Nearly two decades after they first appeared, Helmut Newton‘s photographs for the 1997 Wolford calendar have lost none of their impact.
In fact, it can be argued that those iconic images — surreal, unsettling and scandalous at the time — set the tone for much of the great fashion photography and many of the great lingerie marketing campaigns of the past 20 years. Newton’s models were commanding archetypes: powerful Amazons armed with mysterious erotic agendas, and oblivious to propriety. Though these were commercial photos, they appealed to the id, not the pocketbook, and inspired many critical interpretations (not to mention imitators).
Wolford has used those images in its marketing efforts repeatedly over the years, and for good reason: Helmut Newton made tights-and-heels insanely sexy. Far from being a one-off marketing campaign, his portfolio for Wolford became the brand’s signature; for millions of women around the world, their introduction to the Austrian hosiery and bodywear label came from those landmark pictures that lingered in the subconscious like anxious dreams.
That was certainly the case for Rita Minissi, a little-known New York photographer who drew inspiration from the assertive, independent women in the Wolford universe conceptualized by Helmut Newton as she explored similar themes in her own creative work.
So when Wolford contacted Rita — after discovering her on Instagram — and asked her to shoot an editorial project for the brand, she had to pinch herself.
“She had to sit down for about half an hour to calm herself,” Wolford blogger Danica Cox wrote in a recent post. “It has been a dream of hers to work with the brand, although she never imagined that it would actually happen.”
“I was very surprised that they had approached me (because) my own photography studies are not commercial images,” Rita told Lingerie Talk. “For the Wolford brand to approach someone like me, they must have wanted something very different. … I was very anxious to not seem completely inexperienced, so I asked maybe five questions about the project. After that I just guessed what they might want and then hoped for the best.”
Rita’s work looks nothing like Helmut Newton’s, but the two have something in common: a keen interest in exploring the complexities of female identity.
She works mainly in self-portraits and usually with her face obscured — not out of modesty or privacy, but to engage viewers and encourage interpretations as she “strives to embrace the different and contradictory manifestations of identity,” Rita wrote in her own blog.
Wolford wanted to her to pursue that concept while wearing their products, but without turning the whole project into a marketing showcase.
“For our collaboration with Rita Minissi, we wanted to conceptualize images with sensual, intelligent, feminine, and elegantly understated characteristics. The pursuit was to translate the idea of strong independent women, assertive and in control of their life,” Danica told Lingerie Talk.
Rita’s solution? To shoot herself from multiple vantage points at once to produce images that look like double exposures, suggesting fluidity and movement without revealing too much about the subject. The series is called ‘Embody Wolford’ and has been promoted through the brand’s social media channels recently.
A second series of static images show Rita and also Danica (who was Canada’s Miss World contestant in 2014) in a variety of contorted poses that accentuate the models’ shape and form.
“With any product, sex sells, but I feel that for many people intelligence can also sell,” Rita told us. “Wolford is an intelligent brand which goes beyond fashion and into the realm of engineering technologies and innovating processes specifically for their unique textiles. To me, the Wolford woman is not just sensual, but also intelligent; it was my aim to appeal to that intelligence.”
Wolford is clearly a brand that recognizes the value of imagery in fashion marketing and has invested heavily and creatively in the pursuit of new ways to depict the female form. It is a key partner in The Ballerina Project, recently used Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst to model its bodysuit line, and last year hired fashion A-lister Mario Testino to shoot its seasonal ad campaigns (above) in a way that echoes the mysterious glamour of Helmut Newton.
The company also recently announced that it has been busy reaching out to bloggers, models, photographers and creative directors around the world, so watch for more inspired collaborations like Rita Minissi’s ‘Embody Wolford’.
“For the brand to be reaching out to creatives and exploring new imagery is inspiring (to me at least),” Rita said. “I enjoy the idea of a brand as defined as Wolford still taking risks and experimenting with different perspectives. Different is often memorable.”
We’ve reproduced a handful of images from the project below, but you’ll find many more on Rita’s blog and Wolford‘s FB page.