the uses of luxury

Cecil Beaton. Vogue models in Charles James gowns in the ornate interior of French & Co, New York, 1948. Conde Nast Archive/Corbis

1948, a pointed demonstration of postwar elegance: Charles James evening gowns in one of the salons of French & Co, New York art dealers.  This tableau is meant to correct any sense that the rough levelling of society during the war was permanent.   It is like any sort of suppression, when the lid is lifted all that had previously been denied explodes in a kind of hyper-reality.  It is not the women who are desirable,  we hardly see their faces, it is the heavy satins and the room itself that are almost erotic in their complex, elegant ripeness.  

2012, Dior couture, photographed in a small grey corner, wrinkled grey flannel on the floor.  No mise-en-scène here, other than a possible insistence on luxury in the 1%  and who might, possibly, wear such dresses. The women are like flowers, their dark heads like stamens, the black eye of the pale poppy.  They are close, they break the frame of the photograph, they are defiant. 

Patrick Demarchelier. Dior Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2011