When it comes to luxury fashion brands, the US can’t hold a candle to Europe, particularly France. Crucially, the US has no tradition of couture. But, in the mid-20th century, one US luxury brand flickered into life and burned brightly and briefly. Its name: Irene, after its founder, Irene Lentz.
Irene grew up on a ranch. As well as establishing her own brand, she was one of Hollywood’s busiest and most influential costume designers, with two Oscar nominations and 123 credits on IMDb. Those scandalous high-waist shorts and midriff-baring top in which we first encounter Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice are down to Irene.
Irene Lentz managed to build her brand in what was, before the 1960s, a sector dominated by men. That’s a distinction she shares with a handful of talented women, notably Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparell. In the US back then, the other notable dress designer was Claire McCardell, but she was working behind the scenes and aiming for a more casual, mass market.
Irene was a master of her craft, in touch with the zeitgeist and with a flair for marketing. She’s a remarkable and tragic figure, whose story falls into five chapters.
Chapter 1 – Irene Lentz gets going
Irene Lentz is born in 1901 in Brookings, South Dakota, then, in 1910, moves with her family to Baker, Montana. Nine years later she’s on the move again, this time with her mother and younger brother to Los Angeles.
In 1921, she’s working as a full-time sales girl in a drug store, when F Richard Jones (Dick to his friends) drops by and takes a shine to her. He’s a director of silent films at the Mack Sennett Studio and helps Irene to get a job there, initially as a production assistant, later as a star. IMDb lists eight movies in which she appears between 1921 and 1925. During that time she features as one of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties – a bevy of scantily-clad (for the period) eye candy who keep popping up in his Keystone comedies and at any other opportunity.
During her acting stint, Irene Lentz spots an opportunity to design and sell clothes to the growing movie community and from 1924–26 studies at the Wolfe School of Design. Dick Jones is still there in the background (or perhaps even the foreground, who knows?) and in 1926 they set up their first shop, on South University Avenue.
By 1929, the business is thriving, they relocate the shop to larger premises and get married. Then tragedy strikes. The following year, just 11 months after their wedding, Dick dies of tuberculosis age 37. Irene closes the shop and leaves for Europe, where she discovers the wonderful world of Paris couture.
Irene Lentz’s account of how she got started demonstrates her skill at building a brand story. Here it is, as reported by Frederick C Othman in Behind the Scenes, Hollywood in the 7 June 1942 edition of The Press Democrat:
She left the ranch when she was 16 to study music here at the University of Southern California. Had a roommate who was too timid to attend night school classes in dress design alone. Miss Lentz went along. After two nights she knew she was going to be a dress designer herself. She finished the course, dropped the music and set up a dress shop on the university campus, with the sign, “Irene.” That’s all the name she’s had since then. Just Irene.
“The campus shop was a great success from the beginning,” she said. “The dresses were cheap, and I do think they had a certain flair, but the real reason for my rushing trade was the fact that my store was the only place on the campus where the girls could smoke. Cigarettes were strictly against the rules everywhere else. So I always had a shop full of prospective clients, smoking. The place was so full of smoke so much of the time that my doctor wouldn’t believe it when I told him I didn’t smoke.”
The coeds smoked and bought dresses and received one of their major thrills when Dolores Del Rio walked into the store and bought an evening gown for $45.
“I never did learn how she heard about me,” Irene said. “But she was wonderful. Many a woman would not have told a soul where she’d bought that dress. But Dolores told everybody she knew. After that I got plenty of movie trade.
“One of my best customers was Lupe Velez. She refused to try on dresses in the fitting room. She tried them in the front room, by the plate-glass window. She always had a gallery.”
What a great account and love the sketches of Dolores and Lupe – the two Mexican superstars pretty much at the peak of their popularity. But, interestingly, no mention of Irene’s acting exploits or, indeed, of Dick Jones. Perhaps she feels that these would detract, or at least distract, from the narrative she wants to promote.
Irene’s tale of how “one day I discovered my passion and, through a combination of dedication and luck, built a business” is a kind of blueprint for so many subsequent start-ups. Notable practitioners are the likes of Markus and Daniel, the eponymous creators of Freitag, and Phil Knight whose memoir, Shoe Dog, recounts his adventures as founder of Nike.
Chapter 2 – Irene goes into couture
Following the death of her husband, Irene Lentz goes to France for five weeks and while she’s there she visits the salons run by the Paris couturiers. She returns to the US, her head spinning with ideas. In 1931 she opens Irene Ltd on Sunset Boulevard and it’s a big hit. Within two years, it’s being eyed up enviously by the guys at Bullocks Wilshire, a Los Angeles department store that’s the pinnacle of style and opulence. They’re attracted by both the quality of her product and her stellar clientele.
There’s clearly synergy here and they persuade Irene to move her operation to the department store and open up a kind of French salon. This is a ground-breaking development – the first designer/retail store partnership of its kind. From now on, her clothing label, copied from a logo created by Dick Jones, simply reads “Irene.” Could her original inspiration have come from Gilbert Adrian Greenburg, known simply as Adrian, at MGM?
As a customer, the service you receive is as lavish as the clothes you’re buying. You can see Irene’s original creations modelled in-store. As at the salons in Paris, the team you meet for your fitting includes the designer herself as well as a tailor and a pattern cutter. You also get to have shoes and jewellery picked from elsewhere in the store to complement your ensemble.
The Irene brand already has a following in the film community and the move to Bullocks raises its profile, prestige and prices – one of those tailored suits will set you back $400–700. For the remainder of the decade, Irene Lentz continues to build her clientele among the stars and wealthy wives of studio executives as well as landing commissions from production companies to design the wardrobes for their movies. One of the first is Flying Down to Rio (1933), whose leading lady, Dolores del Rio, insists that Irene design her costumes.
Other divas whose film wardrobe she ends up designing include Constance and Joan Bennett, Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, Hedy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert and Ingrid Bergman. By the late-1930s she is travelling to Paris for the spring fashion shows. And by 1941, even British Vogue refers to Irene’s “Californian elegance.”
Meanwhile, at a party thrown by her customer, fan and friend, Dolores del Rio, Irene Lentz meets Eliot Gibbons. This is no coincidence. During the 1930s, Dolores is the wife of Cedric Gibbons, the head of MGM’s art department (after their divorce in 1940, he will be seen out with, among others, Carole Landis before getting hitched to Hazel Brooks). Eliot is Cedric’s brother.
