The Little Black Dress

Karli Henneman in black dress with Vintage Jewelry

Karli Henneman in black dress with Vintage Jewelry

I’m not sure when I first became aware of the little black dress. Probably in puberty when I started noticing girls and saw a rerun of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn in her Givenchy dress.  I recently took a fashion photography class. When trying to come up with a concept, I did what I always do.  I looked to the classics.

Sometimes I worked with Stylists, but usually I asked each model to come to the shoot, with her favorite black dress and a pair of heels. To simplify it even further, I decided to shoot on a black or dark grey seamless background.  (For more technical details, see my Lightmonkey Blog.)  It was all very simple.  In my experience, almost every model has a Little Black Dress or “LBD”.

The LBD started in the 1920’s with Coco Chanel, according to Amy Holman, author of “The Little Black Dress”.  Vogue magazine called it her Model T.   It was a dress that any woman could afford and wear, very versatile and in good taste.

Kristie California in her own dress and heels.

Kristie California in her own dress and heels.

The thing that strikes me is how every woman looks great in her LBD.  Along with the dark background, it really puts the emphasis on the face and legs. The figure looks slim and trim because the dress hugs the body so tightly. Legs appear long because of how short the dress is and the heels extend the height.  But I think the real reason is that the subject always feels beautiful and elegant in the dress.

When I started shooting my Women with Tattoos series, I started having the models bring an LBD and heels as well.  I got some pretty sparse numbers, but the models always appeared elegant and beautiful.

As I progressed with the concept, I decided to go back to the masters and come up with variations.  From Jerry Schatzberg, a fashion photog from the 60s, I got the idea of integrating motion.  I tried to catch the models jumping, dancing or moving. I also started having them kneel or twist so I could fill the frame more.

Dove in her own skirt and top.

Like the Little Black Dress, there seems to be no end to the variations on this theme. Coco Chanel herself said it best, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

To see the entire group of Little Black Dress photos, you can visit my flickr page.

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