I spoke about this image here, back in the beginning of this thread and about how I have worked with Vibeke in 2005. She allowed us to recreate an homage to this image at our shoot just for our own pleasure ... classy woman! This is still an iconic image after 33 years:
New York Times Magazine Monday, July 7, 2008
By CHRISTOPHER BENFEY
Published: February 22, 1998
A woman stands alone in a city street at night. Helmut Newton's camera has captured an intensely private moment, the figure's inner calm in marked contrast to the rakish cut of her suit. Three balls of light hover by her head, like thoughts drifting from her solitary reverie. In this all but timeless street, with its Roman arches and stone-laid trottoirs, we may hesitate for a moment to place the date. Is it the time between the World Wars, when Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo donned men's clothes and shocked the world? Is it the unisex 1970's or the power suit 80's? Characteristic of Helmut Newton's best work, it doesn't really look like a fashion photograph -- a portrait, that is to say, of a suit. It seems more like a society portrait, or a celebrity taking a break from a late-night party, snapped on the sly.
The woman in the photograph evokes a familiar figure from 19th-century French art, the cold-eyed (and always male) dandy who, in Baudelaire's famous formulation, has ''no profession other than elegance.'' The photograph is unusual in Newton's corpus in that the woman is fully clothed, her long legs and pinstripes echoing all the other strong verticals in the picture. As though to repair the omission, Newton took a second, less subtle, photograph -- same model, same suit, same street, but a nude model in high heels and veil has approached the suited figure and caresses her shoulder and arm. A slight shift in the posture of the clothed woman reveals two things previously obscured: her high heels and her painted nails, which match those of the nude. We are being invited to imagine that the two women are one and the same -- dandy and streetwalker -- undressed in the eye of the hidden paparazzo, Helmut Newton himself.
From time to time, a fashion photograph -- that peculiarly restrictive genre that unites a time, a place, a dress, a face -- rises to the level of art and miraculously survives the vicissitudes of taste. This photograph, first published in French Vogue in 1975, is one of those. Here, the key participants -- Francine Crescent, the magazine's editor; Helmut Newton, the photographer; Vibeke Bergeron, the model, and Alexandre of Paris, the hairstylist -- discuss how they invented this instant of concentrated solitude.
Q: What was the original assignment?
A: I told Helmut how many pages he had for the Yves Saint Laurent collection, and I gave him the clothes. The whole idea for the photograph came from him.
Q: And why Vibeke?
A: She was a very good model -- very modern looking. She pleased Helmut, and she seemed right for Saint Laurent's tuxedo.
Q: You did other photographs around 1975 in which women turn the tables on men -- the famous photograph of Lisa Taylor checking out a shirtless hunk, for example.
A: I'm fascinated by ambiguity in a woman. There's something of a boy in a certain kind of woman, one who is not a hundred percent feminine. I did a series for Vogue in 1979, ''Woman into Man,'' where the idea is that the perfect man is a woman.
Q: Why Vibeke for this particular shot? Was there something special about her face? I thought of David Bowie.
A: I photographed David Bowie in 1983. He also has this ambiguity -- as good as photographing a beautiful woman. Vibeke was a girl I often worked with in those days. The idea was a man-woman standing in the street at night -- the street, in fact, in Paris's Marais district, where I lived for 14 years. I like working in places I know extremely well; they're more mysterious than a tropical island.
Q: Why the night setting -- because this kind of suit is for evening?
A: With haute couture collections, you couldn't get the clothes during the day, when customers were looking at them. So everything was done at night. Like Brassai, a great influence on me, I like working at night. And I don't use a flash; I use the actual street lighting.
Q: You've said that, in a fashion photograph, ''you've got to put it all together -- like a mise en scene.'' This photograph reminds me of a film still.
A: I've been very influenced by film noir. People have said that some of my photographs are like little stories with neither a beginning nor an end; the viewer has to fill those in.
Q: How would you explain the immense popularity and prestige of this photograph? To an American viewer it might suggest the women's movement of the 70's.
A: When you make a picture, you think, this is a nice one. You don't know it's going to mean anything. But I agree that it reflects the feeling in the air during that time. People might laugh if they heard me say it, but I think my work is very pro-woman.
Q: Janet Malcolm compares fashion photography to writing in a tight poetic mode where the dress, model and magazine format are like the required rhymes and meters: ''The task is to do it correctly but not show the strain.'' Did you welcome or resent the restrictions imposed by fashion photography?
A: My pictures are very worked, but they mustn't look labored. Ideally, they look like something that really happened; a photographer just came along and snapped the picture. What I find interesting is working in a society with certain taboos -- and fashion photography is about that kind of society. To have taboos, then to get around them -- that's interesting. Pornography -- where everything is allowed -- is boring.
Alexandre of Paris
Q: Do you remember working on this photograph with Helmut Newton?
A: I do so many coiffures, but it's definitely my style. I was fortunate to be the last student of the great Antoine, who originated the masculine style for women's hair when he worked for Chanel in 1925. I worked with Helmut Newton a lot, and
I adore him.
Q: Do you remember Vibeke, and would it have been your idea to have done her hair this way?
A: I remember her quite well. The idea for the hair came from the clothes. Yves Saint Laurent is an audacious artist. I worked for him from the time of his very first collection at Dior. It was Saint Laurent who resurrected this style of the 20's -- masculine clothes for women, the ''nouvelle garconne'' look. There has always been a kind of chic woman who can wear such clothes, and the style is really always a la mode. The lines of certain clothes, like Saint Laurent's innovative ''smoking,'' the tuxedo for women, demand that hairstyle.
