The Legacy of Fashion

Beyond Fashion is a major exhibition opening this summer at London’s Saatchi Gallery. It showcases more than 100 images from 48 artists including Nick Knight, Koto Bolofo, Peter Lindbergh, Viviane Sassen, Paolo Roversi, Miles Aldridge and Ellen von Unwerth – as well as an exciting new generation of fashion photographers. The works demonstrate how the genre has moved past the simple presentation of product lines to reflect upon the reality of our lives, exploring the personal and political in creative ways.

Fashion exhibitions are in huge demand in London. Take the V&A: in 2015, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty broke attendance records, welcoming nearly half a million people. In 2023, the museum presented Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto – the first UK show dedicated to the legendary designer Coco Chanel. This June, it will open Naomi: In Fashion, celebrating the 40-year career of Naomi Campbell with iconic outfits from Thierry Mugler and Vivienne Westwood. It will survey the supermodel’s influence on fashion and social change​. Meanwhile Africa Fashion, another one of the museum’s landmark shows, continues to tour the world, featuring 50 designers from more than 20 countries and landing in Melbourne this month.

Back in the UK capital, The Fashion and Textile Museum is presenting The Biba Story, 1964-1975, which considers the history of the iconic Biba brand, featuring archival clothing, photographs and film to illustrate how it shaped the style landscape of the 1960s and 1970s​. Moreover, The Lore of Loverboy will open at Somerset House this summer. It’s an immersive experience into the world of Charles Jeffrey’s avant-garde fashion label, Loverboy, celebrating 10 years of “club to catwalk”. These exhibitions not only highlight the cultural and historical impact of clothing on society, but celebrate the artistry of fashion photos, too.

Saatchi is right on the mark with the opening of Beyond Fashion. Curated by Nathalie Herschdorfer, Director of Photo Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, and produced by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, the exhibition tells the story of how the genre has become more than a commercial device and has evolved into an art form in its own right. Beyond Fashion celebrates the vision and creativity of these artists and image-makers, documenting a new and exciting visual language filled with humour, play and symbolism. It is presented during the milestone 40th anniversary year of London Fashion Week, an occasion that honours the ecosystem which drives innovation in the industry and beyond.

This is a compendium of fashion photography’s hitlist. Take Nick Knight, celebrated for his innovative and boundary-pushing work. He has collaborated with some of the most prestigious fashion houses, including Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. His unique style blends traditional photography with digital art, often tackling themes of beauty, identity and transformation. Knight is also the founder of SHOWstudio, an influential online fashion broadcasting platform that pioneers fashion film and interactive content. Viviane Sassen, known for her vibrant and surreal imagery, distinctly blurs the line between fashion and fine art whilst exploring themes of identity, the body and the interplay between light and shadow. She has collaborated with leading brands such as Miu Miu, Stella McCartney and Louis Vuitton, but also maintains a robust presence in the contemporary art scene with photobooks and exhibitions at prestigious venues like the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Venice Biennale.

There are four thematic areas to explore in Beyond Fashion: ALLURE, which brings together celebrations of “timeless beauty”; FANTASY, which pays homage to the creativity and inventiveness of photographers working in fashion; REALISM, showcasing artists working mostly in the street, playing at fashion’s intersection with the real world; and, finally, SURREALISM, which features the work of a new generation for whom fashion photography is all about transformation, imagination and bending the rules.

Viewers will move between studio sets and grassroots street photography to discover the different forms fashion can take. Some of the most iconic images, famous faces and dynamic brands in contemporary culture will be on display. It’s a larger-than-life expose of the sector from models and brands straight through to the photographers becoming icons in their own right. From classic Vogue covers to Victoria Beckham’s legs in Marc Jacobs’ shopping bag – this collection features supermodels and stars like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Christy Turlington; designers such as Christian Dior, Commes des Garçons, Alexander McQueen and Valentino and street style legend The Sartorialist.

It’s great to see Saatchi taking note of the power and ubiquity of fashion film. SHOWstudio, established in November 2000 as “the home of fashion film”, defined a new genre of filmmaking through their groundbreaking projects. The studio made fashion film a part of the vernacular, bringing it to mainstream audiences and instigating the question – is it a documentary, music video, animation or dance film? It was a monumental moment in the creation of a new category that made people stop, look and ask: “is this a film?” It still sparks a lot of debate, and SHOWstudio were pioneers in presenting it in a digital space.

Nathalie Herschdorfer says: “At one time, fashion photography was perceived as limited to its commercial use. With the explosion of the internet and social media, the way photography is documented, consumed and shared has undergone a transformation. The emergence of a broader visual language has enabled a blurring of boundaries between editorial, advertising and artistic expression within the genre. Nowadays, it is no longer regarded as a frivolous medium; it is elevated to an art form, capturing the sustained attention of museums and galleries, auction houses and publishers alike. It is the art world’s rising star.”

This summer, take the time and explore the impact fashion has had on art and culture through the vast range of London-based shows. Beyond Fashion opens on 31 May and continues until 8 September 2024.

Words: Anna Müller

Image Credits:
1. Miles Aldridge, Home Works #3, 2008 © Miles Aldridge
2. Coco Capitan, Boy in Socks, 2017 © Coco Capitan
3. Ina Jang, Dance. Hanatsubaki / Shiseido, 2014 © Ina Jang
4. Miles Aldridge, Lookable Legs #1, 2002 © Miles Aldridge / Vogue Italia
5. Koto Bolofo, Black Beauty, 2008 © Koto Bolofo
6. Erik Madigan Heck, Comme des Garçons, 2017 © Erik Madigan Heck