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Irving Penn, One of Fashion's Most Influential Photographers, Dead at 92

Oct 7 2009 - 3:47pm

>> Irving Penn, one of the fashion industry's most influential photographers, died [1] this morning at his home in Manhattan, according to a friend.  He was 92.

Penn started out in 1937 as an unpaid design assistant at Harper's Bazaar, but it wasn't until he was hired as assistant to Vogue's art director Alexander Liberman in 1943 that his career started taking off.  His first assignment involved designing Vogue's covers: He sketched out several designs, but none of the staff photographers would oblige, so at Liberman's behest, he photographed them himself. His very first color photograph for Vogue, a still life of a gloves, belt and pocketbook, became a cover — October 1, 1943.  His photographs appeared on over 150 Vogue covers over the next 50 years.

His perfectionism comes through in his work — Liberman related a story of when Penn was asked to take a picture of glasses falling from a serving tray.  He apparently insisted that Baccarat crystal be used for authenticity's sake, and went through several dozen shattered glasses before the final picture met his standards.

In 1947, Penn was asked to make a group portrait of the twelve most photographed beauties of that era.  At that session, he met Lisa Fonssagrives, a few years older than he and credited by some as the first supermodel.  They fell in love and were married in 1950. The two collaborated together, producing what become some of Penn's most memorable pictures — including “Rochas ‘Mermaid Dress,’ Paris” and “Woman with Roses, Paris” — on his first assignment to photograph the Paris collections for Vogue. "I didn't know Balenciaga [2] from a baseball player," Penn told [3]Vogue [4] in 2007. "But she was a real pro. And she was not offensive about teaching me."  Their marriage lasted 42 years, until she passed away at 80 in 1992.

Large Sleeve (Sunny Harnett), New York, 1951

Vogue, September 1951

"Fight Club," Vogue, September 2006

Mouth for L'Oréal, New York, 1986

Veruschka, Vogue, November 1968

Christian Lacroix Corset, Paris, 1995

"Body Language," Vogue, April 1994

Vogue, July 1948

Man Lighting Girl's Cigarette, New York, 1949

Vogue, December 1968

Caroline Trentini, Vogue, July 2007

Vogue, November 1946

Twelve of the Most Photographed Models of the Period, 1947

Vogue, May 1952

"Star Wars Couture," Audrey Marnay, Vogue, April 1999

Kate Moss, New York, April 25 1996

Vogue, May 1946

Caroline Trentini, Vogue, July 2007

Linda Evangelista, Versace, Fall 1990

Vogue, May 1947

Mascara Wars, Vogue, July 2001

Vogue, January 1964

Diane von Furstenberg, Vogue, c. 1968

Claudia Schiffer, Versace, 1992

Girl in Bed (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949

Audrey Withers, Vogue June 1950

"Fight Club," Vogue, September 2006

Vogue, January 1965

Summer Sleep, New York, 1949

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, Vogue, May 1952

The Tarot Reader (Jean Patchett & Bridget Tichenor), New York, 1949

Veronica Hammel, Vogue, September 1964

"The Next Dimension," Vogue, April 1983

Vogue, October 1959

Chocolate Mouth, New York, December 13, 2000

Lauren Hutton, Vogue Australia, April 1969

Black Hat and White Face, New York, (Carolyn Murphy), Vogue, June 24, 1997

Vionnet Dress with Fan, 1977

Tilly Tizzani, Vogue, August 1962

Clinique, 2003

Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951


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