Woman of the Hour: Editor Carmel Snow

12/02/2012 § 3 Comments

Carmel Snow at the Harper’s Bazzar offices, 1952.  Taken by Walter Sanders.

When I found these pictures of Carmel Snow, Editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958, I will admit that I did not know very much about her.  With a little research, I discovered that I wasn’t alone.  It seems as though fashion has largely forgotten Ms. Snow, who existed in an era before star Editors like Vreeland, Wintour, Bailey or Alt, but what I discovered was quite a remarkable story about a remarkable woman that bears repeating.

  • Carmel Snow was at Vogue from 1923 until 1933 as an editor, and resigned largely because she wanted to make the fashion editorial more more innovative: take it out of the formal studio setting with artificial light, experiment with shooting on location, etc., and was met with resistance.  She joined Harper’s Bazaar a month after her departure from Vogue.  Her former mentor and boss, Conde Nast, considered it a betrayal and never spoke to her again.
  • Harper’s Bazaar, under Snow, became the first fashion magazine to shoot fashion outdoors and the first to show a model in motion, in 1933.  Can you imagine if all of today’s editorials were still shot in-studio?
  • She nurtured the careers of several imminent photographers, most notably Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai and Richard Avedon, who said of Snow “Carmel Snow taught me everything I know.”
  • Snow also discovered Diana Vreeland at a party and brought her on as a fashion editor at Harper’s.  Vreeland of course went on to be the Editor-in-chief at Vogue from 1963 to 1971.
  • The woman worked hard and was definitely ahead of her time.  She didn’t marry until her 30s, had her three children well into her 40s, working through her pregnancies and after her children were born.  She didn’t resign until she was well into her 70s.
  • She rarely slept or ate, but was very fond of the three martini lunch.  She had something of a reputation of nodding off at fashion shows after one too many cocktails.  Her drinking accelerated as she grew older.
  • While small in stature, she was the kind of domineering boss that could successfully keep Vreeland in check and challenge her boss, William Randolph Hearst, prompting a famous memo in which he stated: “Does anyone have any control over Mrs. Snow? I KNOW I don’t.”
  • She definitely had her eccentricities:  she was never without her pearls, dyed her grey curls a pale shade of blue or lavender, snipped the labels of her couture to avoid customs fees, and though married, was most certainly obsessed with Cristobal Balenciaga (who was most certainly gay).

Snow and designer Cristobal Balenciaga, 1952. Taken by Walter Sanders.

Snow and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, 1952. Taken by Walter Sanders.

To sit with these two amazing ladies. To be a fly on that wall…

Also, hello bracelet! Amazing!

Snow with Alexey Brodovitch (kneeling), 1952.  Taken by Walter Sanders.

Snow with Diana Vreeland, 1952. Taken by Walter Sanders.

Snow with Harper’s Bazaar Paris editor Marie-Louise Bousquet (second from left) at a press showing for fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris, 1951.  Taken by Nat Farbman.

Snow with US Vogue fashion editor Bettina Ballard (right) at Schiaparelli in Paris, 1951.  Taken by Nat Farbman.

Snow in 1953, taken by Al Fenn.

For further reading:

A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life In Fashion, Art, and Letters by Penelope Rowlands.  Officially added to my shortlist!

A charming article from Life Magazine, “Reporting Paris Styles is a Business: Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar cover Openings,” details Paris fashion week in 1937 and the competition between Carmel Snow and Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase.

Previous Persons of the Hour can be found here.

All images via Life.

A Girl’s New Best Friend

09/02/2012 § 4 Comments

I wonder if anyone uses their Apple TV to watch as many classic films as I do.

After much deliberation, I finally purchased the Apple TV receiver from the sparkling new Apple Store in Grand Central two weeks ago.  Initially a bit daunted by the tiny black box, its attendant cords and its installation, I was quite pleased to find the process a breeze.  After five minutes of plugging things in and hiding the cords away and two minutes of linking my router and entering my Netflix information, I was streaming media like none other.  A minute after that I blew my own mind when I figured out how to find my iTunes account on my laptop.  It was like a real-life Minority Report!  Ok, not really — but I was rather pleased with myself.

