Man Ray’s photographs on display while Kenzo saves the tigers

He is one of the 20th century’s most famous artists, but not many people know that Man Ray got his start as a fashion photographer.

A new exhibition in Paris sets out to uncover the fashion world roots of the American surrealist, who first made his name taking flattering portraits of the rich and famous. Like many young artists Emmanuel Radnitzky, as Man Ray was then known, had trouble making ends meet when he arrived in Paris in 1920 to plunge himself into Dadaism, an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century.
The new show Man Ray and Fashion at the Luxembourg Museum in the French capital sets out how his time as chronicler of the style stars of the roaring 1920s shaped his art. Encouraged by the couturier Paul Poiret —- the Karl Lagerfeld of his time — the artist began to work for magazines like Vogue, Femina and Vanity Fair.

Fashion historian Catherine Ormen, who curated the show, said magazines at the time never used photos of clothes for fear that designs would be copied. Instead, they printed sketches while Man Ray photographed stylish celebrities for them.

But the artist was not content with producing glossy images of Parisian socialites. “With Man Ray you start with nothing and end with photographs that are almost abstract and works of art,” she told AFP.

Indeed one of his masterpieces, Glass Tears (1932), came from an advertising campaign for water-resistant mascara. He transformed the rather banal image using his trademark photomontage techniques which he later christened “rayographs”. The iconic image also spoke of Man Ray’s own anger and hurt after his split with the photographer and model Lee Miller.

The following year he became a permanent fixture in the US fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, where the precursor of the Photoshop generation brought his abstract and surrealist experiments to a still wider public. Among the other well- known images in the show is his famous portrait of the designer Coco Chanel in profile, her hands in her pockets and a cigarette in her mouth.

It also shines a light on the style revolution of the 1920s, when women’s fashion threw off Victorian restraints to embrace freedom of movement, only to slip back to more formal attire in the 1930s, when fashionistas would change their clothes, hairstyles and even nail colours up to three times a day.

The show, which runs until Jan 17, 2021, is the first time the Luxembourg Museum — which is better known for Old Masters shows — has tackled fashion.

kenzo partners - THE EDGE SINGAPORE

Kenzo partners with WWF to protect wild tigers

The tiger has been Kenzo’s signature animal for years. However, as wild tiger populations continue to decline worldwide, the French label is partnering again with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, World Wildlife Fund in North America) to produce a ready-to-wear capsule collection to help double the number of these big cats by the end of 2022, thanks to the Tx2 initiative.

Previous Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim premiered a knit sweater with a tiger graphic on it for Kenzo’s Fall 2012 collection. The motif turned out to be so successful that hip-hop superstar Jay Z and actors Selena Gomez and Kevin Hart were spotted wearing it. The design duo decided to partner with WWF in 2018 on a capsule collection for wild tigers. Although Lim and Leon left the luxury house in 2019, new creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista is picking up the (tiger) torch with a new committed collection. Kenzo has also unveiled a new men’s and womenswear collection in organic cotton with the big cat signature motif. The capsule comprises T-shirts, sweatshirts, dresses and more. For each item sold, the French brand will donate $10 to the WWF Tx2 initiative to double tiger populations by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.

Over a century ago, wild tiger populations totalled 100,000 worldwide, but plummeted to 3,200 in 2010. Various initiatives managed to increase their number to 3,900 in 2016.