In Autumn 2017 London's Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM) presents Louise Dahl-Wolfe A Style of Her Own. This first-ever retrospective features more than 100 black and white images spanning three decades from the 1930s to the 1950s. 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1989) once said: ‘there weren’t really fashion photographers, just artists like Steichen who just happened to do fashion photography.’ This display charts the rise of fashion photography as a profession. 

The FTM tells us: “Dahl-Wolfe came to fashion photography at a time when formal, sometimes stilted, European elegance was the norm and brought a modern vision that was relaxed, intimate and undeniably American.” Her work always seems fresh, lively and informal, but is actually always carefully staged. 

Working with leading models of the day including Lisa Fonssagrives, Lizzie Gibbons, Liz Benn, Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Barbara Mullen, Mary Jane Russell and Evelyn Tripp, these images present the modern independent woman of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It is often claimed Dahl-Wolfe created the first generation of 'supermodels'. 

Curated by Olivio Maria Rubio, artistic director of La Fabrica in Madrid, the exhibition brings together images from a number of public and private lenders including the International Center of Photography (IPC), Keith de Lellis Gallery, Rachel Wilki, the Staley-Wise Gallery and Terence Pepper. 

The display features a large group of portraits by Dahl-Wolfe of literary figures such as W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Jean Cocteau, Edith Sitwell, Colette and Carson McCullers. Also on show are iconic images of Hollywood stars including Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Orson Welles and Vivien Leigh in the 1930s, to James Cagney, Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake in the 1940s.

Jean Patchett on Cover of Harper's Bazaar May 1953

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Jean Patchett at the Alhambra. Harper's Bazaar Cover May 1953. From Terence Pepper Collection
Credit: Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from FTM. All rights reserved.

An Outstanding Documentary Photographer

As well as her fashion and portrait work, this artist was also a keen documentary photographer. Some of her early work captures the situation of the poor and dispossessed of Nashville Tennessee. during the American Depression. There is a fascinating contrast between images of the glamorous fashion world and the stark images of the Depression.


Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Ophelia, Nashville Tennessee 1932 from the Stanley-Wise Gallery, New York
Credit: Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from FTM. All rights reserved.

150 Years of Harper's Bazaar

The exhibition coincides with the 150th anniversary of fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar. The FTM presents a display showing key events and images in the magazine's history outlining the visions of editors, photographers, stylists and writers since 1867. 

Dahl-Wolfe was a leading contributor to the publication between 1936 and 1958 creating over 80 covers, 600 colour plates and more than 2,000 black-and-white photographs for the publication. The display also includes work by other by photographers who worked for Harper’s Bazaar ranging from Baron de Meyer, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton to current contributors. 

Carmel Snow, editor of Harper's from 1934 to 1959, said: ‘From the moment I saw her first colour photographs, I knew Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted.’ 

70th Anniversary of the House of Christian Dior

The exhibition also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the house of Christian Dior and visitors will see a small selection of original dresses selected from the Fashion and Textile Museum’s permanent collection. These items, created been 1954 and 1967, include designs by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan. 

Ribbed Satin Dress by Christian Dior

Christian Dior 1958, Ribbed Satin Dress, from the FTM's permanent collection.
Credit: Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from FTM. All rights reserved.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe's Legacy

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) ranks among the most important women photographers of the 20th century. Her contemporary approach influenced later photographers including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. 

Speaking recently Celia Joicey, Head of the Fashion and Textile Museum, said: ‘We are delighted to be the first museum in the UK to offer a retrospective exhibition on the work of Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Her fashion pictures are the definition of elegance and beauty. They present an aspirational portrait of the mid-century woman as she newly wished to be: independent, self-assured and in control of her own destiny. 

Exhibition Dates 

Louse Dahl-Wolfe A Style of Her Own can be seen at the FTM until 21st January 2018. Tickets and information can be obtained direct from the Museum.

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