Bas Relief by Vionnet, Vogue 1931

corbis-flowing-dress-by-madeleine-vionnet-george_hoyningen-huene.jpgPhotographer George Hoyningen-Heune immortalizes the artistry of master haute couturier Madeleine Vionnet’s designs in this stunning photo article “Bas Relief by Vionnet” for Vogue‘s November 15th, 1931 issue, while the accompanying text seeks to put that artistry into words”

“Beauty, although scarce, seems to be one with matter and energy. The supply of it on earth never entirely runs out. It keeps cropping up, and what’s more, it keeps cropping up in its, most classical manifestations. It lacks novelty, defies imitation, and excites the wonder of the crowd in much the same way as the ageless moon does these things.

And so when in the year 1931, a designer named Vionnet makes a garment called a pajama, and a woman with a long, graceful, leggy figure puts it on, we look at those classic lines, that eternal grace, and get the very self-same thrill that the Athenian populace must have had when they went to look at Citizen Phidias’s new achievement, the Parthenon.

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They must have wondered how in the world the sculptor chap put that wonderful flowing quality into his stone drapery, his carved limbs; now, we wonder how on earth Vionnet cut these pajamas to such perfect proportions, how a twentieth-century young woman can have so much of the glory that was Grecian, and most of all how the photographer posed the whole business so as to give us once again in a new medium the symmetry, the balance, the look of restrained flight, and the same magnificent massing of drapery that has had the world in ecstasies since that ancient day when the Parthenon went up.

Photography is the newest of artistic mediums; pajamas are the newest of sheaths for the female form; and yet the one has taken a picture of the other, and the combination gives us a result that is not new or old, not modern or classic, but ageless like Botticelli’s “Spring,” a “Ninth Symphony,” a Sphinx, or a sunset. But even this result does not approach in antiquity our reaction to it. Long before we gasped at sky-scrapers, centuries before the Greeks stared upwards at their friezes, man felt this curious catch within, this purely primitive, almost unbearable, yet wholly admirable reaction to beauty.”

**Hoyningen-Heune captures the undulating folds of Vionnet’s silk pajamas as if in motion but in reality this image is entirely staged. The model posed on a slanted board covered in black fabric, the folds in the gown were painstakingly pinned in place.

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Inimitable Style: Fashion Illustration vs. Fashion Photography in 1914 Vogue

In 1914, modern fashion photography, as we know and love it today, was still in its very nascent, experimental phase. Photographers such as Edward Steichen and Baron Adolph de Meyer had demonstrated the artistic possibilities of the medium but it would be years before their influences would be  overwhelming felt within the pages of fashion magazines. (Indeed, Vogue would not produce its first photographic cover until 1932.) The majority of fashion photography throughout the Teens was commercial and static. But fashion illustration, then an equally, if not more, dominant medium for the dissemination of fashion, more than made up for any of photography’s artistic shortcomings. The medium had undergone a dramatic stylistic shift thanks to two seminal works, by Paul Iribe and Georges Lepape entitled Les Robes de Paul Poiret (1908) and Les Choses de Paul Poiret vues par Georges Lepape (1911), respectively, which validated fashion illustration as a means of artistic expression, both in luxury, limited-edition fashion albums and on the covers of mass-produced fashion magazines. Fashion illustration had become an art form. No where is this perhaps more evident then on the covers of Vogue magazine, who employed some of the era’s leading fashion illustrators in creating the visually compelling work that would define the Art Moderne and Art Deco eras.

Cover of Vogue magazine by Helen Dryden, April 1, 1914.

Cover of Vogue magazine by Helen Dryden, April 1, 1914.

Two of the leading American illustrators of this school of hybrid artist/fashion illustrator types were Helen Dryden and George Wolfe Plank whose oeuvre for Vogue is prolific. Between the years of 1910 and 1930, Dryden produced over eighty covers for the magazine, while Plank produced over sixty. So celebrated where their distinctive styles, that Vogue magazine made a photographic attempt to reproduce them in their May 15, 1914 issue, as seen here. But unlike the success Steichen found when mirroring the illustrations of his contemporaries, the photographs, taken of society women at a charity event held at the Waldorf-Astoria, fall incredibly short. Everything about the photographs, from the set designs to the costumes to the women’s clothing and blank expressions, fail to invoke the spirit and allure of the enchanting illustrations they are meant to imitate. Judge for yourself below.

1914.5.5 vogue covers in society tableaux

Photographic reproduction of a Vogue cover by Helen Dryden.

Illustration by Helen Dryden for the cover of Vogue, November 1, 1913.

Illustration by Helen Dryden for the cover of Vogue, November 1, 1913.

Photographic reproductions of Vogue covers by George W. Plank.

Photographic reproductions of Vogue covers by George W. Plank.

Vogue cover by George W. Plank, March 1914

Vogue cover by George W. Plank, March 1914.

Vogue cover by George W. Plank, November 1911.

Vogue cover by George W. Plank, November 1911.

All images found on the Vogue Archive via ProQuest, an invaluable keyword searchable archive which includes access to not only Vogue but The New York Times.