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BOOK REVIEW: PARIS 1962
YVES SAINT LAURENT AND CHRISTIAN DIOR, THE EARLY COLLECTIONS

 

 

By Shine Anthony-Dharan

NEW YORK, 15 OCTOBER 2008 — The release of Paris 1962 is timely given the recent passing of leading haute couturier Yves Saint Laurent. Published by Rizzoli, the tome presents a candid insight into French haute couture during its peak. Photographer Jerry Schatzberg captured the frenzied behind-the-scenes activities of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior’s 1962 collections whilst on commission by Esquire magazine. The images that most popularly represent 1950s and 60s haute couture are highly stylized studio shots taken by photographers such as Richard Avedon. Schatzberg’s style is far more gritty and spontaneous. "My interest was not the clothes, but the human behavior," says the photographer. Although it had become common by the 1970s for fashion magazines to go "behind the scenes," Schatzberg was one of the first to take interest in the many seamstresses, assistants and stagehands who helped make Paris the city of high fashion.

Schatzberg's photographs capture the glamour and excitement of 1960s couture without mythologizing it. In 1962 Yves Saint Laurent had just left the position of head couturier at the house of Christian Dior in order to start his own house. The photographer catches Saint Laurent nervously gauging the reaction to his show by peering over a banister. The fact that the collection was a great success only added to the pressure placed on Saint Laurent’s successor at Dior, Marc Bohan. Schatzberg’s photographs of both Saint Laurent’s and Bohan’s collections reveal that while the former strove to introduce a new versatility to haute couture , the latter stayed true to the conservative roots of the métier. Unsurprisingly, it is only Saint Laurent that the world remembers today. 


From Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
Photo: © Jerry Schatzberg | All Rights Reserved
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli, New York

The balance between fantasy and reality in Schatzberg’s photographs is enchanting. The images in Paris 1962 are smartly laid out to replicate the activities of a day during the haute couture shows. The tome begins with snapshot like images of the bejeweled couture clients arriving in a cloud of air-kisses and gossip. Backstage, models were photographed puffing hungrily on cigarettes before being pushed onto stage. The runway shots are spectacular — enormous hats, billowing gowns and razor sharp tailoring. Schatzberg was even able to photograph the clients during the anxious process of placing orders. As each ensemble could only be replicated a certain number of times, the most popular looks could be sold out in hours. As soon as the last orders were taken, the Vogue and Harpers Bazaar editors arrived to take the clothes away to be photographed.


From Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
Photo: © Jerry Schatzberg | All Rights Reserved
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli, New York

Next, Schatzberg invaded a Vogue shoot to capture a young Helmut Newton rushing to photograph dozens of gowns before they were sent to the next studio. Again, Schatzberg seems more interested in the assistants who set up the shots than the models in the couture . "I was interested in people with an assignment riddled with roadblocks and how they went about solving it," says the photographer. In one memorable photograph, he shoots a tired looking maid pausing to admire an enormous floral display three times her height as she sweeps up after the shows.

 
From Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
Photo: © Jerry Schatzberg | All Rights Reserved
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli, New York

Today it is almost impossible to find a fashion magazine that does not splash "backstage" photographs in the style of Schatzberg throughout its pages. In the October 2008 edition of U.S. Vogue, Hamish Bowles dedicates the semi-annual haute couture shoot to the tailors and seamstresses of the leading fashion houses. Photographer Patrick Demarchelier took inspiration from Schatzberg by picturing the nimble fingered technicians next to their creations.

 
From Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
Photo: © Jerry Schatzberg | All Rights Reserved
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli, New York

The contrast between Demarchelier’s and Schatzberg’s photography reflects the modernization of the haute couture métier. Although fashion’s aesthetic has changed dramatically since the 1960s, the technicians themselves appear startlingly unchanged. From Dior to Givenchy, each group of decidedly unglamorous, middle aged women in white laboratory coats stands proudly by some of the most theatrical costumes on the planet. In Schatzberg’s day haute couture was an industry that created real clothes for thousands of wealthy women. Today, less than 200 haute couture clients exist in the world. Rather than attempting to dress the elite, today’s couturier’s create fantasies that attract more publicity than commissions. 

Schatzberg's technique was ahead of its time for fashion photography. He deliberately shot out of focus in order to emphasize the urgency of his subjects’ movements. At a time when color photography was widespread, Schatzberg favored the romanticism of black and white stills. Although a number of contemporary fashion photographers experiment with black and white imagery it almost always to be at the expense of detail. Not so with Schatzberg. Every stitch, sequin, fold of silk, and sweep of an eyelash jumps off the page. The energy, movement and intimacy of Schatzberg’s images are enhanced by a lack of color.

 
From Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
Photo: © Jerry Schatzberg | All Rights Reserved
Photo courtesy of Rizzoli, New York

"Paris 1962" remembers a bygone age in French fashion. By the late 1970s, ready-to-wear fashion and the influence of street culture had brought haute couture to its knees. Today, the industry is a loss-making folly for the few fashion houses that continue to produce it. The publicity generated by couture shows drives the sales of fashion’s perennial cash cows —  cosmetics, perfumes and accessories. Schatzberg’s tome is a gentle reminder of a time when haute couture determined the trends for all of Europe and North America, when newspapers breathlessly reported the new hemline lengths and women adjusted their skirts accordingly. The city of light may have lost much of her influence over the past four decades, but Schatzberg’s "Paris 1962" is as vibrant and inspiring as ever.

Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, Christian Dior, The Early Collections
By Jerry Schatzberg, Julia Morton, Patricia Bosworth (Introduction)

Hardcover: 176 pages
Rizzoli (May, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0847831280
ISBN-13: 978-0847831289
$75.00

Shine Anthony-Dharan is a British fashion writer and designer based in New York. He covers fashion and beauty for Culturekiosque.com. Mr. Anthony-Dharan last wrote on Karl Lagerfeld: "Confidential" or Just Plain Confusing?

Calendar Tips: chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.

San Francisco

Forty-year Retrospective of the Work of Yves Saint Laurent
1 November 2008 - 5 April 2009
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA
Tel: (1) 415 863 33 30

Paris

Patrick Demarchelier: A Passionate Journey
Through 4 January 2009
Le Petit Palais
Avenue Winston Churchill
75008 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 534340 00

New York

Gothic: Dark Glamour
Until 21 February 2009
The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27 Street
New York City 10001-5992
Tel: (1) 212 217 45 85

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