Written by: Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at FIT and curator of Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme
Harper’s Bazaar, May 1966, photograph by Bob Richardson / Art Partner.
One of the most compelling components of Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme was fashion photography of the 1960s. My fellow curators, Liz Way and Ariele Elia, and I all found this decade to be the era in which expeditions made a decided impact on high fashion. Not only were designers turning to the Space Age, deep sea diving, and the Arctic for inspiration, so too were fashion editors. We were so taken with the vibrant imagery that we chose John Cowan’s girl on an ice floe as the “poster girl” for our exhibition and book.
The influence of expeditions on 1960s fashion photography was celebrated brilliantly in the pages of leading magazines throughout the decade. This phenomenon is understandable, as the rise of youth styles and the deterioration of established fashion codes allowed photographers to experiment far beyond their studios. Magazine editors occasionally styled models in actual space suits and diving equipment. They also clad their models in outrageous fashions while diving in the ocean or standing on the frozen tundra.
China Machado, Russian Snow Leopard by James Terence Brady of Bonwit Teller, St. Donat, Quebec, June 25, 1962, photograph by Richard Avedon. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.
, for example, created an editorial spread that was shot in a snowy landscape for the October 1962 issue.¹ Titled “Beautiful Barbarians” and captured by Richard Avedon, the model in the cover image (set on a vertical fold-out), as well as models shot on location and in studios, were swathed in furs such as civet, Mongolian lamb, and even Russian snow leopard. Editorial copy stated that Avedon “calls up the outer steppes of some unimagined frontier — and ambience of fearless, far-out, magnificence. Feathered, furred, leathered, or swathed in silks, his Beautiful Barbarians project is a proud, untamed, magnetism which all women may look to . . .”² The lead model in the spread was China Machado. Of Portuguese and Chinese/Indian descent, her non-western looks enhanced the “exotic” look of the “barbarian” images that, in turn, articulated the period’s racist view that indigenous peoples were less civilized than cultures south of the Arctic, an idea that continued decades after they were first denigrated by early European explorers.
Despite the less-than-enlightened approach of some fashion imagery, dramatic location shoots became a mainstay of Vogue magazine from 1963 to 1971, when Diana Vreeland was its editor-in-chief. Dynamic and highly creative, Vreeland consistently pushed the limits of fashion styling and photography throughout her decades-long career. She was among the first editors to oversee location shoots around the world while an editor at Harper’s Bazaar during World War II. By the time she arrived at Vogue, Vreeland not only expanded the scope of travel to exotic locations, she amped up the glamour quotient and sense of daring.