Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style Of Her Own at The Fashion and Textiles Museum

The Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey is currently hosting a magnificent exhibition in tribute to the renowned American photographer, Louise Dahl-Wolfe.

Dahl-Wolfe is primarily known for her fashion photography for Harpers Bazaar and her stunning use of natural light in distant locations from South America to Africa, in what has become known as “environmental” fashion photography. Dahl-Wolfe preferred to take portraits of her models, rather than conducting them into a standard fashion photography setting. Dahl-Wolfe is especially well known for her role in the discovery of a teenage Lauren Bacall, whom she photographed for the March 1943 cover of Harpers Bazaar.

The exhibition begins along a long stretching hallway, the walls in a deep royal blue that are coated in vintage editions of Harpers Bazaar, the front covers all containing Dahl-Wolfe’s work, ranging from 1941 to 1953, highlighting some of Dahl-Wolfe’s most fabulous images.

One of Wolfe’s favourite subjects was the model Mary Jane Russell, who is estimated to have appeared in about one third of Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs. Featured in this exhibition are stunning photographs of Mary Jane Russell, including a 1954 photograph from Harpers Bazaar and ‘The Big Hit, the Little Hat from Balenciaga’, from the October 1951 issue of Harpers Bazaar. Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs perfectly capture the model’s beauty without overshadowing the clothing and products being promoted.

On display is a fantastic life-size display inspired by one of Dahl-Wolfe’s Harpers Bazaar covers, ‘Jean Patchett at the Alhambra, Granada Spain’ 1953, which featured a woman wearing a stylish pair of micro-shorts and square jacket set in blazing yellow, accompanied by a matching sunhat. Dahl-Wolfe created a cover that was extremely fitting and for the anticipation of summer in May 1953.

The Bikini and oversized shirt featured in the life-size display, are from 1950, and are covered in exquisite detail. The set includes a bikini, which is accompanied by a flowing, loose fitted matching shirt cover-up. The pleat detail on the back adds a voluptuous fullness to the shirt. The set was made in England and features the ‘Jantzen’ logo on the label of a diving girl in a red swimsuit. By the 1950’s Jantzen had licenses and design studios in eighteen countries all around the globe and swimwear and casual wear sales were on the rise as travel possibilities expanded, and foreign holidays to exotic locations became more fashionable. Louise Dahl-Wolfe took the opportunity of this largely growing brand’s success and featured it in her work.

Other parts of the exhibition display Dahl-Wolfe’s monochromatic portraits in great abundance over the gallery walls. The portraits featured include famous Hollywood stars, designers, and influential figures in the fashion industry.

“Bette Davis, Hollywood 1938” shows the incredible actress lounging in a field, with a huge smile spread wide across her face and adorned by a simple yet elegant pearl necklace set. Bette Davis was an iconic, Oscar-winning Hollywood figure, often described as a ‘perfectionist’ with excellent taste. The photograph by Dahl-Wolfe featured is a variant pose from Harpers Bazaar, May 1938.

Also featured is the stunning, Academy Award-winning actress Carole Lombard. Lombard was the highest-paid Hollywood actress of the 1930s, who tragically lost her life, aged only 33, in a plane crash while on a trip to sell war bonds. Dahl-Wolfe’s photograph of her here shows Lombard posing happily with her gorgeous sheepdog, Beau Brummell, for Harpers Bazaar, March 1938.

Dahl-Wolfe’s photograph for the 1941 May edition of Harpers Bazaar features the breathtakingly beautiful Veronica Lake. Lake was best known for her seductive peek-a-boo hairstyle and her roles in film noir in the 1940s, including The Blue Dahlia, 1946.

Other portraits on display feature, Yves Montand, Dolores del Rio, Orson Welles, Boris Karloff, Christian Bérard and Christian Dior, and one of Dahl-Wolfe’s favourite models in the 1930s and 1940s, Liz Gibbons.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style Of Her Own offers viewers a comprehensive overview of an iconic 20th Century female fashion photographer’s work, whose legacy still holds much influence over the direction and styling of fashion shoots today.  It is a must-see for those who are interested in history as much as fashion and photography.  The exhibition is on at The Fashion and Textiles Museum until 21st January 2018,  More information may be found here.