It’s often said a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the fashion industry, and especially where lingerie is concerned, images are worth a lot more than that.
For lingerie consumers and producers, fashion photography is a vital element in the commercial equation, a visual newsfeed that presents an informational narrative about complicated products that are rarely seen outside of the change rooms of shadowy boutiques. More than any other niche in fashion, the lingerie world needs great imagery.
The pictures we share each day on Lingerie Talk are, for the most part, meticulously composed by teams of highly skilled experts. Their purpose is to capture public attention, present contemporary fashions in a relevant and meaningful context and, in the case of marketing photography, to elevate the brands and enhance their appeal.
And sometimes, in the hands of an inspired creative team, fashion shoots can make important artistic, social or political statements that reverberate beyond their commercial boundaries.
As part of our year-end review, we asked New York fashion photographer Thorsten Roth, a frequent contributor to Lingerie Talk, to consider the wealth of lingerie imagery from 2014 and give us a ranked list of ‘Images With Impact’.
Not just the best pictures or the most frequently seen or the ones that made the most money for fashion labels or magazines. These are also the images that made a difference, and will be remembered as iconic hallmarks of a dizzying, dazzling year in lingerie fashion.
Here’s his selection, which includes both editorial and commercial photography from 2014.
Model: Candice Huffine
Photographer: Cass Bird
Vogue.com, November 2014
2014 was another big year for model Candice Huffine who, alongside Robyn Lawley and Ashley Graham, has emerged as one of the leading proponents for greater acceptance of plus-size women in both fashion and modeling. She joined with four other models for Cass Bird’s inspired Vogue shoot, which came across as a candid, unglamorized and affectionate portrait of real women, regardless of body shape or proportions.
Whether intentional or not, the widely-seen black-and-white editorial was clearly influenced by the ‘American West’ photos by Richard Avedon in the 1980s and, like that landmark work, is a study of humanity, not style.
Also in 2014, Candice became the first plus-size model to appear in the annual high-fashion Pirelli calendar (below), a distinction that is both commendable and more than a bit shocking.
‘The Perfect Body’ Promotional Campaign
Victoria’s Secret, October 2014
No single lingerie image defined 2014 better than Victoria’s Secret‘s ill-considered lineup of rail-thin supermodels and its marketing slogan that outraged viewers around the world. The U.S. retail giant eventually replaced the slogan – but not the image – in its ads and billboards.
Victoria’s Secret capo Ed Razek dismissed the controversy as “absurd” but it was also an undeniable flashpoint in the rapidly growing public discussion about superficial fashion marketing, body-shaming, size discrimination and many related issues that impact women everywhere.
The company’s “perfect” image will doubtless be used as an example in college gender-studies courses, corporate branding and marketing strategies and blogger rants for years to come. And, ironically, it will likely trigger an improved industry-wide sensitivity about the ways in which women are depicted in commercial fashion photography.
Model: Nicole Kidman
Photographer: Steven Klein
Interview Magazine, September 2014
This provocative editorial was part fairy tale and part glamorized rape fantasy – and wildly controversial as a result. Klein brings a cinematographer’s eye to the lurid, color-drenched compositions and Oscar-winner Nicole appears torn between terror and rapture at the hands of her seducer/assailant. Despite the rough treatment, the luxury underwear emerges unscathed – which may have kept this photoshoot on the acceptable side of good taste.
Photographer: Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott
Promotional Campaign, La Perla
The superstar fashion photography team of Mert & Marcus was brought on board by the Italian luxury label to shoot all of its seasonal campaigns over the past year, and the results were breathtaking. The clean, high-contrast visuals owe a debt to the very successful promotional imagery utilized by Aubade for two decades and, like its Parisian competitor, gives La Perla a signature marketing aesthetic going forward.
The luminous black-and-white portraits feature supermodels such as Cara Delevingne, Izabel Goulart and Ming Xi. And while they are “just” paid-for marketing pictures, they are impeccably polished and reminiscent of the groundbreaking campaigns by Givenchy and Dior in the 1990s.
There’s also a deeper significance to the series, too: it’s tangible proof of the public commitment by La Perla‘s new owners to invest more than $100 million to turn the 60-year-old heritage brand into the world’s unassailable leader in luxury intimates.
Model: Naomi Campbell
Photograher: Ellen Von Unwerth
Promotional Campaign, Agent Provocateur, December 2014
Ellen Von Unwerth, who frequently displays a strong sense of narrative in her memorable shoots, went for a pure pulp vibe in this evocative series for erotic lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. It’s a surprisingly dark turn for the German photographer and, by mixing themes of murder and seduction, adds a new layer of meaning to the twisted (and hugely entertaining) depictions of powerful women that are Agent Provocateur‘s forte.
In this shot, we love how the car’s taillights echo the color scheme of the legwear. And let’s be honest: the return of Naomi Campbell to erotic lingerie modeling was a unexpected gift.