Eliot, an erstwhile assistant director, is working as a writer of short stories for newspapers and screenplays for movies. He’s also a keen aviator. So, when Irene expresses an interest in becoming a pilot, he offers to help her finish her required flying hours – a great pretext for spending lots of time together. On New Year’s Eve 1934 he proposes to her and they tie the knot in 1936. The flying lessons continue and, ironically, she gets her private pilot’s license just a couple of days before civilian flying on the West coast is prohibited following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Chapter 3 – Irene Lentz goes to the movies
That attack also proves to be the catalyst for a career change. For a while, Irene has been unhappy with her financial arrangements with Bullocks. She’s been contemplating her next move, including setting up her own manufacturing company. But with the US being drawn into World War II, that seems too risky. So, she’s open to new ideas and approaches.
Louis B Mayer is also in a quandary. He’s facing a raft of departures from his wardrobe team including Adrian, his head costume designer. Irene Lentz is ideally qualified to rescue the situation: she has the talent, she has the profile and she’s not going to be drafted. Encouraged by his wife, one of her many friends and clients, Mayer proposes that Irene join MGM and run its costume department. She accepts but on her own terms.
On arrival, Irene quickly assembles a team around her. The challenges they face are formidable. A multitude of warring individuals and factions to finesse. A hectic and dynamic schedule that requires working all hours. And constant changes of stars, directors and producers that disrupt the best-laid plans.
Easter Parade (1948) is a case in point. When Charles Walters replaces VIncente Minnelli as director, songs have to be rearranged, Judy Garland’s opening scene reworked (so the original costumes for it are no longer needed) and two of Judy’s key ensembles have to be changed. Further wardrobe modifications are required when Ann Miller replaces Cyd Charisse. Then Gene Kelly gets injured and Fred Astaire steps in. Cue further changes to the dance sequences and costumes.
Another challenge is dealing with stars’ anxieties about their clothes. The studio is full of starlets desperate to impress and established stars worried that their careers may be on the slide. Irene’s combination of empathy and decisiveness are just what’s needed to reassure them.
In spite of all the distractions, though, there are movies for which Irene manages to get her ideas through. In the case of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), one of those ideas is to associate Lana Turner’s character with a colour, as a composer might with a musical theme. So, Cora wears white in every scene except two.
Finally, in June 1949 Irene falls victim to MGM’s internal politics, her departure apparently triggered by her nemesis, Katharine Hepburn (read on for more on her), outraged by Irene’s failure to show up for a fitting. She still seems to be hanging on in there, though, in early 1950, when Doris Koenig’s Vagabondia column in the 2 March edition of Monrovia Daily News Post reports that:
She Is now an executive designer of MGM Studios, besides having her own wholesale manufacturing business – Irene Inc.
So far as her studio is concerned, Irene has no last name. Her driver’s license lists her as “Mrs Eliot Gibbons,” but she has built “Irene” into such a trademark that if you ask the studio operator for “Mrs Gibbons” you draw a blank. Ask for “Irene” and you will be connected with her office…
Consistency is one of the hallmarks of great brands!
Chapter 4 – Irene goes into ready-to-wear
Back in July 1946, Neiman Marcus let Irene Lentz know that, alongside Christian Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo and Norman Hartnell, she has been chosen as a recipient of their Award for Distinguished Service in the field of fashion. It gets her thinking. She’s sick and tired of dealing with internal politics and having to compromise her designs: “I want to create designs that reflect my taste, rather than cater to those of a director or producer.” She’s also got to the point where she’s established the reputation, the relationships and the team to make her ambition to set up her own manufacturing company realistic.
The one thing Irene lacks is financing. With the help of Harry Cohn at Columbia, she assembles a group of over 20 luxury department stores including Bergdorf Goodman (New York), Marshall Field (Chicago) and Newman Marcus (Dallas). She keeps 51% of the ordinary shares of Irene, Inc while her backers take the other 49%. As part of the arrangement, the stores get exclusives to her designs.
In 1947, Irene Lentz reveals her plans to begin designing her own range of clothes as well as continuing to work at MGM – she has negotiated a new contract to facilitate this. This time around she will be turning her attention to ready-to-wear rather than couture – “…marketing genius. Upscale stores could offer clients the Irene garments that stars loved,” says Mary Hall, founder The Recessionista. In its Apr 1, 1948 issue, Vogue US, announces the launch:
It is not news that Irene is a designer. Of all the women who design in America today, her clothes have had, in one sense, the widest public: she makes the screen-life clothes for stars of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where she is head costume-designer. But now the news is that Irene has turned her strong, fresh hand, again, to clothes for private lives, and her first ready-to-wear collection is now in several shops across the country. Consciously limiting her sphere, Irene makes no attempt to cover every phase of her new public’s life; she refuses to touch casual clothes, sports clothes. Instead, she makes the strict but feminine day-suit she is famous for, turns out beguiling afternoon print dresses, establishes her formal evening clothes as events.
For 15 years Irene continues to head up her own business, latterly being persuaded to design costumes for a select number of leading stars.
Chapter 5 – Irene Lentz throws in the towel
On 15 November 1962, with rave reviews from her latest show ringing in her ears, Irene Lentz heads for Hollywood’s Knickerbocker. It’s not a propitious place. In the early 1940s when it was still glamorous, actress Frances Farmer was tracked down there by police and sent to a mental institution. Later in the 1960s, William Frawley of I Love Lucy fame, will be dragged there to die after he collapses from a heart attack on the street.
Irene checks in to the now-faded hotel under an assumed name. That night she consumes two pints of vodka, tries to slit her wrists, then jumps out of an 11th-floor window. Hours later, her body is found on an awning. She has left a brief note: ““I am sorry to do this in this manner. Please see that Eliot is taken care of. Take care of the business and get someone very good to design. Love to all. Irene.”
Why? Why? Why?
When you come across a tragedy like this, you search to make sense of it. How could such a talented woman do this to herself? But then how could the likes of Alexander McQueen and Kate Spade follow in her footsteps? Well, in one sense you can never know what’s going through someone’s mind when they make that decision.
The police suggested that Irene was “despondent over business problems and her husband’s illness.” According to her business manager, “Irene had been under a terrific strain. She had been in ill health for about two years.” What more can we say?
