Fashion in Frame
A selection of haunting haute couture images, shot by renowned fashion photographer Cathleen Naundorf over six years and compiled in a book, are on display this month at Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles. Grace Tay reports
As the fashion cognoscente would aver, there’s magic in true haute couture—the creations of yore that entail thousands of hours of handwork, crafting, embellishment, finishing. It’s what sartorial dreams are made of.
For six years, from 2005 to 2011, Cathleen Naundorf handcrafted her own Dream of Fashion, Un Rêve de Mode, working with couture houses Chanel, Dior, Gaultier, Lacroix, Elie Saab and Valentino.
Delving into their physical archives to handpick gowns and following intensive discussions with the designers and research, she mapped out her vision in storyboards with sketches, archive photos and texts. Sets, locations (Paris’ Grand Palais, among skeletons in an anatomy museum), props (lobsters, a raven, swords), models, hair and make-up, hats and hairpieces from Philip Treacy and Odile Gilbert, were meticulously planned and selected.
The result: ethereal, cinematic images that captured the exquisiteness of the ensembles and the intangible magical allure of haute couture. Artworks of artworks.
In a digital world and fast fashion, Naundorf ’s use of large-format cameras (Deardorff or Plaubel) and Polaroid or negative film parallels the anachronism of haute couture. These photos were compiled into Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf, published in 2012. In it, a good number of images pay tribute to the late fashion photographer Horst P. Horst, whom Naundorf counts as her mentor and inspiration for getting into fashion photography. In Homage to Horst P. Horst, shot in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment in Rue Cambon, a model in a Chanel gown is draped over the very same white satin armchair on which Mademoiselle Chanel posed for a portrait by Horst in 1937.
The story goes that in the 1990s, the gutsy 20‑something Naundorf looked up Horst’s number in a New York City phone book, called the elderly gent—one of the 20th century’s top fashion photographers —and told him she was from his hometown. He told her to get herself to New York and she did, and although they never worked together, he would dish advice—“It’s the lighting, the drama”—when they spoke on the phone, nearly daily.
Naundorf moved to France and began photographing backstage at Paris fashion shows for Condé Nast in 1997. Horst died in 1999 at the age of 93.
This month, Naundorf will be in Los Angeles to attend the September 11 reception of Haute Couture: The Polaroids of Cathleen Naundorf—La Exhibition at Fahey/Klein Gallery. A selection of her works from her Un Rêve de Mode series will be displayed from September 4 to October 11.