I have been running through the classic films on the instant streaming service of Netflix ever since, which is only $8/month.  My one complaint, if I must have one, is that specific artists can be difficult to find if you can’t guess (or don’t know) the name of one of their films that Netflix has available to stream.  You can’t simply search by actor or director name.  Now departing from my soapbox.  Overall, I highly recommend Apple TV.  It’s kind of amazing.

I recently spent an evening revisiting one of my very favorite films — which also happens the inspiration source for the name of this blog, in fact.  If you have never seen the Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), I will pause for a moment for you to drop absolutely everything you are doing and go watch it.  No, really.  I’ll wait.  Most famous of course for the iconic musical number “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the film is a madcap romp detailing the adventures of two best friends as they search for suitable mates with suitably fat wallets.  Both actresses are at their archetypal best: Monroe as the ditzy blonde, Russell as the wisecracking brunette.

It’s kind of amazing how every time I watch Marilyn, I discover again how damned talented the woman was.  When made the transition from actor to icon, it became so easy to reduce her to representative symbols: her blonde hair, the billowing white dress, her beauty mark, her voice.  In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes you get to enjoy all that Marilyn has to offer: her spot-on comic timing, her lovely dancing and her singing (mostly, she got a little help on some songs).  It really is no wonder Marilyn’s performance has inspired so many homages, and that none really come close to touching the original.  Even if I do enjoy watching Nate, Dan and Chuck attempt choreography.

The original, 1953.

Madonna, Material Girl, 1985.

Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, 2001.

Blake Lively for Gossip Girl, 2012.

Also charming is “Two Little Girls from Little Rock.”

Images via Life Archives.

As I visit with old favorites and make new discoveries (Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High was a revelation!) I can’t help but find it a bit humorous that I’ve taken what is the probably one of the most modern ways to consume media and have turned it into a time machine into the past.  Humorous, but not surprising.  In any event, if you like classic films as much as I do, the winning combination of Apple TV and Netflix instant will be your new Best Friend.

But of course I still like diamonds.

Ghosts of Train Stations Past: New York Pennsylvania Station

07/02/2012 § 5 Comments

I promise a train and train station moratorium after this post. 


Images of the old New York Penn Station (1910 – 1963), designed by the architectural powerhouse McKim, Mead & White.  Every time I have to pass through the wretch that is the new Penn Station — dark, subterranean and horribly bland — I catch myself wishing earnestly that it had survived the 1960s.  Wishing that what is now the busiest train station in North America was something beautiful to look at.  Wishing that it rivaled the glory that is my beloved Grand Central.  But alas, it is not…

Henry Crane had the right idea.
(Sidenote: Mad Men! March 24! Finally!)

For more pictures of Penn, be sure to check out my earlier post Farewell at Penn Station, poignant moments captured by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt of WWII soldiers shipping out.

Images via the Library of Congress and the NYPL

World War I in Color: The Autochromes of Albert Kahn

31/01/2012 § 1 Comment

Color Autochromes — an early form of color photography — taken during WWI, from the collection of Albert Kahn.  It is an amazing real-life look into the world that Downton Abbey so elegantly recreated for Masterpiece Theatre.  Sidenote: I am completely obsessed with the show.  Are you?

Kahn was a French banker and philanthropist who attempted to collect a photographic record of the entire world between 1909 and 1931.  Amassing over 72,000 Autochromes, Kahn’s collection included historical records of 50 countries and was little-seen until recently.  Kahn’s archive formed the basis of a recent BBC miniseries and accompanying book, The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age.  Find out more here.

**Update: Just found a place online where you can watch a bit of the documentary.  Find part 1 here and part 2 here, courtesy of Ovation.  Enjoy!

QC Loves: Photographer Ditte Isager

29/01/2012 § 1 Comment

From Isager’s series, Horse Riders Journal, Fall 2011

Horse Riders Journal, Spring 2011

Fashion and dressage?  Consider me signed up.
Loving this photography series by Ditte Isager.

Photographer born and raised in Copenhagen Denmark. Living in NYC since 2006. Shooting interiors, personalities, lifestyle and travel. The style is simple nordic. Working with contrast in materials, light, color and objects. Inspiration comes from the light in the Dutch masters, storytelling and effects from motion pictures and the style, character and layers of NY.