She was a woman operating in a man’s world – a fundamentally lonely undertaking. What’s more, she was working in an incredibly stressful environment with all sorts of budgetary, scheduling and interpersonal pressures quite apart from the need for relentless creativity – a killer in itself. On the surface, Irene was self-confident, but under the surface she had her insecurities. This example from Irene – A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49 is shocking in its brutality:
On August 2 1944, Irene and Virginia Fisher, her sketch artist, had a meeting with Katharine Hepburn to discuss the sketches for Without Love. Nothing Irene showed Hepburn seemed to meet with her approval. Before leaving, Hepburn quickly listed her ideas, reiterating sharply that she would return the following Monday and hoping Irene “will have designs that are in keeping with my character in the story.” It was the first time that Virginia saw Irene, who was always self-assured, physically shake. “Intimidation couldn’t describe what I witnessed. Irene was terrified by Hepburn’s stinging remarks,” Virginia confided.
In the early days there was Dick Jones, and he seems to have been something of a buttress and a Svengali for her as well as the love of her life. They really do seem to have shared a dream. It’s probably no coincidence that reports of Irene hitting the bottle begin to emerge in the early-1930s – soon after his death. The problem got worse and worse as time went by.
Irene’s motives for marrying Eliot may have been praiseworthy but they proved to be a poor foundation for marriage. Around the time of her engagement, she told friends “I felt a need to take care of him.” Then, a year after their wedding, she had a skiing accident, which caused a miscarriage. She was devastated and never forgave herself.
On the other side of the marriage bed, it’s quite likely that Eliot – also an alcoholic – felt outclassed and overshadowed by his brother. World War II might have provided a distraction for him, but within a month of his return rumours began to circulate that he was going out with other women. Shortly before Irene’s suicide, he suffered a stroke (from which he recovered).
If by that time Irene Lentz had fallen out of love with her husband, she had fallen into love with Gary Cooper, according to her friend Doris Day. In her biography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she remembers:
Irene designed the clothes for several of my pictures so I got to know her very well. She was a nervous woman, introverted, quite unhappy, and at times she drank more than was good for her. She had an unhappy marriage to a man who lived out of the state and only occasionally came to visit her. One time, toward the end of a long evening, when she had been drinking quite a bit, she confided in me that the love of her life was Gary Cooper. Irene was a very attractive woman, a lovely face, and when she talked about Cooper her face glowed. She said he was the only man she had ever truly loved. There was such a poignancy in the way she said it. It really broke my heart.
After that, she several times confided in me about Cooper. I got the impression that she had never mentioned him to anyone before me, and she was so happy to declare her love for him. Thinking about it now, I cannot honestly say whether Irene’s love was one-sided or whether she and Cooper had actually had or were having an affair. But the way she loved him touched jealousy in me, for I had never loved a man with that much intensity.
Cooper had died the year before Irene’s suicide.
Want to know more about Irene Lentz?
If you’re serious about Irene Lentz, you have to get hold of Frank Billecci and Lauranne Fisher’s Irene – A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49. Although it’s mostly about her years at MGM, it contains a well-researched chapter on her life up to that point. It has been the main source for much of this piece.
Online sources I have consulted include:
- Various articles at Newspapers.com
- Various articles by Mary Hall at The Recessionista
- California Couture: Irene at Bullocks-Wilshire by Mary Hall for HuffPost
- Irene Lentz by Hollis Jenkins-Evans for Vintage Fashion Guild
- The Chic Life and Tragic Death of a Revered Costume Designer by Elizabeth Snead for The Hollywood Reporter
- A sequel for Irene Lentz fashion line by Vincent Boucher for the Los Angeles Times.
Other topics you may be interested in…
Norman Parkinson – “Parks” to his friends – was one of fashion photography’s great storytellers. Stories and fantasies were at the heart of both the man and his work.
Irving Penn described his pictures as “like remarkable stills from a film of an interesting life.” And towards the end of his life, talking about the Brighton Pavilion (his favourite building), Parks told The Observer magazine:
George IV was a great eccentric and an enthusiastic man, full of fantasy. If you are going to be an artist of any kind – even a photographer – you have to major in fantasy.”
Eccentric, enthusiastic and fantasy are all words that sit comfortably alongside the name Norman Parkinson.
Norman Parkinson – the man
He’s born Ronald William Parkinson Smith in 1913 in London. In 1934, age 21, he opens his own studio with fellow photographer Norman Kibblewhite, calling it Norman Parkinson – a combination of two of their given names. Kibblewhite leaves shortly afterwards and Ronald Smith becomes Norman Parkinson.
He cuts a striking figure. For starters, he’s over 6 feet 5 inches tall, which means he stands out from the crowd, literally, and has a bird’s eye view of his subjects. As if that’s not enough, he further draws attention to himself by the way he dresses. He recalls that back in the 1930s:
I had the mistaken idea around that time that I was a bit of an artist – an idea that I have attempted to dispel over the past forty years – and dressed even more outrageously than I do now. I affected sandals, rather a lot of leather and suede, and a mid-calf length cape affair, made from blood-red Harris tweed. … On my head I wore a peaked cap that Locks had made for me. Aware of my interest in fashion, when my father died he left me the hounds-tooth trousers that my grandfather was married in. A peculiar bequest you will rightly say, particularly if I mention that, for reasons known only to my grandfather, the moth had entirely devoured the crotch.
Norman Parkinson’s flamboyant dress sense evolves over time but never leaves him. For example, the Kashmiri wedding hat presented to him in 1957 by Sultan Wangnoo becomes the first in a long line of signature headgear. He is, as his tailor, Mr Wyser of Wyser & Bryant observes, “a man who wants to be noticed.” So, even across a crowded room, your attention is drawn to the commanding figure with a military-style moustache and eccentric get-up. You can’t help being intrigued. Who is this man? Is he a bit up himself? Is he worth getting to know or better stay clear?
The moment he opens his mouth, your doubts evaporate. He’s well spoken (not surprising, given he went to Westminster, a posh boys’ school), debonair, witty, charming… He comes across as an English gentleman through and through. Jerry Hall, one of the models he “discovers,” reckons he hams up his Englishness but… “In fashion no one cares about the truth as long as it’s a good story. Everyone just wanted things to be fun and exotic.” That suits Parks just fine.
