Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gorgeous Fashion Photos!

by Anna Campbell

I thought we'd have some fun with gorgeousness today.

Recently, a very good friend of mine sent me a surprise present from the Book Depository - the hardback edition of Vicky Tiel's IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DRESS: WHAT I LEARNED IN FORTY YEARS ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, SEX AND FASHION.

The book is gossipy and great fun and talks about lots of celebrities of the last fifty years, particularly Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. But what sparked the idea of doing this blog today was that Vicky's best friend at school was the daughter of the first supermodel Lisa Fonssagrives.

That name rang no bell with me at all but curiosity prompted me to check out Lisa on Google. Wow! Suddenly I knew who was the woman in all those iconic 1940s and 1950s fashion photos that absolutely radiate glamour.

Perhaps because I grew up watching old movies, I love the fashions of this era. Think Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Think pure elegance. Think women who look like they just set foot outside a Paris atelier.

I think Dior's 'New Look' is one of the most romantic styles that ever existed. Apparently it (and I suspect quite a few of the dresses in these photos) was awful to wear. To get the correct silhouette, corsetry was enlisted in a way that had been obsolete since the Edwardian era. But the result was pure magic.

Lisa was born in Sweden in 1911 and didn't start her modeling career until she was spotted in an elevator at the age of 25. Quite old for a supermodel to get started in terms of current practices. She moved to the United States when she was 28 and lived there until she died at the age of 80 in 1991. As well as a model, she was also a dancer and a sculptor.

Aren't these photographs the bee's knees? I had a wonderful time picking out the illustrations for this blog. There's a sculptural quality to the images, isn't there? It fits the very ascetic lines of Lisa's face and body. She looks like she could have been carved out of marble. I love how in the photo above, the sharp point at the back of that fantastic hat somehow echoes the sharp point of the model's nose. It's a very distinctive beauty. She once said she was a "good clothes hanger" and while she was clearly much more, you can see how that long, lean body is perfect for displaying these elegant garments.

She clearly set the fashion for the look of that era. My very first Barbie doll had pointed features and sloping cheekbones and those heavy-lidded eyes. For a little girl, this was a little bit scary and I was much happier when my next Barbie was much softer looking. But now when I look at these hauntingly lovely pictures of Lisa Fonssagrives, I see where the inspiration for that first Barbie came from.

I love looking at old clothes. I can remember even as a kid, I'd spend hours looking at paintings of women in renaissance and medieval dress. The beautiful intricacy, the sumptuous fabrics, the pure romance of those clothes drew me in, and I think helped steer me toward wanting to be a historical romance writer. For me, it wasn't romantic unless they were tripping along in long dresses! Those old dresses were so exotic to me. And I think looking at these images from 60 years ago, there's a similar exoticism here.

I have a theory that one of the reasons the Regency is so perennially popular is that people love the fashions of the era. There's something about those empire-line gowns that whispers romantic intrigue, isn't there? Mind you, the Regency also had very nice male fashions to it's appealing across both genders.

Perhaps in the end, Vicky Teil is right - it IS all about the dress!

So do you have a favorite era in fashion? Do you like Regency dresses? What's the most glamorous dress you ever owned?

For me, it was a Princess Diana wedding dress knock-off in cream taffeta that always made me feel, well, like a princess. Suspect it would cause hoots of derision now with its puffy sleeves and big circular skirt, but at the time, man, I thought I was the cream in the coffee whenever I wore it.


marybelle said...

My wedding dress was from the Princess Diana era. It was satin & lace & frills and it was just divine. So utterly feminine & I felt like a Princess wearing it.

Anna Campbell said...

Mary, sounds a bit like my ball gown! I always felt like a princess when I wore it too. And I loved the way the taffeta rustled.

Kandy Shepherd said...

OMG, Anna, these pictures are utterly divine! So elegant and so feminine.

I also love the 1940s fashions, with the broad shoulders inspired by menswear and the shorter skirts because of lack of fabric. I believe one of the reasons for the post-war New Look was to get women back into ultra feminine clothes and their place in society because the men wanted their jobs back after the war. The full skirts used lots of fabric to give a boost to industry.

Lovely post--thanks for sharing.

Blythe Gifford said...

Thanks for the photos! I love the glamour of that age, though glad I live now. Hard for me to pick a favorite fashion era. Each seems to exemplify its own times. That said, I've currently got a fondness for the early 1960's mod era. Clean lines. Bright colors. Happy clothes!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna!

Funny thing...after I finished Vicky's book I spent quite a bit of time reading about Lisa Fonssagrives and her second husband, photographer Irving Penn. I have a book on gowns from the forties to the eighties...Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Worth, Mainbocher. Gorgeous gowns but not easy to wear. One of my favorite retro fashion sites is They also have a FB page. Great pics from another era. Your post has me longing for the itchy crinoline slip I used to wear under my party dresses when I was a kid. :)

Pat Cochran said...

My favorite dress of all time was my wedding
gown. Made of ivory peau de soie with a
"boat" neckline, fitted bodice, long sleeves,
and a very full skirt. It had a sash which
placed the focus on my 23 or 24 inch waist.
At the time, I was 5 feet tall and weighed
90 pounds and the design emphasized my
"petiteness." (BTW, I designed and made the

Pat C.

Anna Campbell said...

Kandy, I think you're right - and I think the women wanted to go back to ultra feminine stuff too so it wasn't altogether a patriarchal conspiracy, LOL! When I found these pics, I just had to share them.