Rabbit Hole: Vintage Travel Posters

28/01/2012 § 1 Comment

In love!

A beautiful collection of vintage travel posters is currently available at Vintage Seekers.  To view and purchase these and more, head here.

Study: Wintry Contrast

07/11/2011 § Leave a comment

President Theodore Roosevelt, 1903, by John Singer Sargent.

The descent of nearly three inches of snow on New York on Halloween, had me snowbound and bundled in my bed for a good few hours, watching the swirling flurries fall from the darkened sky.  This wintry contrast was echoed when I took in a performance of 69°South at BAM this week, a dramatic interpretation of the ill-fated Endurance Expedition headed up by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914.  The show was an remarkably creative retelling of an amazing story of perseverance and survival, set on the barren ice floes of Antarctica. Fittingly, the stage was almost entirely white, with the dark woolens of the marionettes standing out in stark contrast.  The show immediately made me want to see the actual pictures from the expedition, taken by its official photographer, Frank Hurley.

Hurley photographing the Endurance.

Hurley’s pictures of the ship Endurance are among the most interesting to me.  The juxtaposition of the dark, hulking ship, trapped and ultimately claimed by the ice, are striking.  Everything is darkness and light.  Desperation and the stubborn emergence of life.  Snow and ice everywhere.

Initially outfitted with a full retinue of camera equipment, when the Endurance was abandoned Hurley was required to strip down his gear to the essentials.  He was left with a single vest pocket Kodak camera and three rolls of film.  He took only 38 photographs throughout the remainder of the expedition, which lasted over two years.  They, along with the 120 glass negatives he saved, document the long, difficult trip back to civilization.

Shackleton.  All Hurley photographs via State Library of New South Wales.

The wintry contrast also reminded me of one of my favorite American painters, John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925), and his luxurious Edwardian portraits.  Sargent, an American expat born in Italy with deep familial roots in New England, was a fabulously successful portraitist during his lifetime, capturing some of the most important figures in American and European society.  Emerging from a yawning, darkened background, Sargent often draws the viewer’s attention to a gleaming shirt collar, a bit of lace or a flash of porcelain skin…  Not unlike snow I saw, silently falling on Halloween or the vast ice floes in Hurley’s photographs.  Life emerging.  Light emerging.  Darkness and light.

The story of the impending winter months…

Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888.

Caspar Goodrich, 1887.

Henry James, 1913.

Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman), 1893.

Edith, Lady Playfair (Edith Russell), 1884.

Homer Saint-Gaudens and his Mother, 1890.

Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears, 1899.

Spanish Dancer, 1880

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) is noted for his lyrical style and was the most famous poet of his time.  Born in Portland, Maine, he no doubt was well familiar with the stark beauty of snowy winters.  I love the image of the snow as shaken from the garments of  “Air,” represented as a mythical woman in his poem Snow-flakes — so quietly sad, yet beautiful.

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
      In the white countenance confession,
            The troubled sky reveals
            The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
            Now whispered and revealed
            To wood and field.

Portrait of Madame X, 1884.

Thus, these men who were the most important in their fields — polar exploration, portraiture, and poetry — in their lifetimes, all have me thinking about the winter months that are to come.

Re-Mastered {Yves Saint Laurent, 1999}

07/10/2011 § 3 Comments

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Edouard Manet, c. 1862

This classic Yves Saint Laurent campaign that echoes several iconic paintings, photographed by Mario Sorrenti in 1999, is a favorite of mine.  Yes, Christian Louboutin also had a more recent campaign along this same theme, but those photographs were merely exacting reproductions of the originals, with a stiletto thrown into the mix.  Pretty to look at, but not much more.  Appropriately coming from the House of Le Smoking, the YSL images are much more interesting for their deft play with the concepts of gender and gender roles.  My absolute favorite image is this first one above, based on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (one of my first stops whenever visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris).  I’ve always wondered why the ladies were naked whilst the men were so very buttoned up.  What kind of luncheon is that?  Extra points for Kate Moss in a suit, of course…

Even more interesting is the image based on Fragonard’s Le Verrou, where a image of sex, violence and male domination is flipped on its head.  Again, with Kate Moss at the helm, it is she who is clutching a lithe youth who is shown naked — he is given no courtesy of a layered gown like the woman in the Fragonard painting — and overwhelmed.  It is Kate who is reaching up to secure the bolt on the door.  It is a woman who overpowers here, a woman who who dominates.  (Yes, we do have to cast aside the crucial fact that he very well could reach the bolt if he wanted to, unlike the woman in the Fragonard painting.)

