I’ve had Erwin Blumenfeld on my mind for a few weeks and I wanted to dedicate him a post at some point, though I didn’t have the time to do it so far.
It looks like Jonathan Saunders’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection will give me the chance to pay homage to Blumenfeld since the fashion designer borrowed the palette for some of his designs from the iconic photographer.
Born in 1897 in Berlin, Blumenfeld first moved to Holland in 1918 and, in 1936, he went to Paris.
Interned in a concentration camp during the German occupation because he was Jewish, in 1941 he managed to leave for the States.
Here he became famous for his fashion photography during the 40s and 50s, working for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Look and Collier’s. Blumenfeld had always loved photography, but considered it more as a hobby rather than a job, at least until 1920 when the leather goods business he had started in Amsterdam closed down.
The photographer recounts in his autobiography Jadis et Daguerre (published by Robert Laffont in 1975) how he arrived in New York and, after borrowing some money, he bought a $19,75 suit and went to visit Carmel Snow at Harper’s Bazaar.
Happy to see Blumenfeld but without even mentioning the war that had separated them as it had never happened, Snow sent the photographer to the magazine’s studio to take some pictures for the September issue.
Blumenfeld spent the entire day working in the humid studio and, exhausted, fell asleep at midnight.
The next morning somebody brought him a letter from Snow that announced him that, since he had used their studio to take the images, she was going to detract $100 for each photograph (mind you, this sort of things still happen in the fashion industry...).
Blumenfeld shot in black and white his more personal images, while he used colour for the photographs destined to fashion magazines, creating a fantasy world of impossible beauty.
His images in colour borrowed a lot of their nuances, especially that contrasting mix of red, green, pink and beige, from paintings.
There was actually an exhibition that took place in the early 80s at the Musée Pompidou in Paris that featured some amazing images taken between the 40s and the 50s by the photographer.
Blumenfeld also shot pilots for beauty commercials between 1958 and 1964. I’m embedding two collages of his pilots here to give you an idea of the "Blumenfeld palette", but you will find the entire Blumenfeld film archive on the SHOWstudio Blumenfeld project page.
The designer opted for a casual and sporty look that had also something elegant and refined about it.
There were no mirrors and veils à la Blumenfeld, but the floral abstract patterns appearing here and there and the prints of peeling walls (for further inspirations involving peeling walls View this photo
I took of the walls at the Venice Arsenale) in pale blue on dove grey, bright orange and dark yellow backgrounds could somehow be seen as reinterpretations of Blumenfeld's most successful techniques, included rippled glass, projections, back lighting, multiple exposures and solarisation experiments.
Stripes of dove grey, green, orange, yellow and beige were mainly used for long straight skirts and pleated short skirts and the models with their sophisticated looks and red lipstick recalled a lot the elegant women portrayed in Blumenfeld's pictures.
As a whole the collection was feminine without being extremely romantic, and minimalist without being boring, with essential details clarified and colours emphasised, just like in a picture by Erwin Blumenfeld.