The big pic­ture

A model ven­tures out of the stu­dio and on to the gritty streets of Paris in this 1955 shot by Mar­i­lyn Stafford

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda -

In 1950s Paris, pho­tog­ra­pher Mar­i­lyn Stafford was com­mis­sioned to cap­ture the glam­our and el­e­gance of a new fash­ion con­cept – prêt-àporter.

She took mod­els out of the stu­dios and into the gritty work­ing­class ar­eas of the French cap­i­tal, where they at­tracted the at­ten­tion of cu­ri­ous chil­dren play­ing in the streets.

The re­sult was a col­lec­tion of black-and-white pho­to­graphs show­cas­ing the likes of Chanel and Givenchy that re­flect both the style and the darker, dirt­ier side of the City of Light.

In this shot, a pout­ing child in a well-worn dress and scuffed boots sits perched on rail­ings on the Mont­martre steps, in stark con­trast to the de­signer-clad model who is ges­tur­ing the­atri­cally.

“I loved the streets. I wasn’t so in­ter­ested in the clothes – I was look­ing for in­ter­est­ing places, back­grounds, pas­sage­ways and al­leys,” Stafford says.

“And in those days if you were a woman out in Paris with a cam­era, you had kids fol­low­ing you.”

Stafford, who was born in Ohio in 1925, ini­tially worked as a singer after ar­riv­ing in post­war Paris, per­form­ing at a club near the Champs Élysées, where she met Edith Piaf, Charles Az­navour and Bing Crosby, as well as the French pho­tog­ra­phers Henri CartierBres­son and Robert Capa.

After her voice failed, she took the Rollei­flex cam­era she used for “ca­sual snaps” and sought ad­vice from Cartier-Bres­son – who let Stafford watch him while he worked – and Capa, who sug­gested that she join him in doc­u­ment­ing the war in In­dochina (where he was later killed).

Shun­ning the bat­tle­fields, Stafford, who turns 93 to­mor­row, went on to re­port from around the world, in­clud­ing for the Ob­server.

To­day, Stafford ad­mits there was an­other rea­son for us­ing the street as a fash­ion back­drop: “I had no stu­dio. It was the streets or noth­ing.” Kim Will­sher

Mar­i­lyn Stafford – Fash­ion Ret­ro­spec­tive 1950s-1980s is at the Lucy Bell Gallery, St Leonards-on-Sea, un­til 17 Novem­ber

Ready-to-Wear, Mont­martre Paris, 1955. Mar­i­lyn Stafford/Cour­tesy of Lucy Bell Gallery

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