Having overcome a certain highbrow bias against its commercial origins, fashion photography — at least in its finer forms — is now recognized for its artistic merit. It takes center stage as never before in Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911–2011, which presents some 180 images alongside a selec- tion of costumes, illustra- tions, magazine covers, videos, and advertisements. The jumping off point is the year French publisher Lucien Vogel (who later helped launch Vogue Paris) challenged Edward Steichen to elevate the medium to the level of art.
The exhibition then explores how designers, and in turn the photographs intended to seduce consumers into buying their garments, have evolved over the decades in response to political, social, and economic factors; the trends showcased range from the “patriotic chic” of the World War II years to the “heroin chic” of the 1990s. Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Man Ray, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, William Klein, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, and Herb Ritts are just a few of the talents represented.