In his memoir At the Stranger’s Gate: Arrivals in New York, writer and journalist Adam Gopnik recounts his longtime friendship with Richard Avedon. Gopnik records the debates he had with the photographer around his conviction that Avedon's fashion images were more powerful and existential than his more critically acclaimed visual explorations of American identity, which included the 1985 portrait series In the American West. ‘The wrly wrought surface of fashion photos, that was what we were taught to love,’ Gopnik writes.
Despite a sixty-year career of producing pivotal and at times controversial advertising campaigns for over 600 clients, including Du Pont, Revlon, Calvin Klein, Dior and Versace, Avedon distanced himself from his commercial work. The only personal record of his campaigns were shoot dates recorded meticulously in calendars by Avedon’s assistants. From 1962 to 1964, Avedon worked on an astonishing 400 sittings for Du Pont. He also had decade-long relationships with a host of luxury brands. Shortly before his death in 2004, Avedon had just wrapped up a campaign for Harry Winston, who he first began working with in 1952.
Now, Avedon Advertising, published by Abrams Books, brings together the cannon of Avedon’s advertising campaigns for the first time. These era-reflecting images range from the earliest elegantly feminine shoots Avedon shot after being released from active duty as a merchant marine for New York ladies stores B Weistein and Peck & Peck in the mid-Forties, to the highly saturated, energetic and carefree campaigns he shot for Versace in the 1990s.
The treasure trove-like tome is chaptered into five sections, which document Avedon’s advertising output across six decades. Introductory texts and essays by Laura Avedon and Rebecca Arnold chart the socio-political, economic and aesthetic factors that affected Avedon’s work and his vision of American identity. Take the advertising boom of post-war America in the mid-1940s, which in a time of cultural uncertainty, encouraged rapid consumerism ‘endless opportunity, novelty and convenience’ and an aesthetic adoration of the naïve college girl look. Or the emancipated femininity of the Eighties, with advertising aimed at the discerning woman; majestic, powerful and strong, like khaki-clad Kelly LeBrock, Lisa Taylor and Beverly Johnson in Versace’s 1981 campaign.
Perhaps the most controversial image in Avedon’s advertising cannon is the portrait and film he shot of a teenage Brooke Shields in 1980 for Calvin Klein Jeans, lounging in an unbuttoned shirt and tight denim jeans and uttering the provocative words on television ‘Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.’ The campaign aimed to reflect the emotional relationship a woman feels with her jeans, and was met with huge public backlash. It also caught the zeitgeist, and within a year of its release, Calvin Klein's jeans were selling 400,000 pairs a week.
‘Many people stop me in the street in New York or Los Angeles and say, “You know, I loved that ad I saw by Mr Avedon of your clothing,"’ Gianni Versace once enthused. With the publication of Avedon Advertising, it’s a sentiment felt by Gopnik, Versace and countless other admirers that's sure to live on.
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