He’s been a photographer ever since he left school, though during the 1940s he’s had a go at combining it with being a gentleman farmer in Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England. He’s discovered that photography, and specifically photographing beautiful women, is his calling, and there are limited opportunities for that on or even from a farm.
Not to be deterred, once he’s established himself as a leader in his field and feels secure personally and professionally, he makes his home in Tobago. There he farms pigs and creates the Porkinson Banger – served on Concorde and marketed as the world’s first supersonic sausage. To get to work as a photographer, all he has to do is hop on a plane. No problem.
So what’s it like going on a shoot with him? Well, he’s quite a ladies’ man and he’s adept at weaving a spell to bewitch his models into entering his world of make-believe. No one is more aware of that than Wenda Rogerson, the subject of some of his most famous shots and the love of his life, whom he marries in 1951. Writing in Photographs by Norman Parkinson, the monograph that accompanied his 1981 one-man show at the National Portrait Gallery, she observes that:
Every sitting – however seemingly mundane – is capable of holding within it the magic he is always striving to find. Brought up in an age when fairy-tales were still read aloud to children by the warmth of the nursery gas fire, he has never lost his belief in magic. Indeed he talks about the existence of gremlins in his camera. The princes and princesses, the good and the bad fairy, appear, a little disguised, from the filed recesses of his imagination again and again.
And on another occasion:
Parks has got a little bit of hypnotism about him. Women will do anything for him and he loves their company, adores them…
If that sounds a bit airy fairy, his friends and colleagues are pretty much unanimous in remarking on his sense of humour – being around Norman Parkinson is a blast. For him taking pictures is a pleasure, not a stress. He also has a great sense of spontaneity and adventure. According to Jerry Hall:
Parks was up for anything – he was like a young person, even though he was quite aged – everything was a new discovery for him, which was exciting because you felt that you were collaborating, you felt free. I was so excited when I was working with him; I would go to bed thinking, what will I do tomorrow?
Finally, Parks is a great raconteur who comes up with stories that put his subjects at ease and help them understand what he wants to get across in his shoot. Jerry Hall again:
…there’d always be a story. I enjoy a story, too, and you’d always have to have it in your head. So when I was sitting on Marie Antoinette’s bed, it was all about it being a ghost of Versailles. He just had a way of making you feel very confident and alive and special. There was such a connection. I think part of what made his pictures so amazing was that he had an idea he’d worked out in his head, something slightly poetic, and he also had an intensity of focus and all the technical ability
Bottom line – Norman Parkinson is a highly skilled technician, whose art conceals art. He can create the most complex images with scarcely any apparent effort. He’s charming, entertaining and inspirational. He has a wonderful wit and imagination, a clear vision for each shoot, and a steely determination to go with it. In short, when he goes on an assignment, he knows what he wants and he knows exactly how to get it, come what may. There’s an iron fist inside that velvet glove.
Norman Parkinson – the photographer
Norman Parkinson’s career stretches over more than half a century in a field where novelty and originality are at a premium. That’s an extraordinary achievement. Here is a brief overview…
The 1930s. Norman Parkinson begins his career apprenticed to an old-fashioned portrait/court photographer. These are the days of the Season, when debutantes queue at the gates of Buckingham Palace to be presented to the King. Within a few years, Parks has his own studio and is working on commissions from Harper’s Bazaar. His remit is to emulate the work of Martin Munkacsi in the magazine’s US edition – to develop a more photo-journalistic style of fashion photography by shooting his subjects informally, in movement and outdoors. This in contrast to the prevailing style, as embodied by the likes of Cecil Beaton and George Hoyningen-Huene. He soon discovers this is his metier, on one occasion suggesting that:
A studio is like an operating theatre. You go there to get a part of yourself removed.
The 1940s and ’50s. During World War II, Norman Parkinson spends most of his time working on a farm in Worcestershire. He does take some photographs for the Ministry of Defence, for example of the Women’s Emergency Land Corps harvesting and fruit-picking for the war effort. Apparently, he is also employed by the Royal Air Force as a reconnaissance photographer. And he finds time to work on fashion assignments for Vogue (he jumps ship from Harper’s Bazaar), capturing his models in rural settings that evoke a nostalgia very much in keeping with the wartime mood.
After the War, the sense of poetry, romance and whimsey in his photographs finds a receptive audience in a nation sick of privation. His practice flourishes and through the fifties he makes yearly visits to New York at the behest of Alexander Lieberman, US Vogue’s art director. His sense of adventure also leads to him becoming one of the first fashion photographers to take advantage of jet travel and exotic locations.
The 1960s and ’70s. In 1960, Parks is recruited by Jocelyn Stevens, who has just acquired Queen and is in the process of transforming it into London’s avant-garde fashion magazine. He’s happy to let Parks off the leash in a way that his erstwhile employers at Vogue were not. With more freedom to push the boundaries and produce quirky and original work, Norman Parkinson is reinvigorated, only to return to Vogue in 1965. He continues to shoot editorials, working regularly with the French, Italian and US as well as the UK edition.
The 1980s. In 1978 Norman Parkinson leaves Vogue for the last time, this time to move to Town & Country magazine. The glitzy style of portrait photography he purveys is completely in tune with both the decade and his sitters’ and audience’s aspirations. And he carries on working until his death in 1990.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
That’s the official narrative, as Parks constructed it and as it appears, give or take, in most of the biographies and monographs. But Norman Parkinson is a slippery, elusive figure. It’s not easy to disentangle the facts from the fabrications he weaves around himself, particularly his past.
There are hints that what he reveals about himself may not be the whole story, that there may be another lurking under the surface. As ever, what’s not said is as interesting and potentially revealing as what is…
- Parks’ accounts of his childhood and growing up are vague and various. Is it simply that he decided at an early stage that in order to succeed as a photographer he needed to fabricate a more appropriate name and back story?
I didn’t see how anyone could make a business out of being a high-flying photographer with the name “Smith.”
- He barely mentions Norman Kibblewhite, another product of the Speaight studio, whose particular contribution to the partnership was his experience in film lighting. Who was he, why did the two men part ways and what became of him?
- How and to what extent did Norman Parkinson manage to avoid active service during World War II? There’s little evidence (at least that I’m aware of) for his assertion to an interviewer that:
I used to do quite a lot of ﬂying, doing reconnaissance, that sort of thing. Quite a lot of stuff I did ended up in magazines for the French resistance.
