During the Paris occupation of WWII, designers had a restricted amount of material they could use for each garment. Christian Dior gave his proverbial middle finger by starting the trend of long, flowy skirts with endless fabric.
This can be seen in a single black and white image of a female twirling in the streets of Paris – her Dior skirt revealing its excess waves of expensive wool. One of the many photos of Richard Avedon on display at the MFA until January 17th.
Avedon revolutionized fashion photography by creating fantastical , novel-esque images. His 50-year career was spent dominating the pages of Bazaar magazine, Vogue, and becoming the first staff photographer for The New Yorker. He has immortalized such icons as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Brook Shields, and Kate Moss with his innate grasp of portraits.
The white-walled exhibit is time-lined – walking you through each phase of Avedon’s lengthy influence on the industry and society’s style as a whole. From the 40′s with his portrayal of women scrutinizing their own couture-draped reflections, to the 50′s with elegant waifs posing beside Cadillacs and poodles. The 60′s introduced Twiggy and fresh-faced models dancing on sidewalks - a reflection of a free-spirited bohemian generation. Bare breasts began to emerge in the 70′s as did clean backgrounds with an iconic model contorting solo. Exit in the 90′s with a sense of Avedon’s disillusionment to the fashion world through blatant symbols of money, drugs, and power-tripping.
But a sliver of the tour, “Paris at Night”, best exemplifies Avedon’s use of both narrative and emotion in his photos. A dim, black-painted room carved into the exhibit is lined with protruding works under spotlights. Men and women in elaborate frocks indulge in the city’s nightlife – each scene shown in detail. A stage filled with Moulin Rouge dancers, playing pinball in an alleyway – the night’s aftermath with a woman slumped over an empty bottle.
For a few moments you are completely immersed in Avedon’s vision. The dramatic highs and lows of a couture-driven Paris – or at least how he dreamed it to be.