But, wait...

Do you feel the instinct — as I do — to cast the scene differently when looking at Kate?  Do you interpret her furrowed brow as concern?  That she is she opening the door and not closing it?  That something else is happening?  Something tender?

Is this merely because the antagonist is a woman…?
Look again.  Compare the two.  How different are they, truly?

And that is why I will always, always, always prefer this campaign over a few pictures of pretty models, classically styled, with a few shoes placed at strategic intervals.

But that’s just me.

Le Verrou
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c.1780

Edouard Manet, c. 1863

Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer
Hippolyte Flandrin, c.1836

Le sommeil
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, c.1866

La baigneuse de Valpincon
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, c.1808

Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters
School of Fontainebleau, c. 1594

Vénus à son miroir
Diego Velazquez, c.1647-51

Les Trois Grâces
Jean-Baptiste Regnault, c.1799

Magdalen with the Smoking Flame
Georges de la Tour, c. 1640

La Gioconda
Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–1519

YSL campaign images via The Style Registry.

Venetian Memories of Cy Twombly {The Coronation of Sesostris at the Palazzo Grassi}

07/07/2011 § Leave a comment

Cy Twombly, taken in 1958 by David Lees.  Image via Time Life.

American artist Cy Twombly passed away Tuesday, July 5 in Rome at the age of 83.  For me, his art has always had an irresistible magnetism.  Primal and chaotic, symbolic and mysterious, there is something about Twombly’s body of work that immediately exhilarates me but simultaneously knocks me off-kilter.  I love it.  Currently there is an outpouring of remembrances and many obituaries have been written, so I don’t feel the need to launch into a report on his life.  I will leave that to others.  What I did want to share was my most memorable Twombly experience, viewing his Coronation of Sesostris (2000) at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

Image via Palazzo Grassi.

The stately Palazzo, completed during the second half of the eighteenth century, is located on the Grand Canal and currently houses the personal art collection of François Pinault (aka #77 on the Forbes List of World Billionaires, luxury goods tycoon robber-baron, and father to Francois-Henri who is a rather effective impregnator of fabulous ladies).  It is truly an amazing setting to view Pinault’s excellent and growing collection of contemporary (post-war) art.  I especially appreciate Koons’ Balloon Dog floating in the canal.

Twombly’s Coronation of Sesostris (2000) is an epic, ten part, mixed media work that was installed at the Palazzo in 2006.  The panels chart the coronation procession of Sesotris, “one of the cruellest of Egypt’s pharaohs, the conqueror of Nubia and architect of the unification of the lands of Egypt into a single kingdom” (via PG)  Thought by many to be his strongest work in years at the time it was produced, Twombly’s Coronation panels are

 “…magnificently colored, flirt with ethereal degrees of unfinishedness, and are at once luxurious and rotting, full of life and funereal. Coronation of Sesostris echoes some of the erotic tenor and violence of the early work, though in the mournful minor keys of yearning and homesickness. Bursts of scarlet that once read as hands thrown up in rapture, or bloodstains, now feel like flowers or heartbeats; convulsive, surging rhythm has turned beautifully, excruciatingly protracted; love, loss, melancholy and memory have taken the place of real sex.”  – Jerry Saltz (full article available via Artnet)

In the Palazzo, the large panels are positioned in a single room for maximum impact.  Wandering among them, I was amazed by how vividly I saw the arc of this storyline of a single blazing day in Egypt and how viscerally I responded to the colors and the words Twombly utilized.  It was easily my favorite work within the entire museum.  I have included the panels below so that you might glean a sense of them, but I absolutely urge you to take the time if you are in Venice to see them in person at the Palazzo.  While I am sad that Twombly has passed, I was pleased to reacquaint myself with an amazing work of art and of my treasured memories of Venice.

Coronation of Sesostris (2000) by Cy Twombly
All images below via Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly: April 25, 1928 – July 5, 2011

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