- His first two wives, Margaret Banks (whom he married in 1935) and Thelma Woolley (whom he married in 1942), are pretty much airbrushed out of his narrative – neither appeared in his memoir, Lifework, or in his entry in Who’s Who. What’s the story there? The 1939 Register (a survey carried out to ensure the Government had an accurate record of the population, mainly with a view to issuing ration books), lists Ronald W P Smith as a farm labourer living with Thelma G Wooley. We catch a glimpse of them bombing through country villages in a hilarious report in the 31 October 1939 edition of the Gloucestershire Echo of a court case at which Parks was found guilty of speeding. Margaret was aware of her husband’s infidelity. As reported in the 21 January 1941 edition of the Birmingham Daily Gazette, when she filed for divorce…
The wife’s case was that in June 1939 her husband made a confession of his feelings towards a woman who had sat for him as a model. He left home five days later and Mrs. Parkinson-Smith now alleged that he and the other woman had lived together at Bushley, near Tewkesbury.
- Was his marriage to Wenda as blissful as he paints it? The relationship clearly got off to a fabulous start with their collaborations and his adoption of her son by her previous marriage. But Parks clearly had an eye for the ladies and he would have had plenty of temptation and opportunities to get involved. So, was he as devoted and faithful to Wenda as he appears? After all, he had previous. And there are rumours that latterly she took to the bottle – that would hardly be surprising, given her husband’s long absences away from home. Was this cause or effect?
- Was he quite so laid-back as he would have us believe? Clearly he could be wonderfully engaging, marvellous company. But there are also reports that he was perfectly capable of throwing a strop and did so on various occasions. On one such, he used his teeth to rip apart some colour transparencies that John Parsons, Vogue‘s art director, preferred to the ones he had selected.
The closer you look, the more the narrative frays around the edges, begins to unravel. And the more the questions arise.
Parks – the English Avedon?
Norman Parkinson’s and Richard Avedon’s careers run alongside each other from the 1940s through the 1980s. Avedon, not someone given to lauding his peers, writes of Parks:
There are very few photographers who remember that photography can be an expression of man’s deepest creative instincts. You are among those who have never forgotten.
Parks and Avedon make for interesting comparison. Both have something to prove, but whereas Norman Parkinson is relaxed, Richard Avedon is uptight. And there’s no doubt that at first glance, the two men and their work seem to be poles apart:
- With a few exceptions, Norman Parkinson is content to focus his creative powers on fashion and portraiture (the latter beyond the scope of this piece). While Richard Avedon makes his reputation in fashion photography, he grows to look down on it as a way of financing the work he really cares about – work that reveals a dark world-view and raises serious social issues.
- In his portraits, Avedon relentlessly seeks out what he sees as the truth behind the outward appearance. Expect anything but flattery. The results can be devastating, not least for the sitter. Parks likes to show people at their best. His portraits are devoid of malice:
If you have the responsibility of using your lens to record people for history, do it well. Everybody can look a little handsome, a touch beautiful – record them that way. Don’t destroy them and make them look hideous for the sole purpose of inflating your own photographic ego.
- Avedon sees himself as an artist with a capital A. He’s determined to raise the status of photography. Contrast that with Parks’ attitude:
There’s an awful lot of guff talked about photography, isn’t there? I mean, you consciously downplay it all the time, is it an art or a craft or a trade? It’s a trade.
But there are also some striking similarities:
- Both become fixated by the opposite sex and observe them almost voyeuristically from a young age. Avedon grows up in a female household, surrounded by women. Towards the end of his life (in an unpublished manuscript in the Norman Parkinson Archive), Parks reveals that among his earliest memories are those of women glimpsed through a fence next to a mulberry tree in his grandfather’s garden. In almost Proustian fashion, he remembers watching the girls next door…
…with loose dresses and a minimum of underclothes, running fawnlike everywhere. In the summer dog days I could see them lying around on the lawn … the gurgling, throaty laughter. I had a spy-hole on the world, which has fuelled my inspiration to this day. I photographed the memory of those well-observed weekend girls.
- Avedon and Parks are both renowned for taking their models out of the studio and onto the streets and capturing them as if living their lives rather than posing as professional models.
- They both remain at the forefront of their art (or should that be trade?) for decades. Though Avedon is undoubtedly more of a trailblazer, Parks is never that far behind. He has a sixth sense of the zeitgeist and how he needs to evolve, chameleon-like, to keep up with changing times and fashions.
- They both combine editorial work with lucrative advertising assignments – Parks’ decision to make his home in Tobago is largely down to his desire to reduce the tax he has to pay on his advertising earnings. And they both move restlessly to and fro between magazines, notably Harper’s and Vogue, latterly forsaking those two for editors more in awe of them.
- One senses that both are insecure individuals (but, to be honest, insecurity pretty much comes with the territory). Avedon, with his turbulent childhood and problematic relationship with his father, comes across as the more angst-ridden. But Parks has a strong need to escape his boring, lower middle class background, to create a back-story for himself (a brand, if you like) in tune with his chosen line for work.
- Both men are inveterate storytellers, equally skilled with words and images and accomplished at bending the truth to suit their purposes. Norman Parkinson observes that “The best photographers are the biggest liars.” While in Something Personal, Norma Stevens recalls that:
Dick [Avedon] would sometimes make merry with the facts – he even joked that if he ever wrote an autobiography he would call it Here Lies Richard Avedon. He said, “There is no truth, no history – there is only the way in which the story is told.”
A final word on Norman Parkinson
The most perceptive and eloquent tribute I’ve come across is by Iman, one of Parks’ favourite models, writing in the introduction to Robin Muir’s monograph:
Capturing life – energy, mood and spirit – is a talent reserved for the world’s most gifted photographers. No matter how beautiful a person may be, their photograph won’t shine unless the maestro behind the lens communicates with them, teases them, emotes with them. Photography is a collaborative process – like a dance – and Norman Parkinson was like Fred Astaire.
Want to know more about Norman Parkinson?
