INTERVIEW: EUGÉNIE VERNIER
It is an example of Europe at its best. German publishing house Hirmer in September released Fashion, Femininity & Form, the first ever book on ‘‘Forgotten’’ French photographer Eugénie Vernier, who became famous working for Vogue UK in the 1950s and 60s. The book brings together over 100 images that wrote fashion history.
In those days, nearly all photography was in black and white. In the captions next to them, Vogue readers would be told what the clothes’ exact colors were.
Born in 1920 in the south of France, Eugene Vernier started his career in World War II as a war photographer and cameraman following the free French forces led by General de Gaulle. After the war, he moved to London to join Pathe News, which then was one of the world’s leading news agencies. Yet, as so many photographers, Vernier soon grew tired of hunting news and wished to expand his horizons.
He opened his own studio and soon after was discovered by British Vogue. Between 1954 and 1967, he became one of the magazine’s leading fashion photographers. Working mostly in black and white, Vernier had a superb eye for old fashioned grace and elegance, while he was a master of composition. He always aimed for the lines in his works to have a sense of flow and fluidness. Vernier was furthermore innovative in his choice of locations. He captured his models on skis, in car trunks, with horses or on yachts. Not surprisingly, Vernier himself was a great lover of horses, cars, and boats.In 1961, for example, he shot model Tania Mallet wearing a rose-pink and white striped silk dress by Frank Usher against the backdrop of a picturesque marina in Bermuda. Next to her, as a kind of counterweight, stands a smiling boy on a bicycle, and under her hangs a sign “Lazy Corner.”
In a way, Vernier was a photographer of the lazy good life. The great war had been won, and there was a great sense of positivism in the air. The only way was up, or so it seemed, in the late 50s and early 60s. Work hard and success will come. Things like Vietnam, environmental pollution, or the Sex Pistols were still a far cry from the future. And so, as children of their time, Vernier’s photos are both beautiful and easy going. Even his models always seem relaxed and at ease in the clothes they wear.
In those days, nearly all photography was in black and white. In the captions next to them Vogue readers would be told what the clothes’ exact colors were.
The book’s foreword was written by Robin Muir, who himself regularly contributes to Vogue and has published over a dozen of books on photography and photographers, including Tim Walker, David Bailey and Clifford Coffin. He also wrote The World's Most Photographed, which shows how celebrities like Greta Garbo, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Adolf Hitler created, altered and reinvented their public image through the use of photography.
Eugene, who in Britain became known as Gene, would remain in London all his life and in a BBC interview aired in 2011 he speaks such flawless English that one might take him for an Englishman. Eugene “Gene” Vernier died in December 2011. He was, and still is, a great photographer.
Eugene Vernier: Fashion. Femininity & Form,
published by Hirmer, is out now.
TEXT BY Peter Speetjens