Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Middle East in Vogue: Part II

Vreeland herself never went on these trips, but ran the show from her expansive office at Vogue headquarters in New York.

Diana Vreeland recalled of her office at Vogue: “I just had a big black desk for myself. Beyond it was a big long table of the same black lacquer, where the photographs were stacked. I had my bulletin board and scarlet walls. It was a very workaday office, no chichi, and lots of space and fresh air;” A model captured in front of camels in the Jordanian desert wearing a dress by Madame Grès, Vogue December 1965.

For every shoot in a far off location cables would fly back and forth across the ocean to reserve hotel rooms, buy plane tickets, hire car drivers or even mules or camels for transportation. The preparations also included shipping the clothes, which were sent in long black boxes called “coffins”.

Vreeland controlled the photography in New York as best she could through a technique known in the business as “Polaroiding.” Every photograph was planned by her creative New York office team in advance, with a model posing in a dress or coat with the desired combination of accessories: bracelets, necklaces and hats. Only the background was missing. The “Polaroid” was then given to the photographer and editors on the shoot, with instructions scribbled on the bottom. Vreeland would write something like “you do this with hat or without hat,” so that her directions would follow her staff even if she couldn’t.

Model posing in an Ottoman era palace, Beirut 1963, F.C. Gundlach; Vogue photographer Henry Clarke with two models in a Marrakech palace, early 1960’s.
In 1965 Vreeland pared the photographer Henry Clarke with the whimsical writer Lesley Blanch (both of whom were Middle East enthusiasts), and sent them on a Vogue adventure to Syria and Jordan. But far from living in relative luxury, they slept in tents during the evenings and posed models against camels during the day. In her accompanying piece “Match Me Such Marvel” a rhapsody on Middle Eastern themes, Blanch evoked the unique character of the region, “with its hospitality, amazing wildlife, great natural beauty and ancient history”.
Model dramatically posed in front of Petra’s architectural marvels in a gilded dress by Anne Fogarty, Vogue December 1965; A model captured by Henry Clarke amongst the ancient Roman ruins of Palmyra wearing a dress by Larry Aldrich.

Susan Train, the Paris editor at American Vogue, was often part of the Vogue team on these expeditions. In charge of styling the shoots she recalled of that particular trip: “You’d take a couple of models, the photographer Henry Clarke, his English assistant Nelson and a hairdresser (usually Olivier a French coiffeur from Alexandre in Paris) and off we went for say three to four weeks to Syria and Jordan. And then we’re sending these pictures off to New York to be developed.”

Diana Vreeland, Vogue’s legendary editor, planned every single image before it was taken by the photographer in a far off location. Vreeland in her office at Vogue with fashion editor Cathy di Montezemolo studying an outfit on a model before a shoot; Model in the Moroccan desert wearing a Liberty dress and matching scarf in Vogues’ April 1966 issue.
The final result, which appeared in the 1965 December issue, was a tantalizing fashion story of constant contradictions. A bronzed model boldly posed between the columns and arches of ancient ruins at Palmyra; swathed in an ivory silk crepe dress by Oscar de la Renta; while another appeared dramatically posed in front of Petra’s architectural marvels in a gilded cage dress by Anne Fogarty.

This “adventure” with all its mishaps and Herculean effort on the part of the entire Vogue team was, at the end of the day, undertaken to show off clothes by Pauline Trigere, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. All of whom were located oceans away in New York.
Regal in the Jordanian desert in a gold and silver handkerchief dress by Ellen Brooke; A model strikes a pose in Jordan’s Petra wearing a gold cage dress by Anne Fogarty, Vogue December 1965; Amid the hieroglyphs of an ancient Egyptian temple.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

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