There are many excellent Norman Parkinson monographs, including:
- Sisters Under the Skin by Norman Parkinson
- Would You Let Your Daughter by Norman Parkinson
- Photographs by Norman Parkinson by Terence Pepper
- Lifework by Norman Parkinson
- Parkinson: Photographs 1935-1990 by Martin Harrison
- Norman Parkinson by David Wootton, with an essay by Robin Muir
- Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour by Louise Baring
- Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion by Robin Muir.
Online, you can find the Norman Parkinson Archive at Iconic Images. There are also various articles. Norman Parkinson: the photographer who made fashion glam by Lucy Davies in The Telegraph is a good starting point. And there’s a great interview in which Jerry Hall talks to Nicola Roberts about her memories of Parks in Norman Parkinson: legend behind a lens in the FT. Or you can watch Parks being interviewed by Mavis Nicholson in 1977.
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In June 1950, four of the US’s top models flew to Australia to showcase American fashions in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. They included Carmen Dell’Orefice, just 18 years old but already something of a veteran, and Andrea Johnson, ten years her senior, for whom this would be a kind of swan song.
Carmen has become a fashion legend, Andrea has sunk without trace. Other than a few photos, there’s almost nothing about her on the Internet. So, this is my best effort to provide a back story for the clutch of photos of Andrea I have in my collection and ensure that she isn’t forgotten just yet. They come, via two different sources, direct from Andrea’s estate.
Andrea Johnson, supermodel
Back in the 1940s when Andrea Johnson does most of her modelling (she was born in 1922), the business is in its infancy and dominated by a handful of agencies. Andrea works for two of them. She is represented by John Robert Powers before moving to Ford Models, set up by Eileen and future-US president Gerald Ford in 1946. At some point in the 1940s she leaves to set up her own agency, Figure Heads, with offices in NYC at 141 East 40th Street. Her husband, Claude Travers, five years her senior, is a partner and director of the firm.
During the forties, Andrea is one of the 12 most photographed models in the US immortalized by Irving Penn in his famous 1947 group portrait. The following year she’s part of another famous group portrait, this time modelling an extravagant ballgown by Charles James for Cecil Beaton. Beaton also photographs her for the covers of two issues of Vogue magazine – January 1, 1945 and May 15, 1946 (you can find both at Getty Images). It goes almost without saying that, like Lisa Fonssagrives and unlike Jinx Falkenburg, Andrea is a high-fashion rather than a sports model.
Her modelling date books reveal that she works with pretty much all the leading fashion photographers of the era: Richard Avedon, Erwin Blumenfeld, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Fernand Fonssagrives, Paul Hesse, Horst P Horst, George Hoyningen-Huene, Constantin Joffé, Karen Radkai, John Rawlings and, intriguingly, Salvador Dali. Magazines commissioning the shoots include Harper’s Bazaar, House & Garden, LIFE, Town & Country and Vogue.
The Australian fashion tour
In the mid-20th century, models aren’t celebrities like they are now. But there is still interest in them, as this article in LIFE magazine, in which Andrea Johnson gets a mention, demonstrates. While Andrea goes pretty much under the radar in the US, she and her companions get plenty of coverage in the Australian press when they visit the country in July 1950.
The American Fashion Parades, as they are dubbed, are organized by Nieman-Marcus in collaboration with the Myer Emporium and David Jones (two Australian upmarket department stores). The rationale is to promote US fashion in the light of moves afoot to reduce the trade barriers that have inhibited commerce between the countries since before World War II. It calls to mind The Fashion Flight of 1947. Vice-president Stanley Marcus regards the American Fashion Parades as one of the most important his corporation has staged and points out that:
We’ve had two fashion shows in Mexico, but I can tell you this – we attach more importance to this show than any we have ever held. … French fashions still may be the world’s most chic, but American fashions generally are better suited to Australia.
The American Fashion Parades showcase the latest American creations in cocktail dresses, evening gowns, suits, sportswear and beachwear. Also on display are a range of accessories: hats, shoes, gloves, handbags and costume jewellery for evening, daytime, and sportswear. Brands include Elizabeth Arden, Hattie Carnegie, Adrian, Tina Leser, Irene, John Frederics and Delman.
This is how the models are introduced to the Australian public in the June 3, 1950 edition of The Daily Telegraph:
They are known as the “most-photographed girls in the world.” …
… Blonde, svelte Carmen [Dell’Orefice] is the favorite model of British photographer Cecil Beaton, who has described her as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” She holds several New York swimming and diving championships.
Pert brunette Margo [Price], besides being one of the highest-paid models in New York, is a skilled movie photographer. She plans to make a film “documentary” of her Australian tour for television showing on her return to the United States.
Striking, shapely Andrea Johnson disproves the saying that blondes are beautiful but dumb. She’s one of the most sought-after mannequins in America and in her spare time she runs her own model agency with 30 girls on her staff.
Glamor girl and fashion expert Ruth Hancock, of Texas, will be in charge of the American beauty contingent.
The Australian press report that they are taking a cut in their earnings during the trip. Back home they command fees of US $25 dollars an hour and average US $100 dollars a day.
The models are in Australia for a bit more than a month. During that time, they work alongside eight Australian mannequins, who have competed for the honour. Their schedule looks like this:
- Monday, 17 July – Leave New York.
- Wednesday, 19 July – Full-dress preview in Dallas, then on to San Francisco to catch a PanAm flight to Australia.
- Saturday, 22 July – Arrive Sydney and travel on to Melbourne.
- Saturday 29 July – Fashion Parades begin in Melbourne.
- Saturday 12 August – Fashion Parades begin in Adelaide.
- Monday 21 August – Fashion Parades begin in Sydney.
- Saturday 26 August – Fashion Parades finish.
When the models depart, Margo and Ruth head back to the US, while Andrea and Carmen go to France for sittings for Vogue Paris before returning home.
Andrea Johnson, artist and entrepreneur
On the way to Australia, the models have a brief stopover in Honolulu, and perhaps that’s when Andrea falls in love with the city. At any rate, that’s where she goes to live when she retires from modelling in the early 1950s. And there she embarks on a new career, working closely with another artist to design fabric prints on which to base a line of island casuals, and funding it with a bit of modelling.
It seems that Andrea is quite an entrepreneur. Having set up a modelling agency and a fashion business, she goes on holiday to Big Island and ends up buying an old coffee farm in the area of Honaunau. She turns the ground floor of the house into a ceramics studio, which she christens Holualoa Coffee Mill Art Center. The remaining space she uses as storage for her extensive collection of antiques and collectibles. She also opens a retail studio in Captain Cook, selling plaster castings for walls and gardens.
She dies in her late 70s after a battle with cancer.
Want to know more about Andrea Johnson?
I’m indebted to John-Michael O’Sullivan (who is working on a biography of Barbara Mullen) and Cynthia Nespor (who helped to dispose of Andrea’s estate) for their help in researching this piece. The best source online is the National Library of Australia’s Trove, where you will find multiple reports of the American Fashion Parades.
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Richard Avedon was one of the all-time-great fashion photographers. For decades after his emergence onto the scene in 1946, he was a dominant influence on the industry thanks to the energy, imagination and willingness to take risks that he brought to his work.
Fashion was where Avedon made his name. It was also his undoing – at least in his own mind. He came to regard it as “merely” commercial, whereas what he really wanted was to be, and be seen as, a serious artist. So he turned his attention to portraiture, using fashion commissions to fund his endeavours.
But such was Avedon’s reputation in the field of fashion that despite all his efforts it continued to dominate his image for most of his career.
Avedon – fashion and portraiture, two sides of a coin
At first sight, Avedon’s portraits seem to be the polar opposite of his fashion work. A distinguishing characteristic of a typical Avedon fashion shot is its energetic high spirits. By contrast, what distinguishes many Avedon portraits is the bleak, unflinching, often inquisitorial dissection of his subjects’ vulnerabilities. His portraits are rarely kind, let alone flattering. More than occasionally, they shock his subjects.
But look more closely and you’ll discover a dark seam of existential angst running through Avedon’s fashion work too. He’s all too aware that beauty can be isolating and that it fades. You can see that in the expression of Dorian Leigh as she looks at herself in the mirror in a photo taken in 1949 at the beginning of Avedon’s career. Pathos is more to the fore in his 1955 shot of Dovima with Émilien Boulione and a clown. But nowhere is his existential angst more explicit than in In Memory of The Late Mr and Mrs Comfort, a harrowing editorial for the November 6, 1995 issue of The New Yorker.
In an interview quoted in Avedon Fashion 1944–2000, he traces the underlying anxiety in his fashion work back to his experience as a boy growing up in a home dominated by women:
I watched the way in which they prepared themselves to go out, what clothes meant, what makeup meant, what hair meant, what men meant. That anxiety was a very important thing that I tried to work into the magazines. And very often they [the photos] were rejected.
Avedon – the great storyteller
Another common denominator between Avedon’s fashion and portrait studies is drama and stories. Throughout his life, he never passes up an opportunity to go to the theatre, the ballet and the movies. He’s also an avid reader. All this helps to provide inspiration and fuel his own creativity
The stories are most evident in his fashion editorials, especially the iconic series of images he creates for Harper’s Bazaar to showcase the Paris collections, and which in the process help transform the image of the city after World War II. In A Woman Entering a Taxi in the Rain, an article published in the November 8, 1958 issue of The New Yorker, Winthrop Sargeant remarks:
His leading lady must always be involved in a drama of some sort, and if fate fails to provide a real one, Avedon thinks one up. He often creates in his mind an entire scenario suggested by a model’s appearance. She may be a waif lost in a big and sinful city, or a titled lady pursued in Hispano-Suizas by gentlemen flourishing emeralds, or an inconsolably bored woman of the world whose heart can no longer be touched – and so on. Avedon models play scene after scene from these scripts, and sometimes helps out by actually living an extra scene or two. The result is extraordinary for its realism – not the kind of realism found in most photography but the kind found in the theatre.
The mood of those shots might feel improvised, but the shoots themselves are far from spontaneous. They take a great deal of preparation: research into locations, sketches of proposed shots and test photos. On the day, Avedon coaxes and cajoles his models into the personas and poses he has in mind, chatting to them, joking with them and, crucially, telling them the stories he wants them to act out. He’s a bundle of energy, enthusiasm and inspiration and he won’t take no for an answer.
Hiro, once upon a time an assistant of Avedon, says:
Dick was the most brilliant of all the flashes that illuminated my professional path. His impatience was an inspiration in itself. The preparation he made for each sitting, the perfectionism – sharp, like a scalpel. And then the way he directed. His personality, which helped him clinch every shot. His timing. This man created the modern woman – the Avedon Woman.
In Avedon’s portraits, the drama is in the eyes, faces and expressions of his sitters, usually accentuated by ascetic, plain white backgrounds. More often than not the drama is dark, and not just by coincidence. Before the shoot, Avedon researches his subject and forms a view of what he wants his portrait to convey. And he seems inexorably drawn to his sitter’s vulnerabilities and failings – the skull beneath the skin.
He’s fond of telling a story of how he took his celebrated photo of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The challenge: find a way of getting them to drop their guard – the happy, smiling “Ladies Home Journal cover faces” they would present for their portrait in contrast to the expressions he’s seen as he stalked them at the casino. He wants his portrait to reveal their “loss of humanity.” When he turns up at their NYC apartment for the shoot, he notices their pug dogs, which they adore. So he sets everything up, gets the couple into position and says, “If I seem a little hesitant, a little disturbed, it’s because my taxi ran over a dog.” Both of their faces drop, he clicks the shutter and catches the expression he’s looking for.
It turns out that this story might itself be made up. Either way, it gives us an insight into the store Avedon sets by stories. It also illustrates another aspect of what Avedon is like and how he captures images like no others – he is an arch manipulator, charismatic and ruthless, who knows what he wants from a shoot and also how to get it.
That applies not just to individual shoots but also to Avedon’s legacy and the brand he is determined to create for himself. He’s perfectly prepared to edit his archive, destroying photos that don’t fit with the narrative he wants to create for himself. And when he talks about his experiences, it’s not always clear where fact ends and fancy begins. Indeed, according to Norma Stevens, his studio manager:
Dick would sometimes make merry with the facts—he even joked that if he ever wrote an autobiography he would call it Here Lies Richard Avedon. He said, “There is no truth, no history – there is only the way in which the story is told.”
Avedon – the Hollywood connection
Not only do many of Avedon’s fashion shoots seem to come straight out of a movie, they even inspire one. Funny Face is based loosely on the exploits of Avedon and his first wife, Doe, played by Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Avedon is retained as a consultant for the movie, revealing some of his working methods, providing tips on lighting and on Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe, and creating title credits and backgrounds plus a montage of freeze-framed fashion.