Model: Jacky O’Shaughnessy
Photographer: Marsha Brady
Promotional Campaign, American Apparel, January 2014
New York resident and one-time actress Jacky was 62 when she was spotted last year on the street and persuaded to model underwear for the renowned fast-fashion brand. The resulting images were seen by countless millions around the world and first-time model Jacky – fearless, smart, eloquent and just plain beautiful – became an unlikely advocate for a more empathetic appreciation of older women and a graceful acceptance of aging.
We loved everything about Jacky and the AA photos, which are a bit amateurish, a bit humorous and even a bit vulgar – in other words, as real as it gets. If a teen model had been used in some of these poses, American Apparel would have yet another controversy on its hands. Instead, by using Jacky, you could almost hear the sound of eyes widening and minds expanding around the world.
Photographer: Mert & Marcus
Interview Magazine, November 2014
Are you suffering from Madonna fatigue yet? Seriously, after 30 years of crashing boundaries what more could the Material Girl possibly do to shock, stimulate and inspire us? The exceptional fetish-themed photo spread that accompanies her chat with Interview mag answers those questions and proves the 55-year-old fashion/music icon still has considerable power to surprise everyone.
It would be condescending to suggest that the Mert & Marcus shoot is meant as a response to age discrimination in women’s modeling, because it’s much more than that. This is high-style, cutting-edge, X-rated, damn-the-censors provocation, just like Madge has been doing for decades, and it’s one of the most erotic fashion shoots of the year.
And for lingerie lovers it offered a trove of heavenly delights, from bejewelled corsets to slippery latex bodies and very expensive lacy smalls. Most of news hype around this shoot centred on the one topless image – a pose that, ironically, is rendered almost blasé after decades of Madonna’s self-exposure. We can’t wait to see what she does when she’s 70.
Model: Amber Heard
Photographer: Steven Klein
‘Look Twice’ Editorial, W Magazine, June 2014
Another richly layered feature set from Steven Klein relies on lingerie fashions to depict multiple personalities of women – each of the cleverly composed images uses overlapping shots of actress Amber Heard in different outfits that reveal different characters. There’s a kind of Matrix-like trickery going on here, but it warrants repeated (and lengthy) viewing to discern all the layers of meaning. Great fun that pushes the boundaries of fashion photography (and gives us another welcome look at the future Mrs. Johnny Depp).
Model: Kendall Jenner
Photographer: Doug Inglish
Love Magazine, December 2014
Let’s face it: Kendall Jenner was going to be on our list simply because she is on every year-end list involving anything in fashion. The rookie model owned global fashion in 2014, from couture runways to Instagram selfies to innumerable sexy editorials.
This image from Love magazine’s Christmas advent calendar has a very on-trend feel, but it’s really an homage to the instant-camera point-and-shoot style popularized by photographers like Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller. You’ll see much, much more of this sort of thing in the future and much, much more of Kendall, too.
Model: Karlie Kloss
Photographer: Russell James
The principal photographer for Victoria’s Secret‘s endless promo campaigns featuring the supermodel Angels, James’ commercial work is both beautiful and, inevitably, predictable and repetitive. But that doesn’t stop him from being a highly accomplished and insightful artist.
James upgraded his substantial portfolio this year with the release of Angels, a stunning photography book that presents the VS lingerie models in the buff and in some dramatic landscapes. You won’t find any sexy lingerie in these shots, but that’s the point. Angels reveals the organic, natural artistic leanings of James and the unadorned, almost animalistic allure of his model pals.
We liked the above image because of the sly contrast between the rugged, masculine stone backdrop and the impossibly unblemished sheen of the slinky youngster Karlie. No words and no clothes, but erotic tension fills the frame.
Photographer: John Urbano
‘Aerie Real’ Promotional Campaign, Aerie, January 2014
Aerie’s much-publicized rebranding last winter presents an obvious and important contrast to the ubiquitous glossy imagery of Victoria’s Secret and other brands like it. The quality of the Aerie Real campaign of unretouched promotional photos was a bit mediocre and the company’s choice of models drew criticism from customers who wanted to see more diversity in body sizes, skin tones and ages.
But none of that really mattered given what was at stake here. Aerie loudly and proudly proclaimed its decision to stop photoshopping its lingerie models, leaving tattoos, birthmarks, scars, stretch marks and little rolls of body fat visible – ideal beauty standards be damned. This is fashion photography used as a tool for progressive social change, and some of Aerie’s customers literally wept with joy at the sight.
Aerie‘s move (which borrowed from Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign from a decade ago) was a ridiculously simple idea but one that is so contrary to everything we have come to expect from the fashion marketing mafia that it’s almost subversive. Aerie didn’t just change its photo policy, it helped spark an activist consumer movement and even altered the very language of fashion: today, words like “average” and “ordinary” are synonymous with “beautiful”.
Can a women’s underwear brand really change the culture, sway public perception and empower its customers? Thanks to Aerie, you’ll never again doubt that it’s possible.