Like many people one of my earliest fashion memories comes courtesy of Irving Penn. Back in the day when exquisite imported magazines were little more than a twinkle in my eye, I purchased an issue of Vogue for 25 cents at a local flea market. Granted, this was not my first issue of Vogue but it is the one I remember best of all thanks to Penn’s expressive black and white portraits of Shalom Harlow, Stella Tennant, Amber Valleta & Kirsty Hume.
Growing up I had always followed fashion to some extent but Penn’s pictures came to me during that crucial moment where a recreation becomes an obsession. The images themselves were simple but they made each girl look unearthly – taking them beyond beauty and into a realm of unmatched perfection. Shalom’s impenetrable elegance, Kirsty’s sweet sensuality, Stella’s aristocratic cool, Amber’s it factor – to my preteen mind this was the apex of all that was desirable, all that was visually compelling. The magazine itself is now long gone but I still have the individual pictures more than a decade later. They are wrinkled now and nowhere near perfect but they serve to remind me of exactly why I am passionate about fashion.
There will always be something that draws us towards what is beautiful and the work Irivng Penn created was singularly beautiful. Whether it was a picture of dried flowers framed in an art gallery or a few frayed pages saved from an old magazine, his work had an undeniable power to affect people. It is somewhat cliche to say that a picture can change your life but I wonder just how many people were introduced to fashion via Irving Penn’s six decades of stunning imagery. He will be missed.