Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her own

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her own
Fashion and Textile Museum, London
From 20 october 2017 to 21 january 2018

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) is one of the most important women photographers of the 20th century. Her work in the thirties, forties and fifties brought an informal and contemporary approach to fashion that had enormous influence on Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and the other great photographers who followed. A uniquely American artist, this is the first major survey of her work in the UK and is timed to coincide with a resurgence of interest in female photographers.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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The exhibition features over 100 photographs spanning three decades, from 1931 to 1959 and, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the house of Christian Dior, will showcase a small selection of original Dior dresses from the Fashion and Textile Museum’s permanent collection. The dresses range from 1954 to 1967 and feature the designs of Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan. From an iconic New Look dress with layers of chiffon and embroidery to a youthful mini-dress, the garments will capture the sophistication of the maison’s early decades.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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The exhibition will also present a significant body vof portraiture by Dahl-Wolfe. These portraits capture literary figures such as W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Jean Cocteau, Edith Sitwell, Colette and Carson McCullers. She also documented fashion designers; and a major portfolio of Hollywood stars from Bette Davis, Orson Welles and Vivien Leigh in the 1930s to James Cagney and Veronica Lake in the 1940s.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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Louise Dahl-Wolfe worked with an exceptional range of models including Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Barbara Mullen, Mary Jane Russell and Evelyn Tripp. She helped to create distinctive looks for her models defining their professional lives and, arguably, creating the first generation of ‘supermodels’. In particular, her cover shoot for the March 1943 issue of Harper’s Bazaar is credited with discovering Lauren Bacall and leading to her film career in Hollywood.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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The exhibition considers the rise of fashion photography as a profession. As Louise Dahl-Wolfe noted, ‘there weren’t really fashion photographers, just artists like Steichen who just happened to do fashion photography.’ 20 October 2017 – 21 January 2018 Dahl-Wolfe pioneered the use of colour and daylight in fashion photography, shooting on location and outdoors. She travelled to the then exotic locales of Tunisia, Cuba, South America, Spain and Mexico. Her work appears fresh and spontaneous but was always carefully planned. She also had an exceptional eye for colour and the exhibition will showcase rare, early tearsheets and covers that document her colour photography.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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Dahl-Wolfe came to fashion photography at a time when formal, sometimes stilted, European elegance was the norm and brought a modern vision that was relaxed, intimate and undeniably American. Combining Parisian couture with well-toned bodies, she infused magazine layouts with a refreshing natural wholesomeness that was nonetheless chic. Moreover, she captured a new sensibility in American fashion, showing clothes that were casual and comfortable and which reflected women’s increasingly active and independent lifestyles.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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A key focus of the exhibition is Dahl-Wolfe’s 22 years as the leading contributor to Harper’s Bazaar, from 1936 to 1958, working with editor Carmel Snow, legendary fashion director Diana Vreeland and the designer Alexey Brodovitch. ‘From the moment I saw her first colour photographs, I knew Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted,’ declared editor Carmel Snow.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Harper’s Bazaar

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The exhibition highlights Dahl-Wolfe’s prolific tenure at Harper’s Bazaar where she created 86 covers for the magazine, 600 colour plates, and over 2,000 black-and-white photographs. In addition, the Museum will stage a display of other photographers who have worked for Harper’s Bazaar from Baron de Meyer, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton to current contributors. Alongside fashion and portraiture Louise Dahl-Wolfe was also a documentary photographer.

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A style of her ownImage courtesy of Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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Her early work, taken in Nashville Tennessee, highlights black Americans, the poor and the dispossessed. These raw images of the American Depression present a fascinating contrast between Dahl-Wolfe’s personal interest and her commissioned glamorous work. Independent, witty and self-aware Louise Dahl-Wolfe is credited with both revitalizing the Hollywood portrait and invigorating fashion photography. Her legacy changed American visual culture and had enormous ramifications for the photographers who followed her. Louise Dahl-Wolfe did not so much embody the supremacy of American photography, she invented it.

 

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