ROSPHOTO State Museum and Exhibition Centre for Photography in St. Petersburg, Russia presents Film and Fashion: The Photographs from the Collection of Alexandre Vassiliev until April 20, 2014.
World-renowned fashion historian and collector, Alexandre Vassiliev knows a thing or two about couture. He owns one of the world’s largest private collections with exhibitions of his stunning garments shown worldwide. His Film and Fashion exhibition contains original images of Hollywood celebrities that “mirror the change of times through the prism of vogue.”
Dating back to the golden age of Hollywood, the Alexandre Vassiliev exhibition traces fashion’s evolution and the ideals of beauty in American and European films. Mostly in black and white, the images start with the silent films of the early 1900s and expand to the late 20th century.
According to a 2010 New York Times article, there was a period when fashion and film reveled in a “relationship so intertwined as to border on incestuous.” Simeon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York stated films once had a powerful influence over fashion, so that vendors and “garment makers” rushed knockoffs into production.
Once upon a time, large department stores hurried to fabricate a costume like Joan Crawford’s organdy gown designed by Gilbert Adrian for the 1932 film, Letty Lynton. Fashion and film bolstered one another. Even as late as the 1960s and 70s, there were a handful of films that generated a fashion craze. There was Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde (1967), and John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever (1977). In the 1970s, Bette Davis’ character in the 1942 drama, The Voyager, transfixed shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. He designed an entire collection based on Charlotte’s shoes.
Today, film fashion traditions, succumb to the pressure of television, music videos and even fashion blogs that circulate on the internet. The connection of the two barely registers. A moviegoer might adapt one detail from their favorite onscreen character, but overall, films are more about an emotional connection rather than a fashion one. If a store wants inspiration, they will more likely look to a pop group rather than a leading actress.
In Alexandre Vassiliev’s collection, costume designers, such as Edith Head, Gilbert Adrian, Helen Rose, and other “backcloth” creators snapped the photos. Their shutterbug approach encapsulated a different portrayal than a studio’s contract photographer such as Broadway photographer, Charles Albin or Paramount’s John Engstead might have done.
Lillian Gish, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, and a mesmerizing Elizabeth Taylor in a beaded evening gown, are just a few of the legendary screen stars on view. Alexandre Vassiliev’s collection not only embraces film’s femme fatales, but also the dashing Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Rudolph Valentino, and other leading men and their iconic fashion sense.
The exhibition studies fashion as it shifts through the ages. While street fashion can swiftly course in a new direction, the movie industry does not follow trends as quickly, if at all. Costume designers tend to work with what has been successful with an audience and sticks with it.
Alexandre Vassiliev believes that films and iconic stars can spread and popularize new fashion trends more effectively” than glossies or fashion shows. Willingly or not, celebrities bring the world of vogue directly to the viewer. Therefore, contends Vassiliev, photographic documentation of Hollywood studio shoots effectively record the “pumping of the fashion barometer.”
Onscreen style from films and iconic stars of earlier eras had the power to make not only a legendary star, but a fashion icon as Alexandre Vasillev’s Films and Fashion exhibition confirms.
By: Dawn Levesque