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The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958

Gallery FIT
March 1 – April 2, 2016
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The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958 focused on a pivotal time in the history of Harper's Bazaar magazine. The exhibition explored the dynamic collaboration among Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who reinvigorated Harper’s Bazaar by combining their individual talents.  Drawing from The Museum at FIT’s extensive collection of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s color photographs—donated by the photographer herself—the exhibition highlighted original photographs shown alongside nine garments by Christian Dior, Charles James, Mainbocher, Claire McCardell, and Carolyn Schnurer that exemplified the vast array of captivating styles featured in Harper’s Bazaar.
Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents, 74.84.558
Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents, 74.84.558
Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952. Collection of The Museum at FIT, gift of Mitch Rein, 82.153.78
Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952, gift of Mitch Rein, 82.153.78
 
The exhibition opened with an embroidered, elephant-motif top by American designer Carolyn Schnurer. This piece epitomized the designer’s whimsical sportswear, perfectly suited to an American woman’s lifestyle during the era. It was paired with a photograph of the same garment in an inverted color scheme that was featured in the December 1952 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
 
The exhibition continued with sections dedicated to each of the three women, showcasing their individual contributions. Carmel Snow had a forward-thinking attitude and, to quote her niece and successor Nancy White, was a “genius for picking other people of genius.” Diana Vreeland took an imaginative approach to fashion styling, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe explored advancements in color photography and pioneered on-location shooting in destinations such as Egypt and São Paulo. Their talents combined to make Harper’s Bazaar a definitive fashion magazine of the time.  
Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.
Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.237
Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954. Collection of The Museum at FIT, gift of Mrs. Despina Messinesi, 81.232.1
Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954, gift of Mrs. Despina Messinesi, 81.232.1
Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.348
Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 78.84.348
Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952. Collection of The Museum at FIT, museum purchase, P90.63.1
Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952, museum purchase, P90.63.1
The impact of the women’s collaborative process was demonstrated through a series of photographs and documents. On display were personal letters between Carmel Snow and model Mary Jane Russell describing a memorable fashion editorial from the Paris collections of 1951. Behind-the-scenes photographs and outtakes documented the famous 1942 Arizona desert photo shoot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house—styled by Vreeland—during which she stepped in front of the camera after model Bijou Barrington fell ill from heat stroke.
Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.269
Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.269
Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.356
Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.356
Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.60
Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.60
Video footage from the documentaries Louise Dahl-Wolfe: Painting with Light and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel offered a glimpse into each woman’s personality. Copper-plates and the resulting color proofs reveal the steps of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s working process.  Additionally, four large scale reproductions of Dahl-Wolfe photographs featured in the magazine were paired with related garments that mimic the fashion seen in the images.
Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.571
Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946. Collection of The Museum at FIT, © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. 74.84.571
Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946. Collection of The Museum at FIT, gift of Marina Hiatt, 2002.69.1
Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946, gift of Marina Hiatt, 2002.69.1
  • A gray wool jersey swimsuit by Claire McCardell in the designer’s signature style was shown with a photo of a similar design from the May 1946 issue of the magazine.
  • A 1948 Mainbocher gray wool suit with exquisite scrollwork was paired with a photograph in which the model wears a pith helmet and holds an hourglass, exemplifying what the magazine called “the covert look.”
  • A 1954 Christian Dior black coat was used to simulate Dior’s famous Mystère coat from his groundbreaking 1947 collection, as it appeared in a Dahl-Wolfe photograph. The similarities between the two garments highlight the lasting impact of the collection that Snow christened “A New Look.”
  • An evening gown by designer Charles James was juxtaposed with a Louise Dahl-Wolfe photograph that mimics the structural silhouettes of American evening wear represented in the magazine.
The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936-1958 was the first exhibition to focus on the interaction between these three individuals, highlighting collaboration as an essential component of the creative process. With their brilliant colors, arresting compositions, and faraway locales, the Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs that comprised the heart of the exhibition conveyed an idea of fashion as a conduit to a more vivid existence.
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