Iconic Fashion Photos: and the Stories Behind Them

Above:  Photographer Richard Avedon’s image of model Dovima is from the MFAH website.

“Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography” is an exhibit running at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; I got to see fashion photography at its best. Along with the photos, there is a little bit of actual fashion.  Disclosure: this exhibit is ending September 22. 

The most interesting thing, however, is the story behind some of these iconic photos; to see what went into creating them before the age of electronic image manipulation.  The ones that I’m posting here are from the pre-Photoshop days — waaaay pre-Photoshop.

The Divers – George Hoyningen-Huene

Image from mfah.org website

American-Russian photographer George Hoyningen-Huene’s iconic image was printed in Vogue 1930 as an advertisement for Izod swimwear. You think George took the models to the beach?  Nope. The set for this image was the rooftop of a building which housed Vogue’s Paris studio. The models posed on wooden boxes that stood in for a diving board. The models are staring far into the horizon, which is really the out of focus parapet wall .  Bonkers staging on the part of this celebrated photographer which ended up as an iconic image in the fashion world. Do you think Izod sold many bathing suits with this ad?  Note about the male model: he is Horst P. Horst who became a well known photographer in his own right — as we call them today, a “celebrity photographer”.  Read the museum’s description. 

Vionnet Pajamas – George Hoyningen-Huene

hoyningen huene 2
Photo from the book “Vionnet” which lives on my bookshelf. The print was displayed at the museum, though.

Vionnet’s flowing pajamas, 1931, also photographed by George Hoyningen-Huene. He used a slanting board covered in black (I think black fabric), and had the model lean against it while the clothing was arranged and pinned to the board to give a fantastic wind-blown effect. In my opinion, this is a still life photograph in actuality, yet the model seems to be moving freely.  Could he have procured a big fan, though? Maybe the film in those days was not fast enough to capture a moving subject satisfactorily?  Whatever George’s artistic processes, I love this image.

Vogue Cover, 1950 –  Irving Penn

Oops, excuse my reflection…..

Photographer Irving Penn used black and white film for this photograph; it is the first black and white Vogue cover since 1932.   Model Jean Patchett created a black lipstick with the aid of a bit of mascara. Factoid: Models did their own make up in those days.  Sharp and beautiful image.

“Modest Fashion” – Langstone Hues


From Langstone Hues’ book – “Modest Fashion” as seen on the streets around the world. I didn’t buy this book but I love the images displayed at the exhibit.  You can read the author’s interview in the Houston Chronicle here. I love the street style photographs by Hues where there is very little difference between these “modest” fashionistas and any other fashionista.  Other than the hijab (headwear), street fashion is the same all over the world, no?

Selena – John Dyer


…… photographed by John Dyer in 1992 and printed in Texas Monthly! I’ll be honest. I am not into the music world and only heard of Selena when she lost her life to violent crime back in 1995. This photo touches me in more ways than one; not only did a beautiful young person lose her life, but I hear that she designed and made her costumes.  A sewist!! I can’t help thinking what would she be doing now if her life was spared? Of course, she would hold her super music star status; in addition would she have her own line of clothing?

Dovima and the Elephants – Richard Avedon


How can I proceed with this post without touching on this one?  Richard Avedon created one of the most famous fashion images in 1955 by taking model Dovima out from the studio, over to the Cirque d’Hiver Paris.  He was doing a photo shoot of Dior’s 1955 Autumn collection; wait, this dress is said to be the first one designed by Yves St. Laurent, who worked for Christian Dior at the time. Read a bit more about this image on the Museum page.

There are many photographers who’s work is at the museum exhibit, that I didn’t know existed:

Seydou Kieta’s Photography


who opened one of the first photo studios in Mali.  I love this image from 1958 in the juxtaposition of the flowing paisley backdrop, the lady’s flowered attire, polka dot scarf and the sharply graphic bedspread. Somehow, those disparate patterns come together in this photo. I wish there was a color film version of this.

Some actual fashion displayed along with the photos

Poiret 1922 mfah
Beaded dress by Paul Poiret, 1922


Dresses from the 60s.

museum display
60’s dresses.  I did not take copious notes but I think the red one is by Geoffrey Beene. Can anyone identify it 100 percent?

There is one currently unknown photographer I actually know; he is my son-in-law Brian Campbell. You should get to know him before he becomes famous. If you live in Southern Californi, contact Brian for a photo shoot.

Until next time,



4 thoughts on “Iconic Fashion Photos: and the Stories Behind Them

  1. Love this post! (predictably) That Irving Penn image is fantastic… and it makes sense that the Selena image was from Texas Monthly. From what I’ve read, Texas Monthly has had a strong history of photography and photo essays. One of my favorite photographers, Dan Winters, talks about having shot for them a lot in his book.

    Thanks for the promo! It may take a lifetime for me to be as good as Penn or Avedon, but I’m looking forward to trying!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Missed you when I was going through this exhibit at the museum. As they say, keep on trying with the end goal in mind. You will get there one day. We all have faith in you.


  2. Samina,
    Thanks for this wonderful post! For those of us who can’t get to Houston to see it, your blog really added a spark to my day. I love the range of images and stories behind each, and of course, the fashion itself. As a graphic designer who sews, I love learning about the historical aspects of these fashion shoots and the famed people involved. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, too, for the range of your blog, covering such varied topics around sewing: I’m very glad I found it! Please keep on sharing with “the world”.


    1. Thank you for your kind words, Joan! I am thrilled that you enjoy reading my words …. makes it worth the work I put into writing them, and sewing (sometimes sewing just to generate blog fodder — being honest). Heh. I love every minute of producing content here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s