Jerry Hall with a phone tucked into her swimming cap. Audrey Hepburn’s over-the-shoulder gaze in front of a wall of pink roses. Wenda Pankinson riding an ostrich. As far as iconic fashion imagery of 20th century goes, Norman Parkinson is the name that comes up the most, rivaled only by Richard Avedon. The volume of Parkinson’s archive is incredibly extensive – his works span across six decades and star the movers and shakers that marked those years in pop culture. Way before the worlds of celebrity and fashion became part of one big conversation, the British lensman was breezily crossing between the two, creating a fantasy of his own which makes his images look as modern today as they did first time round. This notion is most evident when flicking through the pages of Always in Fashion, Norman Parkinson’s latest monograph published this Autumn by ACC Art Books.
Beginning with 1930s, Always in Fashion is systemised by decades as it visually narrates Parkinson’s rich life, starting with his early career working with publications including Harper’s Bazaar, the Bystander and British Vogue. Even during those early days, it was all about taking the ideas of glamour and transforming them into reality. Putting women into couture dresses and having them walk the streets, smile and smoke cigarettes. It might seem totally banal today, but putting statue-esque clothes into action was considered groundbreaking at the time. Parkinson changed the role of fashion photographer in that sense, while adding an unapologetic (and very British) sense of humour into the conversation. This prepared the world for the age of the supermodel and all the celebrity magazine covers that ruled the magazine industry after Parkinson’s death in 1990.
The book contains 106 color and 61 black-and-white photographs, with the list of subjects including everyone from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Twiggy, Katherine Hepburn and Iman. The fashions, always reflective of the times they existed in, are the only trendy part of Norman Parkinson’s photography, making sure you can trace them to the exact moment on the timeline of fashion history. In that sense, Always in Fashion is also a catalogue of silhouettes and designers, some of which can often be forgotten.
While the 1960s saw the richest period of his work, it’s the 1980s that hold some of Parkinson’s lesser known photographs unparalleled in their playfulness and freedom. A photograph from his last ever shoot – starring Deborah Harris in a custom Bob Mackie mermaid tale for Town & Country – is also the last image in the book. It’s camp to the levels of David LaChapelle and opens the door to the levels of outrageousness fashion photographers exist in today.
‘Always in Fashion’ by Norman Parkinson is now available to buy online and in selected stores. Photographs courtesy of The Norman Parkinson Archive/Iconic Images/ACC Art Books.