Icons of Style

A Century of Fashion Photography at the Getty

Sveta for Hussein Chalayan, 2000. Carbon print. © Sarah Moon. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

BY: Jes Zurell

Icons: They epitomize what it means to be alive. They’re the people who live the largest, the people who managed to strike the genetic jackpot, not to mention having the privilege of seducing whomever they damn well please. They’re young, they’re seamless, they’re luxurious. Even the words to describe them taste good, or feel silky on your eyes when you read them.

How fitting that the word “icon” should also refer to a button you push to initiate some technological magic. You push precisely here and there’s an instant reaction. Oh that we could all get so lucky.

Maybe we can – at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, that is.

Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911 – 2011 opened at the Getty this week and remains on view through October 21. The exhibition explores the genre’s rich and varied history through more than 180 photographs, costumes, drawings, and more.

“The best fashion photographs remind us of other works of art or expand the boundaries of the genre, redefining what a fashion photograph is supposed to do, or be,” the Getty stated in its press release announcing the show. “Beginning with 1911—the year Edward Steichen created the first ‘artistic’ fashion photographs—and ending with 2011 with digital technology as a dominant paradigm, this exhibition surveys the rich and varied history of modern fashion photography. The show traces its trajectory from niche industry to powerful cultural force, and its gradual embrace as an art form.”

Fashion photography in the 1980s and 1990s idolized taut bodies, sexuality, and the newly-dubbed supermodel. Tracing deeper into history, the genre elevated the mod look of the 1960s and its harlequin textiles. There’s the corseted figures of the early 20th century, the prim tailoring of the 1940s, and the mystère élegant of the 1920s, but the raw power of this show is not in its breadth or flexibility – it’s in each individual photo.

One minute, a shot by Herb Ritts has you wanting to get between a cluster of supermodels; the next, you want to reach out and tug the strings of a stranger’s corset and see how she’d repay you for setting her free. Each piece is iconic in itself, wrapping its arms around the zeitgeist like a soulmate. It’s enough to give you chills.

Take a look at this selection of pieces from the show, and if you find yourself in Los Angeles, this is where you need to go to truly be among the stars.

Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011 is on view June 26 – October 21, 2018 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles. The exhibition is curated by Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition is generously supported by Arlene Schnitzer, Jordan Schnitzer, and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation.


Helmut Newton
Woman Examining Man, Saint-Tropez 1975, negative 1975; print about 1984. Gelatin silver print. © The Helmut Newton Estate. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Helmut Newton Foundation. Image courtesy of Maconochie Photography.


Givenchy Red
Givenchy Red, Paris, negative 1990; print about 1995. Cibachrome print. © Victor Skrebneski. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds
provided by the Photographs Council


Woman in black fashion on street with three men in suits watching
Renée, “The New Look of Dior,” Place de la Concorde, Paris, August
1947, August 1947. Gelatin silver print. Copyright © The Richard Avedon Foundation, The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York.


Woman's back in Vintage Corset
The Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939. Gelatin silver print. Horst P. Horst, Vogue, September 15, 1939, © Condé Nast. Courtesy Fahey/Klein Gallery Los Angeles.


woman in lacy black veil
[Gloria Swanson], 1924. Gelatin silver print. © Condé Nast. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Model Margaret Horan in a Black Gown by Jay Thorpe
Perfection in Black; Model Margaret Horan in a Black Gown by Jay Thorpe (left), 1935. Gelatin silver print. © Condé Nast. Object Credit: Edward Steichen, Vogue, © Condé Nast.


'60s fashion
Diana Newman, 1966. Gelatin silver print. © Neal Barr. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council.


Sexy photo by Herb Ritts
Fred with Tires, Hollywood [Body Shop series], 1984. Gelatin silver print. © Herb Ritts Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation.