A few months ago, I moved back to the exhilarating city of Paris, France. Beyond the picturesque Parisian buildings and monuments, there is artistic and sartorial inspiration on every street corner. French people have an appreciation for beauty, bold, minimalist and always loud. Over the summer, a series of legendary fashion houses showed their Fall/Winter 2012/2013 haute couture collections in the city of lights, and once again, elegance and artistry were in the air. The streets of Paris turned into catwalks themselves, shedding light on the Parisian ability to perfect both the “less is more” and “more is more” sartorial mantras, embodying that effortless allure and infamous “je ne sais quoi” that fashion lovers worldwide love to emulate. The haute couture collections themselves were stunning, from Dolce & Gabbana’s opulent baroque-inspired pieces to Valentino’s gothic glamour trend. Though the latter’s collection was rich in delicate embroideries, semi-transparent dresses and pearls, many of the strongest pieces were in black and leather-made. Givenchy offered an intriguing and daring take on clothing by having models stand still in various locations, instead of hosting an actual runway show. There was also a clear focus on collars, whether they were beaded, studded, or embroidered. For his second season at Balmain, designer Olivier Rousteing combined an edgy androgynous style with intricate embellishments, featuring threaded gold embroideries and quilted pearls on the house’s trademark military jackets. Armani bounced off of some of Spring and Summer’s trends with transparent vinyl accessories, a tad futuristic, and 1960s-inspired. On the other hand, Isabel Marant appealed to the military trend with olive-colored cotton parkas. Burberry, too, showed strong silhouettes featuring statement jackets with brass buttons, long trench coats, thick waist belts and peplums. The haute couture fashion week also inspired with gorgeously graphic makeup. For instance, brightly hued lashes were a trend shown on the catwalk at Christian Dior. The usual black eyeliner was left behind, replaced by thick lines of plum, green and gold. The it color was most definitely blue, which Paris fashion week brought back with a bang, from cobalt kohl to iridescent aqua eyeshadow. In terms of nails, Chanel impressed with reverse french manicures by firstly applying a layer of silver nail polish on the nails and then adding an oval-shaped pink polish on top. At Giorgio Armani Prive, jewels and netted veils were placed on the models’ faces and hair, creating dramatic yet ethereal looks. Overall, this fashion week was an incarnation of casual Parisian class, with a touch of drama, a hint of romanticism, and a compelling sensibility that mirrors the French sartorial confidence.
Helmut Newton once said, “My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.” Indeed, from the 1960s to the 1990s, the photographer turned the world of fashion photography upside down. Insubordinate and ingenious, erotic and daring, Newton has left behind an incredible legacy. He did what was unthinkable in his time, from working outside of photography studios, to creating voyeuristic and sado-masochistic photographs of strong, sculptural women. The models he chose to work with were statuesque, reminicent of sexually liberated and powerful amazons.
Today, I had the luxury of attending the first French retrospective of Newton’s work at Paris’ Grand Palais- it was mesmerizing. I was finally able to see how, with his erotic and intriguing photographs, Helmut Newton managed to revolutionize fashion photography and, to a certain extent, women’s image in the fashion world. He said, “The desire to discover, the desire to move, to capture the flavor, three concepts that describe the art of photography.”
Some have referred to Newton as a monster, a man who used women as commodities, and to some extent, that is quite accurate. He was a man who loved androgynous women and despised “Hollywood bimbos,” a man for whom the lack of nudity in American lifestyle was saddening, a man who never took more photographs than needed, because “One shot is all you need.” Newton defined the perfect fashion photograph as being all but a fashion photograph, instead resembling a paparazzi shot, or a scene from a film. His sexual and dreamlike photographs were like spied moments of a heightened reality. His influences are many, from S&M to Surrealism, passing by the avant-garde pre-war Berlin that he was born in. “There’s not one photo, including the one I did of a woman pushing another woman down the toilet, which isn’t based on truth,” he once said.