Funny Face and Avedon’s work as a stills photographer for The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) and Some Like It Hot (1959) bridge his fashion and portrait work, with one of his greatest portraits being of Marilyn Monroe lost in thought.
For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s – she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.
On a lighter note is Avedon’s virtuoso shoot – witty, stylish, extravagant – with Marilyn for the Christmas 1958 issue of LIFE magazine. The idea is to recreate the images of five stars from different eras. With his interest in theatre and the movies, this is right up the photographer’s street.
In every age the entertainment world produces an enchantress who embodies the fancies men dream by – the places they might have visited with her, music danced to with her, suppers shared with her. In the Gay Nineties, it was Lillian Russell, 160 opulent pounds of curvy Victorian womanhood. Then it was Theda Bara, representing all the women who came bursting from their stays in World War I with predatory eyes and heavy make-up into the new freedom. Afterward there was Clara Bow and Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow. Heiress today of the fabled five is Marilyn Monroe. On the following pages, in a stunning feat of re-creation, Marilyn impersonates her predecessors in their most enduring images.
The images here are scans of vintage black and white prints sent to a Hollywood producer, whereas the published versions are in colour.
Avedon – fashion photography’s great innovator
One of the things that makes Avedon such a key figure in fashion photography is his ability to stay ahead of the curve. Fashion is by its nature so ephemeral that few photographers manage to remain current for more than about a decade. Avedon, almost uniquely, manages to evolve his approach to tap into the zeitgeist and reflect the changing times in which he lives. Perhaps that’s because he sees it as an important aspect of his remit.
I believe that the photographer’s job is to record the quality of the woman, of that moment he is working… Our job is always to report on the woman of the moment. The way she lives, the way she dresses. Our conception of beauty changes and is always changing.
Almost from the off, Avedon is pushing at the boundaries, getting his models to act rather than just pose, using blurred movement and soft focus when sharp focus and detail are what’s expected. According to Winthrop Sargeant, that was just the beginning:
The model became pretty, rather than austerely aloof. She laughed, danced, skated, gambolled among herds of elephants, sang in the rain, ran breathlessly down the Champs-Elysées, smiled and sipped cognac at café tables, and otherwise gave evidence of being human.
Some Avedon admirers date the turning point in his style from a celebrated photograph he made for Harper’s Bazaar in 1950, in which Dorian Leigh was shown bursting into laughter while throwing her arms around the winner of a French bicycle race. The picture created a sensation in the profession, since embracing sports heroes and laughing had not previously been thought suitable activities for fashion models, and the extent of its influence soon became clear as models began to appear everywhere embracing bicycle riders, matadors, coachmen, and Lord knows what else, in a state of hilarity. Next, Avedon, again a good jump ahead of the pack, started photographing models with handsome young men posing as their husbands, and then—most revolutionary of all—models wheeling children in perambulators or, to make the family scene complete, dangling them in baskets gaily held by the father, too.
It’s not so easy for us now to appreciate quite how startling Avedon’s work is for people at the time. Over several decades, particularly the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, he helps to define and advance accepted notions of beauty as well as pushing the limits of what’s acceptable in a fashion magazine (for example, his photo of Countess Christina Paolozzi topless in the January, 1962 issue of Harper’s Bazaar). Landmark shoots include:
- Harper’s Bazaar, January, 1959 – China Machado, the first non-Caucasian model to shoot the collections and feature on the cover.
- Harper’s Bazaar, September, 1962 – inspired by the coverage of Elizabeth Taylor’s affair with Richard Burton, the autumn collections shot as if by paparazzi and laid out like a pulp magazine.
- Harper’s Bazaar, December, 1963 – Rebecca Hutchings, the first black model to appear in the magazine.
- Harper’s Bazaar, January, 1965 – set in Ibiza, an editorial implying a ménage à trois.
- Harper’s Bazaar, April, 1965 – a far-out mash-up of pop culture, space age and high fashion shot and edited by Avedon and billed as “a partial passport to the off-beat side of Now.”
- The New Yorker, November 6, 1995 – In Memory of The Late Mr and Mrs Comfort, a dark and satirical fashion editorial starring Nadja Auermann and a skeleton in a tale of decadence and death.
Avedon – his achievement
The second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st were a time of social, political and cultural change. Avedon’s fashion work as well as his portraits are a commentary on those decades, probing and revealing what power and wealth, confidence and vitality, deprivation and helplessness look like and what they do to people – a unique legacy of penetrating and iconic images.
This piece is mainly about Avedon as a fashion photographer, but that’s not the half of it. Additionally, he created a whole series of influential advertising campaigns, the most notable of which starred 15-year-old Brooke Shields modelling a pair of Calvin Klein skin-tight jeans. He branched out into film and video. He initiated ambitious and important projects – In the American West is a great example. He ran a sizeable studio, which among other things acted as a kind of academy, training and inspiring generations of photographers. And through his exhibitions and books he helped raise the status of photography to challenge that of painting and sculpture in the minds of curators, collectors and the public at large.
Few photographers have the determination, the courage and the insightfulness to challenge themselves and their sitters to the extent that Avedon did. That is at the heart of his greatness.
Want to know more about Avedon?
Your preferred search engine will offer you many online sources of information and images.
Here are four videos and a handful of books worth looking up:
- Avedon Fashion 1944–2000 by Vince Aletti, Carol Squiers and Philippe Garner is outstanding for both the images and the accompanying essays.
- Richard Avedon: Made in France by Judith Thurman presents a collection of images made in Paris for Harper’s Bazaar during the 1950s, reproduced to the exact scale of the engraver’s prints made for Avedon, uncropped, on their original mounts, with all of the artist’s notations on both front and back.
- An Autobiography: The Photographs of Richard Avedon is a major retrospective of images chosen by Avedon himself. There is hardly any text.
- Norma Stevens’ and Steven Aronson’s biography, Avedon: Something Personal is a compelling and insightful portrait, laced with reflections on the great man by people who knew and worked with him. Bear in mind, though, that many of the details are disputed and it’s inconceivable that the author remembered her conversations with Avedon verbatim.
- Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers by Michael Gross provides a context in which to assess Avedon’s achievements in the field of fashion photography.