Horst: The Icon Behind the Lens

Remembering One of the Most Artistically Significant Fashion Photographers of a Generation
As a trailblazer in his field, who had collaborations and friendships with leading couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris; stars including Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward, the upcoming exhibition on the life and work of Horst is sure to be a visual feast of style and innovation for fashion and photography lovers.
Summer Fashions American Vogue cover; 15 May 1941; Conde Nast Horst Estate
Horst worked with Vogue internationally throughout his 60-year career and was assigned some of the leading players of the time- he produced a number of archetypal images of this lively decade.

Horst’s best known photographs will be displayed alongside unpublished and rarely exhibited vintage prints, conveying the diversity of his output. It includes surreal still life’s, portraits of Hollywood stars, and all 94 front covers Horst shot for Vogue. It includes 250 photographs, alongside Haute couture garments, magazines, film footage and ephemera.

We spoke to  Susanna Brown, Curator of Photographs, V&A  about the  exhibition:

The Plus: What could people learn about Horst from this exhibition that they might not have realised before?
Susan Brown: I think that even V&A visitors who are familiar with Horst’s work will probably be surprised by his stunning pictures of the Middle East and his mid-1940s project ‘Patterns from Nature’. The photographs stand out as a surprising diversion from the high glamour of his fashion and celebrity photographs. ‘Patterns from Nature’ comprises close-up, black and white images of plants, shells and minerals photographed in New York’s Botanical Gardens, in the forests of New England, in Mexico, and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

TP: What is your favourite piece from this exhibition? Why?
SB: It’s impossible to pick a favourite piece from the exhibition but I do tend to prefer the photographs with the most fascinating stories behind them. I think the supremely elegant portrait of Coco Chanel that Horst made in 1937 is particularly special. The portrait he made of her a few years after meeting became Chanel’s favourite picture of herself for many years. She showed her appreciation for the portrait by giving him several pieces of furniture from her own collection.

TP: Is there one piece that really stands out?
SB: I think the truly iconic picture of the Mainbocher Corset is really the most alluring of fashion photographs and depicts a model wearing a back-lacing corset of pink satin, made by Detolle for Mainbocher’s Autumn/Winter 1939 collection. I think the image is both sensual and melancholy and, for Horst, it came to represent a turning point, the end of a charmed era.

TP: Which unpublished photographs are included?
SB: We are including a number of photographs in the exhibition that are unpublished variants to those that appeared in the fashion magazines including a variant of ‘Face Massage’ featuring the model Carmen Dell’Orefice in 1946.

TP: What has been the reaction from audiences to the exhibition?
SB: It’s very early days but the exhibition has been well received critically and we look forward to hearing what our visitors think. I hope they will be interested to discover that he was never limited to photographing only fashions and enjoy exploring Horst’s complete oeuvre.
Installation image of Horst; Photographer of Style; Victoria & Albert Museum London

TP: How do you think Horst would like to be remembered- and his work to be remembered?
SB: In his 60-year career Horst created a vast body of work that includes some of the most evocative fashion images of the 20th century. Horst ranks alongside Irving Penn and Richard Avedon as one of the pre-eminent fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th century. He created images that transcend fashion and time.

Horst: Photographer of Style opens on Saturday 6 September 2014 and runs until 4 January 2015.
All images are from Victoria & Albert Museum London.