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How did fashion photography change during WWII?


The difference between art and fashion photography has long been seen as important and vital in order to protect ‘serious’ photography from the odium of fashion.

‘Serious’ photographers, like novelists working for Hollywood, endangered their reputation if they worked for one of the major fashion magazines, and so avoided being classified as ‘fashion photographers.’ However, major American photographers such as Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Clifford Coffin, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and William Klein spent years working for international fashion magazines, producing images that emphasized the fashionable and transient nature of dress and glamour while creating photographs of timeless beauty and aesthetic value.

Though the first documented fashion pictures were taken in the 1850s at Napoleon III’s court, photography as a marketing tool did not become popular until the early twentieth century,
when fashion became more widely available. Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, both launched in the late 1800s, were the first fashion publications to be illustrated by hand. Photographs were first used in fashion editorials in 1913 when Condé Nast engaged Baron Adolph de Meyer (German, 1868–1946) to snap pictures of models, actresses, and aristocrats for Vogue.

As partnerships with designers developed in the early twentieth century, publications became more important. Couture fashion became more accessible thanks to ready-to-wear lines and department shops, and trends were embraced and spread globally.

Rising couturiers of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, and Lanvin, were renowned for their individual designs thanks to photography. Horst P. Horst, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, and Erwin Blumenfeld were among the many photographers that came to Paris at the period.

During World War II

Before the war, Paris was the world’s fashion capital and, as a result, the hub of fashion photography. It produced some of the industry’s greatest pioneers, including Adolphe De Meyer. However, by the conclusion of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s, World War II broke out, and the fashion world was forever transformed.

Due to the outbreak in 1939, what had previously been a thriving and significant industry of fashion photography came to a halt. The US and Europe rapidly became estranged from one another. With Paris seized and London under attack, what had previously been a friendly and productive working relationship deteriorated. Paris, the world’s fashion capital at the time, grew increasingly isolated from the United States, especially after Vogue Paris went on hiatus in 1940. With these developments, American photography took on a unique Americana feel, with models posing with flags, American brand automobiles, and overall living the American dream. In 1940, Vogue, the most prominent magazine for fashion photography, was even temporarily shut down.

As a result, the United States had to “manage” fashion on its own. Fashion photography began to appear more “American,” and certain American photographers, such as Cecil Beaton and Lee Miller, rose to the top of the game. They worked as both military and fashion photographers, and the impact of war themes can be seen in their work.

The content of what remained of French and British fashion photography, on the other hand, frequently had a wartime overlay. In Cecil Beaton’s 1941 photograph “Fashion is Indestructible,” a well-dressed woman stands among the ruins of London’s Middle Temple. Similarly, Lee Miller began photographing ladies in Paris and London who were sporting the latest gas mask designs and riding with pin curlers in their hair because they did not have access to power.

Fashion designers in London and Paris worked feverishly in the early 1940s to come up with smart clothing for “ladies at war.” Shelter pajamas, siren suits, and other garment titles alluded to exciting things ahead. There was even a purse that doubled as a gas mask! Similar garments can be found on various sites today. Download Wispri’s price drop extension and get notified whenever there is a price drop alert.

The dreadful reality of war put a halt to the fun. The autumn collections in Paris in 1940 were completed shortly before the German invading forces surged into the city in June of that year.

Despite the United States’ entry into the war in 1941, the fashion business thrived because of Hollywood, and although Paris’ fame was waning under fascist rule, American fashion became a major role during the war years. Women in uniforms, as well as women in more “autonomous” roles, were featured in fashion photography at this period. They weren’t very glamorous, but they appeared to be proud, lively, and fierce. The fashion they wore throughout the war was typically simpler than it was before and after. Because products had to be limited for the war effort, the materials were harsher. The women in these photos are more likely to wear pants, and the skirts and dresses they do wear are more practical for work and difficult times. Models were frequently put in such a way that they appeared to be contributing to the war effort, such as assisting soldiers, amusing them, or even working.

fashion photography

Post World War II 

Following the war, some fashion photographs preserved the anger that had been produced during the time. Photographers created works that were more documentary and raw in appearance while remaining stylish and glamorous. Fashion photography of the period resembled cinematic shots, with women moving and in motion, which was a legacy from WWII when all photography had to have these features. Women in fashion photography after WWII were more contemporary and self-reliant than they had ever been. 

Throughout the 1950s and 1960’s Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, and others became household names, and the fashion model gained new significance. New techniques to photography emerged as a result of these developments, and some of the most well-known personalities in fashion photography left their imprint on history.

The stiff elegance of models and staged studio images of earlier decades of fashion photography had given way to a new style that was more fluid, spontaneous, and dynamic by the mid-1950s. Norman Parkinson (British, 1913–1990), William Klein (American, b.1928), Lillian Bassman (American, 1917–2012), and David Bailey were among the most prominent members of this new generation (British, b.1938).

Richard Avedon (American, 1923–2004) and Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009), perhaps the two most important fashion photographers of the time, both adopted a minimalist approach that significantly influenced the field. 

Fashion photography nowadays takes various forms, as the lines between commercial and creative work become increasingly blurred. Many contemporary artists, such as Mario Testino, Ellen von Unwerth, Roxanne Lowit, Juergen Teller, and David LaChapelle, utilize digital modification to create surreal images that offer an escape from everyday life via the dazzling world of high fashion, celebrities, and beautiful people.

A variety of outfits inspired by this era is available to buy in online stores. Wispri relieves you of the time-consuming task of continually checking for discounts or sales on your favorite goods. Wispri is a one-of-a-kind price tracker extension that notifies you when prices fall.

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