I have a passion for fashion photography. I love the fashion shoots in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, especially the ones that tell a story. Or when the photo shoot references art or literature or film.

Like this story from the December 2013 issue of Vogue. As you can see, the model Edie Campbell is dressed like the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. 

Or this shot, also from the December issue of Vogue…

in which the model, Jessica Chastain is posed to mimic Van Gogh’s 1888 painting La Mousme’.

Is that cool or what?! The fashion editor for both these photo shoots was Grace Coddington, Creative Director for Vogue. She is brilliant. Her shoots are brilliant.

I love how the subtle layers of great fashion photography reveal themselves if you look closely enough. The backdrop or setting, the carefully chosen clothes and accessories, the hair and makeup, the poses of the models, the props if there are any…and how they all work together to create a cohesive impact on the reader.

And sometimes this art is achieved in great fashion advertising. Not all, mind…but some fashion ads are brilliant.

Last week I was on my exercise bike pedaling and leafing through the March issue of Vogue. I was struck by how many of the ads for designer fashion made me think of other forms of pop culture.

Let me show you what I mean…

This dress is from an ad for Oscar de la Renta.

The dress is beautiful; so is the model…and the combination just screams Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.


And this ad for Alexander McQueen …

made me think of Xena Warrior Princess. In fact the model’s dress is more of a combination of Xena’s outfit and Gabrielle’s.

Except for the “Barbie” that looks like a miniature of the model…with the pins stuck into it…not sure what that is about. Unless it’s supposed to represent the self loathing of women who are forced to dress up in short skirts and armored bras and play mythological characters in ridiculously sexist films. But, I guess I really shouldn’t express an opinion on a film I have never seen. It’s just that the women are always considerably less clothed than the men. And who fights with a bare midriff? … But I digress.

This gorgeous ad is for Donna Karan. I love the leather jacket.

The combination of the leather clothes and the backdrop made me think of Mad Max or one of those other post apocalyptic Sci Fi movies. I’m not a big fan, so my knowledge of Sci Fi films is limited and I couldn’t find a shot that captured exactly what I meant. I’ll have to pick the brain of my friend Mrs. F who is a huge Sci Fi fan, not to mention the grande dame of media and pop culture education here in Ottawa .

And speaking of pop culture. The ad below is for Prada. The faces on  her dresses, coats, and bags this spring are so…well…. cute, whimsical, and very reminiscent of the art in 1960’s comics like Young Romance.


I know we’re supposed to call them graphic novels now. But they were comics back then.

And speaking of comics. This series of ads for Chanel just makes me smile, it’s so adorable.
And if that model doesn’t look to you like Pebbles Flintstone…well look again.

Obviously, the hair. And if you look closely the white barrette in the model’s hair looks like a bone. And the second model is blonde like Bam Bam. See what I mean?  Huh? Huh?

Okay, okay…I have no idea where I’m going with  this. Or even what my point is … exactly.

Maybe it’s that fashion photography is often about more than expensive clothes on super skinny models. And by trying to depict it as only that we are denying the artistry that can often go into a great fashion shot.

Maybe I’m saying that if you look closely you can see the creativity of the photographer and the fashion editor. That good fashion photography is not just about showing all the details of the clothing…it’s not supposed to be a catalogue after all. It’s more about creating a feeling, a mood or conveying an idea.

And like when you read good literature…it’s up to the us to figure out what that idea is.

Or…  maybe I’ve just spent too long on my exercise bike leafing through magazines. Maybe I taught English too long. Maybe the picture of the girl in the red dress in the McQueen ad … is …just a picture of a girl in a red dress.

But as I told my class one day several years ago when a student argued that maybe the red carpet in a scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was “just red,”
“The point is, C. … there is no red carpet,” I said.
” What? ” he cried, exasperated with me.
” There is no carpet at all, I explained. “This scene is a construction of the writer; he had to make a conscious decision to describe the carpet as red. And you need to ask yourself, why did he do that?”

So someone had to make a conscious decision to use that red dress in the McQueen ad. Not blue or green. Maybe it’s our job to try to puzzle out why.

Or not.

We could just pedal our exercise bikes and leaf through the magazine and enjoy the view.

What do you see when you look at fashion photography?


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2 thoughts on “A Passion for Deconstructing Fashion… Photos”

  1. Interesting. Perhaps my subconscious sees these relationships. I just see the fabrics! I like your math. The hoodie under the jacket,just takes the place of a scarf. It is never that cold here. But nice to get the different perspective of your climate! Would either opt for the hoodie alone or a scarf with the jacket

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