From June until September, Fotografiemuseum (FOAM) in Amsterdam will be hosting an exclusive exhibition focusing on the iconic photographer Helmut Newton. Luxury hosiery brand Wolford, the sponsors of this event have a special tie to Newton, as it was he who first elevated the brand (and some may say hosiery itself) to be seen as sexy, desirable and seductive. The retrospective covers his illustrious career and features more than 200 works which ranges from prints to photographs.
Often viewed as a controversial figure, Newton’s photography focused on the figure of the women. Whilst many felt that the portraits were anti-feminist and framed women as objects subjected to the male gaze, Newton often felt that he was empowering his subjects by framing and placing them within a complex, layered composition in which they were the focal point.
Marcel Feil, the deputy director of Art at FOAM states that Newton ‘had an intuition about the fundamental changes in society and the relationship between men and women, the power structure, feminism and sexual liberation; and he worked with it – not literally, but he transformed these givens into his own visual vocabulary,’ To understand Newton is to see through the eroticism and appreciate the multi-faceted nature of his work. In portraying the female as sexual, Newton was playing with the social conventions of the time that dictated that women should be traditional, modest and wholesome.
This would directly play into his fashion photography. In wanting to create a contemporary female image, Newton focused on fashion. In the late 80’s Newton began a commission for Wolford. This commission was focused on creating imagery for the advertising and packaging of their tights and stockings. Why Newton? Well, it was Newton who focused on the strength of the woman, it was only he who could create an image that not only focused on the product itself but the feeling that one would get when wearing it. His landmark campaign featured beautiful models placed daringly against an overwhelming landscape. Newton’s models are assertive, independent and completely in control of not just the space in the photo, but of their life. Newton often conjured up images of the sublime, looking to Romantic artists for inspiration. Here it is the woman who conquers the landscape, unapologetically erotic and unafraid, all whilst wearing her best Wolford hosiery.
The impact on the hosiery market was a force to be reckoned with. Tights, once seen to be a humble modest item, were now seen to be a revolutionary, liberalizing, sensual garment. No longer frumpy or for the middle aged, Helmut Newton’s campaign powerfully pushed not just Wolford but the hosiery industry as a whole, into a high fashion realm. Hosiery was elevated to be more than just an accessory but a symbol of sexuality.
Recent campaigns by Wolford show that the spirit of Newton is still alive as made apparent by the brands recent collaboration with Mario Testino. Testino’s images evoke the erotic mystery of Newton’s campaigns whilst still boldly asserting that it is the female who is in control and it is wearing Wolford which empowers her to feel that way.
Read more: http://www.foam.org/museum/programme/helmut-newton
Photo Credit: Wolford Fashion