It’s been almost 60 years since William Klein revolutionised fashion photography with his gritty street shots, provocative close-ups and wacky angles. Yet his black-and-white images, on show at a retrospective at Tate Modern in London, still stop visitors in their tracks. And fashion has taken note.
“There’s more black-and-white this season than ever,” says Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W magazine. He is referring to a plethora of monochromatic ad campaigns, catwalk pieces and prints based on black-and-white photographs used in collections themselves. “It’s a backlash to the years of excess and embellishment. Now there is more of a modernist look, with dramatic shapes and minimalist 1930s designs so the simplicity of black-and-white works well.”
Photographer Alasdair McLellan, who shot this season’s black-and-white Patti Smith-esque campaign for Proenza Schouler, agrees: “Clothes look more chic in black-and-white; the image looks more special, like fantastic images of Marilyn or Elvis.”
Brett Rogers, director of London’s Photographers’ Gallery, says black-and-white adds gravitas to fashion, as it “hearkens back to the heyday of the hard-hitting photojournalism of the 1920s to 1960s, like Robert Capa or Don McCullin, when photography was used to say something serious about society.”
Consider McQ’s edgy yet sophisticated campaign by David Sims, Mario Sorrenti’s old-school Hollywood shots of Mila Kunis à la Sophia Loren for Miss Dior, and Selfridges’ black-and- white Christmas campaign by Bruce Weber. “Black-and-white offers a sense of the avant garde, so we stand out from the crowd,” says Linda Hewson, Selfridges’ head of creative – perhaps the same motivation that fuelled Jennifer Lopez’s decision to wear a Valentino black-and-white coat for her first world tour, or Kylie Minogue’s choice of spotlight-grabbing Stella McCartney cutaway black-and-white gingham dress at the recent Q Awards.
“It’s the incredible contrast between the black and the white that gives it such a dramatic look,” says Simon Baker, curator of photography and international art at Tate Modern. “The depth of the black, contrasting with the bright white, makes everything glow.” As designer Christian Blanken says: “When you want to get a big, bold statement across, black-and-white is the only way to do it.” Blanken opened his spring/summer show with cropped skinny black leather trousers and high funnel-necked white patent calfskin jacket.
He’s not the only style-setter to think this way. For autumn/winter, at Lanvin black-and-white appeared in contrasting ruffles (£2,755); at Stella McCartney it took the form of white lace with a silky oversized black satin bow (£3,085); and at Giambattista Valli the look was embodied in feminine tweed dresses (£3,940) and coats (£3,325). Then there was Roland Mouret’s two-tone tailoring (£1,450), 3.1 Phillip Lim’s sleek panels (£485), and Wes Gordon’s delicate white crêpe blouse with black sleeves and back (£600) – without mentioning zigzags, stripes and other graphic patterns everywhere from Rag & Bone to Kenzo.
For Humberto Leon, Kenzo’s co-creative director and co-founder of Opening Ceremony, “Black-and-white reminds me of the innocence of spectator shoes [two-tone] on schoolgirls. It’s the perfect beginnings of fashion.”
Maria Cornejo, a New York-based Chilean designer, observes: “Looking at black-and-white images is like reading a book. It allows me to put my own interpretation on my clothes.” She has used pixelated black-and- white images from silent movies in her current collection.
Perhaps this is why the trend shows no signs of losing steam in the spring/summer collections, appearing on Louis Vuitton’s vibrant squares, Balenciaga’s structured flamenco skirts and in Marc Jacobs’ pulsating sequinned stripes.
“The different, darker mood of monochrome creates mystery and mirrors the subconscious,” says knitwear aficionado Mark Fast, whose collections have been inspired by the black-and- white images of Peter Lindbergh.
Photographer Steven Klein sums it all up: “Black-and-white removes a layer of reality and allows you to see the world in a different way. There is a classicism in the imagery, so when you see it down the years, it makes more of a mark.
‘William Klein + Daido Moriyama’ is at Tate Modern until January 20, www.tate.org.uk