Horst P. Horst – the Master of Style, Glamour and Elegance

Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann (August 14, 1906 – November 18, 1999) who chose to be known as Horst P. Horst was a German-American fashion photographer.

Horst P. Horst – The Synonym For Style, Glamour and Elegance

A German-American fashion photographer, Horst P. Horst was best known for his stunning photographs of women. Considered a monumental photographer of the 20th century, he became a synonym for style, glamour and elegance. His rich and sophisticated opus that spanned across a sixty-year-long career significantly influenced the fashion photography of the time. Initially interested in the avant-garde art, he started working for the British Vogue after meeting George Hoyningen and Cecil Beaton. His trademark style characterized by the specific use of light and props have made him stand out from other fashion photographers of the time. One of his most iconic shots was The Mainbocher Corset for Vogue Paris in 1939. Apart from working in fashion, he also created a variety of photographs of interior architecture and still life.

In the history of twentieth-century fashion and portrait photography, Horst’s contribution figures as one of the most artistically significant and long lasting, spanning as it did the sixty years between 1931 and 1991. During this period, his name became legendary as a one-word photographic byline, and his photographs came to be seen as synonymous with the creation of images of elegance, style and rarefied glamour. Born on 14 August 1906, Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann was the second son of a prosperous middle class Protestant shop owner, Max Bohrmann and his wife, Klara Schoenbrodt.

The first pictures that carried a Horst credit line appeared in the December 1931 issue of French Vogue. It was a full-page advertisement showing a model in black velvet holding a Klytia scent bottle in one hand with the other hand raised elegantly above it… Horst’s real breakthrough as a published fashion and portrait photographer was in the pages of British Vogue… starting with the 30 March 1932 issue showing three fashion studies and a full-page portrait of the daughter of Sir James Dunn, the art patron and supporter of Surrealism.

War was declared between America and Germany on 7 December 1941. Horst was called up for service, though he was not officially enrolled until July 1943. The late 1930s and early 1940s were his most productive years, during which he excelled at working with 10-x-8 inch colour transparencies both for covers and for portrait and fashion sittings…

As a typical example of wartime escapism, the Rita Hayworth film Cover Girl (1944) provided Horst with the opportunity to produce one of his most sumptuous film-star covers in a montage of seven different portraits of the cover girl Susann Shaw set against a silk design. His picture of Loretta Young became an almost immediate classic when it was featured in a special edition of Vogue which included masterpieces of photography selected by (classic photographer Edward) Steichen to show off the first hundred years of the medium.

The Mainbocher Corset

In August 1939, hours before he left Paris to move to New York, he shot perhaps his most famous and recognisable work, The Mainbocher Corset. With the model leaning forward, back slightly arched, head tilted to one side and arms raised, the shot demonstrates the lightness of touch that Horst possessed. Yet, with the shadows playing off her back and the corset slightly undone, there is a subtle underlying sexuality that gives the image its enduring quality.

Horst later said that it was the first time he had shot a corset, “It wasn’t easy. It looks as though there is only one light source. But there were reflectors and extra spotlights as well. I don’t know how I did it. I couldn’t repeat it. It was created by emotion.” This quote says a lot about Horst’s approach. He was intricate in his planning and fastidious with his lighting, often spending days getting the scene exactly how he wanted.

Mainbocher Corset, 1939

Pictures taken in Europe in the 1950s, away from studio interference from the new Vogue editor, had a startling plein-air quality. They ranged from Ian Fleming shot at Kitzbeuhel to an extended essay on the German conductor Herbert von Karajan in his modern sports car at his Austrian retreat… Horst’s first important trip to Austria occurred in 1952, to work on a major advertising campaign with the new model Suzy Parker, who would become a major star in the 1960s before attempting a film career. In America that same year, he took his first lifestyle house and interior photographs; the sitter was Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlboro and now MMe. Jacques Balsan. This series, encouraged by Diana Vreeland during her time at Vogue, was to continue into the 1980s in both Vogue and House and Garden and was to be collected in the book Horst: Interiors by Barbara Plumb (1983).

Round the Clock, New York, 1987

The 1960s started well for American Vogue with the appointment of the larger than life ‘Empress of Fashion’, Diana Vreeland, as Editor-in-Chief. Vreeland served from 1961 until 1971, when a change of approach was deemed necessary. Horst was assigned some of the leading players of the time and produced a number of archetypal images of this energetic decade.  … In the 1960s, encouraged by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Horst began a series of photos illustrating the lifestyle of international high society which included people like: Consuelo Vanderbilt, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, Baroness Pauline de Rothschild and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Helen of Greece and Denmark, Baroness Geoffroy de Waldner, Princess Tatiana of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, Lee Radziwill, Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor, Peregrine Eliot, 10th Earl of St Germans and Lady Jacquetta Eliot, Countess of St Germans, Antenor Patiño, Oscar de la Renta and Françoise de Langlade, Desmond Guinness and Princess Henriette Marie-Gabrielle von Urach, Andy Warhol, Nancy Lancaster, Yves Saint Laurent, Doris Duke, Emilio Pucci, Cy Twombly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Amanda Burden, Paloma Picasso and Comtesse Jacqueline de Ribes. The articles were written by the photographer’s longtime companion, Valentine Lawford, a former English diplomat. From this point until nearly the time of his death, Horst spent most of his time traveling and photographing. In the mid 1970s, he began working for House & Garden magazine as well as for Vogue. His last photograph for British Vogue was in 1991 with Princess Michael of Kent, shown against a background of tapestry and wearing a tiara belonging to her mother in law Princess Marina who he had photographed in 1934

Odalisque, 1943

The 1970s remains the decade that good, timeless style overlooked, and work for Horst was necessarily sparse… However, Horst’s rediscovery by a new group of 1980’s style-seeking enthusiasts resulted in increasing commissions…

Horst was commissioned to take nine photographs which appeared in February 1980. This was the most popular issue of Life in that year, selling 1.5 million copies. It led to a book contract and continued work with (editor James) Watters, whose encyclopedic knowledge of early Hollywood stars made him the ideal interviewer as the two men traveled round America to produce their best-selling book Return Engagement: Faces to Remember – Then and Now (1984).

Horst’ career can be said to have reached Old Master status when the world’s most famous pop goddess, Madonna, created her celebrated hymn to classic fashion photography with her single Vogue in 1990. In the video directed by David Fincher, she posed as a recreation of Horst’s most iconic fashion image, a model seen from behind, wearing a partially tied, back-laced corset made by Detolle.

Spider Dress: Helen Bennett, Fashion Advertising for Bergdorf Goodman, VOGUE Paris, New York, 1939

In his approach to portraiture, Horst set out to create a parallel aspirational universe in which his subjects became mysterious and alluring. Bruce Weber, one of many photographers influenced by Horst, artfully described his feelings about Horst’s work in a 1992 television documentary: ‘The elegance of his photographs … took you to another place, very beautifully … the untouchable quallty of the people is really interesting as it gives you something of a distance … it’s like seeing somebody from another world … and you wonder who that person is and you really want to know that person and really want to fall in love with that person’.

— excerpted from Terrence Pepper’s essay “Always in Vogue” from the book Horst Portraits, 60 Years of Style. National Portrait Gallery, London, 2001

Horst foundation

More Horst photos on Alafoto Gallery

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More Horst photos on Alafoto Gallery

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