Anna Campbell said...

Blythe, sadly the 60s (like the 20s) clothes were designed for skinny woman so I would have looked awful in them. Love the look, though. I actually really like Edwardian clothes but go ouch at the corsetry involved!

Anna Campbell said...

Jenn, YOU are the friend who gave me the book - wasn't sure if you'd like to be mentioned by name. Thank you so much - it was great fun. And looking up Lisa F was absolutely fascinating. The weird thing is once I saw her, I GOT that Barbie. She scared the willies out of me when I was a kid. Those hard, pointy features and the strange eyes. Crinoline slip sounds like fun. My fave outfit when I was a kid was a red velvet vaguely Victorian dress that always made me feel like a princess.

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, Pat, that dress sounds beautiful! I'd love to see a photo! My mum's sister made her wedding dress, very simple and heavy silk too. It's one of my most treasured possessions although I'd never be able to fit into it!

Anonymous said...

You're right...Barbie did have those Fonssagrives brows and the dramatic eye. I had Barbie's cousin, Midge, not quite the glamour puss.

Anna Campbell said...

I had a Midge too. I hated her so much, I covered her face in felt pen and cut her hair. I had a Ken too - not quite sure what happened to him!

Kathleen O said...

I love the some of the styles from the 40's and 50's. I love the day of those beautiful Dior and Channel Ball Gowns.. Two people I thought could where anything in those days was Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn... I think some of the fashions that are worn today do not have the elegance of that era. But I have always been a causal dresser by day, and like a bit of drama for evening... I have my own sense of style...a bit of this and bit of that..

Anna Campbell said...

Kathleen, I have to say life is easier with the more casual style that's in vogue right now. Although I'm not sure my track pants would ever be in vogue! I so agree with you about Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn - both icons of style. And such beautiful women they could have worn a sack, frankly! Thanks for swinging by!

NoraA said...

For me it's the gowns of the 50's and 60's. They were just so elegant and feminine. I do love the look of gowns with crinolines. LOL

Annie West said...

Anna, these are gorgeous pics. Thanks for sharing.

No, for me the empire gowns don't do it at all. They suit the ultra slim and were fine for nubile young ladies of 18 but really I don't think they do much for the rest of the female population. I think something that makes more of the female shape is much better, but I DO enjoy the male fashions of the period. I think that's why the Jane Austen adaptations have been so popular. Ok, one of the the reasons!

Anna Campbell said...

Nora, are you talking about the New Look with the tight bodices and full skirts? I adore those too. So romantic!

Anna Campbell said...

Annie, aren't these photos lovely? So glad you swung by! Sadly, fashions got VERY silly after the empire line. I actually some of my favorite gowns come from the 18th century - it's that New Look shape again, you know, fitted bodice with scooped neckline and then a lovely full skirt. Some of the dresses in the Madame Pompadour portraits are to die for. And I so agree with you about Regency male fashions, hair included. I find it hard to get excited about a Victorian guy with mutton chop whiskers!

PrincessFiona01 said...

ONe of my favourite outfits was a little suit I bought in the eighties. It had a straight skirt and a peplum jacket. Very forties post war. So funny that narrow line came about because of war shortages and the romantic full skirts a direct reaction. I married the year after Diana and had a full tiered skirt with a tulle petticoat to keep it out but not the bouffy sleeves.

Anna Campbell said...

Princess Fiona, love the sound of your little suit. I had quite a military burgundy suit in the 80s from Marks and Spencer. Sounds awful but it was terrifically flattering and the severe lines were quite slimming. Found peplums were really flattering too! Oh, no, just thinking back to an 80s look that wasn't flattering. Do you remember the drop-waisted dresses? On a girl with my figure, those were HORRIBLE!!!! The wedding dress sounds lovely, really romantic.

Jeanne M said...

Anna -

When I was a teenager my mother started out designing and making wedding dresses (she made her own patterns) and ended up opening a Bridal Shop that ended up including prom dresses as well. I got a chance to go with her once to NYC while she went to all the bridal houses to pick out her latest selections! The garment district was fascinating! She made it her custom to never sell a prom dress to two girls going to the same prom even if it meant she lost a sale!

Personally I don't think that the 60's had anything to recommend it. I have pictures of my Mom from the late 30's and early 40's and when you see the "average" size then as compared to now it's a reality check! All I can say is that the "sizing" has changed especially in the last 20 years!

I recently finally lost weight I had gained after having cancer and heart by-pass and went into the attic to get out a box of "old" clothes trying to find something to fit. My "new" clothes were sizes 4 - 8 depending on the manufacturer. My "old" size 12 was too small!

If you ever find any "antic" clothes from the 30's and 40's you'll be shocked how much smaller they are then clothes today. I think my Mom's waistline was 18" when she was in her 30's and she wasn't considered thin!

Anna Campbell said...

Jeanne, sounds like life's offered a few challenges in the last few years. Glad you came through! You're so right about the clothes. I remember going to exhibitions of vintage clothing at museums and thinking that I can't imagine ANYONE today fitting into those dresses. What an interesting story about your mum and the garment district. Actually I loved the funky 60s stuff like Audrey Hepburn wore in How to Steal a Million. Yeah, Givenchy! That's my 60s fashion choice, LOL!

Anna Campbell said...

Thanks so much for a great day at Tote Bags, everyone. I wasn't sure whether a post about something so unrelated to my writing life would be interesting to an audience so I've really appreciated all the wonderful, insightful comments. See you all next month!