I recently bought the book “Lingerie” featuring the beautiful photography of Lillan Bassman.
Bassman became a photographer in the late 1940’s. Her images of women broke the mould, emphasising a more intimate portrayal and establishing a niche in lingerie and night-wear photography.
Harpers Bazaar, March 1954
Carmen Dell’Orefice, Merry Widow 1951
Bassman was an avid watcher of women and in the book it describes how, in the mid 1940’s, she began to study the body language of those who made a living out of their sensuousness and were not afraid to show it.
“It was too late to get served at the hotel so I decided to walk down the Avenue. I spotted my corner carefully and then proceeded. It’s strange how similar and how different French girls are (to American girls). In the majority they look like old victory girls of B’way. High pompadours, long hair over their shoulders, skirt at above knee length and heavy high-heeled shoes. It wasn’t too light and I was shy about staring too much, so all I got were quick outlines”
A few days later. she watched the prostitutes make easy pickings of American GIs: “There’s no denying a French girl once she spots you along, it’s done on the streets, in doorways, anywheres. There’s a special drape to the way her body clings to a man and she takes the initiative on all occasions.”
And from there, Bassman embarked on a special relationship with her photography, where women felt comfortable in her company and who thus photographed with an air of effortless self-possession. Warner lingerie subsequently enjoyed a huge rise in sales with their Merry Widow campaign, shot by Bassman and named after the Lana Turner movie – with the tagline “How can you look so naughty and feel so nice?”
This campaign was so successful it continued right up to the early 1960’s.
Lillian would often take her models out of the studios, preferring a room with abundant natural light and a more reportage style of work.
Corselet by Perma-lift 1956
Betty Biehn 1955
Margie Cato late 1940’s
Pyjamas by Kicknernick 1951
Advertisement for La Roche early 1950’s (my favourite!)
Suzy Parker 1951
Warner’s advertisement 1957
Barbara Vaughn early 1950’s
Gossard Ultrabra 1997
Makes you want to go and buy a corset, doesn’t it!
I know they were probably extremely uncomfortable but the corsets with the tulle skirts do look pretty. I showed my husband to get his opinion and he said “I prefer sexy lingerie to pretty lingerie”. Men eh!
I suppose that’s exactly where Bassman differed – she photographed women for women. Personally, I think pretty can be sexy and these are very sexy indeed.
Lillian died in February of this year. She was 94 and still working. The book Lingerie is a fabulous tribute to a woman who revolutionised women’s photography and the photography of the female form.
I can’t recommend it enough!