100 years of fashion photography

Beijing, China CNN  — 

An exhibition showcasing 100 years of fashion photography from the Condé Nast magazine stable – ranging from 1920s shots of Broadway actresses to some of the most recognizable photos of the supermodel era – has opened in Beijing.

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“Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast,” which brings together images from fashion titles including Vogue, Vanity Fair and Glamour, provides a visual history of how the fashion and beauty industries have evolved.

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The exhibition features images from more than 80 photographers, from contemporary names like Mario Testino and Inez & Vinoodh to early luminaries like Edward Steichen and Man Ray.

Famous beginnings

The exhibition begins with what are considered to be some of the world’s first fashion photographs, taken by Steichen in 1911, and goes on to explore a series of fashion shoots from 1920s New York.

“Fashion photography didn’t really exist at that time, so they photographed dancers and actresses from Broadway rather than professional models,” says curator Nathalie Hershdorfer. “They knew how to pose and how to be on a stage.”

According to Hershdorfer, it could be argued that this sparked fashion’s current symbiotic relationship with celebrity culture.

“(Condé Nast founder Condé Montrose Nast) realized that if they hired actresses that were well-known, it was even better (for sales),” she says. “People would recognize them. That’s what’s still going on today.”

Many of the photos are highly produced studio efforts. But a 1962 black-and-white photo by David Bailey of a model in the street, looking away from the camera, captures the moment photographers started to experiment with a more natural approach.

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“They thought, ‘We don’t need fashion editors and makeup artists. We just go out in the street and do our shooting,’” explained Hershdorfer.

Fashion photography in Asia

The inclusion of a music video featuring Chinese models is a notable nod to the show’s local audience, but there are very few photos of Chinese models on show.

However, China’s emergence as one of the world’s most important fashion markets has guaranteed its importance in the future.

Indeed, as Condé Nast’s Chinese mastheads continue to grow, the archive this exhibition was drawn from – which boasts about eight million photographs – is gradually filling with more images from the region.

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“We are absolutely going to see more Asian and Chinese models in the future,” says James Woolhouse, president of Condé Nast Asia Pacific.

“I’m enormously confident that many of the fashion and beauty images being produced today by the team in China will stand the test of time.”