My date with Horst


As one of the greatest fashion photographers of the 20th century, it was only a matter of time before the V&A devoted an exhibition to the master that is Horst. P. Horst. Showcasing more than 250 photographs spanning the length of Horst’s 60 year career, the exhibition claims to explore the processes behind some of his most iconic images.

reviews the V&A’s latest fashionable offering.

Muriel Maxwell on the cover of American Vogue, July 1939.

I made numerous attempts to visit the Horst: Photographer of Style exhibit before I was successful. Each time I planned to go, something seemed to thwart my efforts until I ended up dashing to the V&A with my mother on the last day the exhibition was open. This review is therefore somewhat past its sell by date as readers can no longer visit its subject, but I suppose thus is the nature of online media as this article will stay on The Palatinate’s website long after I have left Durham.

So was the Horst exhibition worth it when I finally got to see it? Definitely. My journey through its many rooms began in a long, narrow corridor with photos along each wall, the space leading to a raised group of dresses. These photos illustrated what Horst is perhaps most famous for, his black and white fashion photography taken in the thirties. These images are clouded in mystery – so much is hidden as models are shot from jaunty angles with parts of their faces in shade. As I looked at the shots I longed for the glamour these women project and the ethereal quality Horst bestowed upon them. The dresses at the end of the passage were from fashion houses such as Chanel, Lanvin and Vionnet. Although they were not the same dresses as those seen in the accompanying photographs, they gave an idea of the colour which was obscured by the chiaroscuro nature of the images.

Veruschka von Lehndorff by Horst, 1965

The next room of the exhibit documented Horst’s relationship with the Surrealists. The movement encompassed a range of disciplines, and on display were photographs of amusing costumes for Surrealist plays which were later deemed to be too impractical to wear on stage. I also enjoyed Horst’s meditative portrait of Salvador Dali and the charming image of his wife posing in front of one of her husband’s paintings.

The exhibition also presented some photography which I did not expect in the form of images of Turkish tribes and a detailed exploration of mineral and plant material. Although, I must admit this subject matter did not interest me as much Horst’s other work, I think it was well placed in the exhibition to give the onlooker a fuller impression of the artist’s life and interests.

The penultimate room of the exhibition was undoubtedly my favourite as colour sprang onto my retinas from all angles. 94 Horst Vogue covers were displayed under glass, and people jostled to find a place to pour over the images from the world famous fashion bible. Around the room, images from the Conde Nast archives were blown up so that as you stood in front of each photograph, you felt enveloped by Horst’s world. I especially loved the American feel of the image which was used as the exhibition poster. Another favourite was Summer Fashions, in which a woman lies with her legs in the air as a giant red ball is poised on her toes. It seemed as if this image encompassed what makes Horst’s photographs work so well – balance.

Summer Fashions, American Vogue, May 1941.

Ultimately, I felt that the exhibition illustrated how fashion can make you feel. Although only one of Horst’s models is alive today, the women in his images seem glamorous, timeless and effortlessly cool. Horst makes them the embodiment of style.

Photographs:, and (all by Horst). 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.