Cathleen Naundorf’s signature style celebrates the Grand Palais’ dramatic design and the “sculptural” details of two dresses from Chanel’s 2010 collection. (© Cathleen Naundorf / Courtesy of Rizzoli)
Coco and the Arts II (© Cathleen Naundorf / Courtesy of Rizzoli)
Coco on Travel, The Japanese Garden V (© Cathleen Naundorf / Courtesy of Rizzoli)
The Mirror I (© Cathleen Naundorf / Courtesy of Rizzoli)
My Paradise Bird I (© Cathleen Naundorf / Courtesy of Rizzoli)

A Vintage Take on High Fashion Showcases the Beauty of a Stitch in Time

Photographer Cathleen Naundorf mined Chanel’s archives for a majestic new book

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Since it was built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900, the Grand Palais, a soaring ode to glass and steel just off the Champs-Élysées, has evoked a particularly Parisian glamor. So when another French icon, the fashion house Chanel, granted photographer Cathleen Naundorf exclusive access to its design archives, she knew the Beaux-Arts landmark would make the ideal setting for her dreamlike images. “It’s glass, it’s steel, it’s light. If you see my camera, it’s the same,” says Naundorf, who works with a vintage 1980s Deardorff and 8x10 Polaroid film, the kind that develops in minutes. Her technique, on display in her new book Women of Singular Beauty: Chanel Haute Couture, reflects the handcrafted opulence of Chanel’s gowns and the Grand Palais itself—while rendering impossible the computer retouching ubiquitous in fashion photography today. When things are made by hand “you feel it,” Naundorf says. “It’s nice to leave the folds and the mistakes, because it’s human.”

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

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