corset a necessary item for all those for whom, as Vogue formulated it, things were not quite comme il faut.

"Oh," said a commentary in the September issue of 1939, "stop complaining that the corset is uncomfortable. In the first place, the modern stays are well designed: one can sigh and even breathe properly. And secondly, comfort is not really the issue, but rather acquiring the bodily proportions of a siren. Or those of Tutankhamun in his golden coffin."

Horst P. Horst - Black Corset
Mainbocher is a fashion label founded by the American couturier Main Rousseau Bocher, also known as Mainbocher. In November 1929, Main Bocher fused his own name and established his own fashion house, incorporated as "Mainbocher Couture," at 12 Avenue George V in Paris. Mainbocher designed expensive, elegant haute couture dresses and gowns for an exclusive clientele in Paris and later in New York. He designed much of Wallis Simpson's wardrobe, naming a color, "Wallis Blue," for her. In 1937, he also designed the wedding dress and trousseau of her marriage to the former Edward VIII (the Duke of Windsor). Described as one the most photographed and most copied dresses of modern times,the bridal dress is today part of the Metropolitan Museum collection.

Mainbocher's last Paris collections created a storm of controversy. Just as later Dior's "New Look", the "Mainbocher Corset," a nipped-in waist, radically altered the undefined silhouette of the thirties. The corset that shaped Mainbocher's last Parisian collection was immortalized in 1939 by one of Horst's most famous photographs, known as the "Mainbocher Corset'. Many consider the photograph to be Horst P. Horst's best work an opinion that the photographer himself would probably agree with.

Horst P. Horst- Mainbocher Corset, 1939

This was the last photograph taken before the beginning of the Second World War. The picture was actually intended for a Vogue special in the October, 1939 issue, but with the war going on people were not in a mood for Fashion. Horst's "Mainbocher Corset" appeared - reduced to the size of a postage stamp - on page 35 of the December issue of the French Vogue. By this time, the photographer was already long in the USA, and in the following year, he would apply for American citizenship. Similarly, Mainbocher, who had still managed to make an impression through "a memorable Collection" in 1939, closed its Paris house in 1940 and also moved to America. Thus Horst's magnificent rear nude unwillingly became the apotheosis of an age and of a profession.
"The Thirties," as Janet Flanner later laconically observed, "were over."

More of Horst P. Horst pictures on Pinterset.

Notes from A World History of Art .


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