Paris Fashion’s Most Priceless Photos

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At its best, Paris fashion offers glamour distilled. But it took Vogue to send that message around the world. If you fancy seeing the very images they used to do it, check out Papier Glacé (Glossy Paper), presented at the Palais Galliera with Condé Nast.

Paris fashion: Photo by Constantin Joffé

Photo by Constantin Joffé (detail). All photos courtesy Musée Galliera/Condé Nast.

Starting with Baron Adolph de Meyer in 1919, you’ll find all the names who helped gave fashion its photo ID: Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, William Klein, Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton, Bert Stern, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier, Corinne Day . . . the show’s selection runs right up through the latest Vogue. There are plenty of talents whose work you may not know, too. From John Rawlings’s surreal fantasies in the 1930s to black-and-white 1950s chic by Henry Clarke, they’re great. You’ll also find pictures from unexpected artists such as George Platt Lynes, Man Ray and (in one extraordinary shot) Diane Arbus.

Paris fashion: Photo by Henry Clarke

Photo by Henry Clarke (detail).

With all the photographs arranged by theme rather than date, the exposition is focused on one aim common to all. The goal was always to shape our image of “style.” In the words of Irving Penn, all the artists here are united in “selling not dresses but dreams.” Along the way, of course, Condé Nast was expanding Vogue. Acquired in 1909, within seven years it was published around the world.

Paris fashion: Photo by Norman Parkinson

Photo by Norman Parkinson (detail).

All 150 photos come from that firm’s vast archives and many of the pictures on show are original prints. This means you’ll see countless classic shots, but also make discoveries. If you don’t know the work of Constantin Joffé, for instance, or Clifford Coffin or Frances McLaughlin-Gill, it will be more than a treat. For serious fans of Paris fashion, the expo offers an education.

Paris fashion: Photo by Clifford Coffin

Photo by Clifford Coffin (detail).

From the start, Condé Nast photos emphasized fashion as luxury. Early lensmen juxtaposed starlets and socialites with rich interiors, so as to create a portrait of Parisian elegance. With the arrival of art deco, they started using sets—a tendency that increased with the advent of surrealism. This was just the beginning of designing a dream world that has continued to exist ever since. Later, when portable cameras made us all amateur shooters, fashion’s women turned into heroines of the street.

Paris fashion: Photo by John Rawlings

Photo by John Rawlings (detail).

What’s fascinating is how all of these strains still persist, each having played its role in our view of style.

The show boasts a number of secondary pleasures. One, of course, is all the gorgeous gowns, hats and shoes in the photos. Another is the set of real couture pieces dotted throughout the show in special cases. (Among their contents is a cape worn by the courtesan Cléo de Mérode as well as a dress from YSL’s “Mondrian” collection.) But the biggest pleasure is enjoying the expertise on offer. Photographically, stylistically and aesthetically, these shots give you the best of the best in the world.

Paris fashion: Photo by Henry Clarke

Photo by Henry Clarke (detail).

Plus as the French would say, it’s feminissime . . . supergirly!

The exhibition runs through May 25, 2014.

For more great ideas on where to go and what to do in Paris, get the GO-Card—everything you want to know about how to eat, live, play and stay in Paris for less!

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Papier Glacé (Glossy Paper)

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