Q: Did you accompany Helmut Newton on the shoots?
A: Yes, when I was younger. We did everything at night, and often it was quite cold at the Place de la Concorde or the Marais. We would usually do the initial preparation in the studio, but we'd have a van at the shoot for modifications and changing clothes. This work demands great precision, and sometimes we'd have to start over, or change the hair a hundred times. It's like painting -- and just as difficult. If the model's hair was too long, you'd slick it back with gel and tie it behind. Fortunately, you can't see the model's back in the photograph.
Q: Do you remember the shoot?
A: Of course I do. I was standing in shoes with very high heels, and, for three or four seconds, I couldn't move because Helmut used street lighting and needed a longer exposure. He said, ''Don't move!'' in his inimitable way. I was hungry, thirsty and sleep-deprived. We'd been doing the collection for two weeks, day and night. Even if you're going to faint, you stand still. It seemed like an eternity. I was thinking, these are seconds? And the next night we did the whole thing again, with me standing in the same location, but with a nude model with a veil behind me.
Q: Why do you think he chose you for this particular shot?
A: I think I was lucky. It was the right place and the right time. There was a dispute about money between the magazine and the big modeling agencies, and I, who was with a smaller agency, worked with all the photographers for that collection. Helmut didn't choose me as much as French Vogue did. But he's the god. No editor or art director tells him what to do.
Q: Were you uncomfortable about being in drag?
A: If it had been presented as a concept, I might have thought, this is tricky. But in the process of working with a genius like Helmut, one totally surrenders to his will. It was intoxicating to go from being a schoolgirl in the Danish countryside to having your hair pulled back by Alexandre, having Yves Saint Laurent drop off a suit and Helmut Newton telling you not to move, showing you how to hold a cigarette. (I've never smoked.)
Q: In the photograph you look so pensive and isolated. Was there a lot of commotion around you?
A: I did feel isolated, like in a dream. There were people around, but Helmut had complete control; he had a way of provoking extra effort from the model. He very quietly and calmly directed me, molding the image, asking me to put my hand into my pocket a little farther. And then he told
me not to move. It was like someone taking a golf swing in a tournament. I don't think anybody breathed. Helmut was completely serene. But actually, he was already planning the next night's shoot: me in the same suit and the same street, but with the nude model. They were concerned about the traffic and a car parked in the background. They didn't want a gendarme to come around the corner the following night and find a nude woman in the street.
Q: Tell me about your hair.
A: I have really fine Danish hair. They tried at first to make it fluffy. But Helmut just said, ''Pull it back, don't fuss with it.'' The credit for slicking my hair back and smudging my eyes has to go to Helmut. They used brilliantine and other stuff to pull it tight -- ''like an egg,'' said Helmut. My hair was shoulder length, and Alexandre, the great hairstylist -- a perfect gentleman in his three-piece pinstriped suit, with vest and pocket watch -- slicked it back and tied it in a French twist. I was impressed that Alexandre himself was there on the street at 2 in the morning to slick back my hair.
Q: What about the suit? Did you see it beforehand?
A: No, that's not how it works. The clothes are dropped off at the Vogue studio; the model is booked for the collections and approved by the photographers. I would show up for the booking, sit down and have my hair and makeup done. Then they hand you the outfit, and you just hope it fits. We had a van to take us around. And Helmut says, ''This one we'll photograph on the other side of Paris in front of my apartment.'' And it's 2 A.M. I was young, and not too taken with fashion. I never wanted any of the clothes I wore until I put on that Saint Laurent suit. It felt good, and I felt like I looked fantastic. I felt edgy, but I also felt beautiful. This men's look became my look. Twenty years later, I'm still wearing it.
Museum für Fotografie in Berlin Opens Exhibition by Fashion Photographer Helmut Newton
After the great success of the exhibition "A gun for hire" at the Helmut Newton Foundation in 2005 with Newton's fashion photos from the last 20 years the current show "Helmut Newton: Fired" focuses on his editorial work for fashion magazines of the 1960s and 1970s like Elle, Queen, Nova or Marie Claire.
Fired from French Vogue: "In 1964 I was commissioned by Queen magazine to photograph the revolutionary collection by Courrèges. The fashion editor, Claire Rendlesham, decided on a journalistic scoop showing only my Courrèges photos and excluding all other fashion houses from her Paris report. When Queen landed on the desk of Françoise de Langlade (then associate editor-in-chief of French Vogue) she hit the roof. I was called into her office, we had a tremendous row, she accused me of treachery and disloyalty and wanted to know why I had not told her about this scoop. I pointed out to her that I had no exclusive contract with Vogue, and it was of course understood that I would never divulge any ideas developed by French Vogue to Queen or vice versa. So I was kicked out of the hallowed halls of Vogue only to return in 1969 when Francine Crescent was appointed editor-in-chief. During Francine's regime, I did what I considered my best fashion work. I was to be a regular contributor until 1983."
Helmut Newton, from: Pages from the Glossies, Zurich: Scalo, 1998
"The news of Helmut's banishment from French Vogue soon reached Claude Brouet, the editor-in-chief of "ELLE" magazine, who offered him work on the magazine. Helmut continued working for English and German magazines. He was able to adapt his style to the policy of the many magazines he worked for."
June Newton, Monte Carlo 2008