Explore Helmut Newton’s Early Years in Vogue. By Ivan Shaw
Newton and Vreeland
“Mr. Newton, I would like you to come to New York, bring a beautiful girl with you, and work for the magazine,” Vreeland told him over the phone in 1965. Though this invitation seemed to have all the hallmarks of opportunity, things didn’t turn out the way the photographer expected.
From the start, Vreeland and Newton didn’t see eye to eye. “Mrs. Vreeland’s vision was one of fantasia, Moroccan extravaganzas, rouged heels — yes! — and dreams of exotica,” he wrote. “Mine was a highly sexual woman, in all respects Western, whose native habitat was Paris, Milan, and maybe New York.” The two were at opposite poles, resulting in work that the photographer deemed “miserable and unmemorable.”
1971: New York
By 1971 things had changed at Vogue; with Vreeland’s departure, the era of far-flung fantasy was over. Shortly after Grace Mirabella succeeded Vreeland, Newton received a telephone call from Liberman, who had started at the magazine as an art director and became Condé Nast’s editorial director. “Helmut,” Liberman said, “I want you to come to New York and do forty-five pages for American Vogue in the same spirit as you have been working for French Vogue for the last nine years.”
Liberman understood that for Newton to be successful, he needed to let Newton be Newton and not hold him back. Simple as it was, it was a magic formula that gave Newton the freedom to create some of the most striking and challenging work published in the magazine.
Hawaii — Adventures in Sundressing
From this period came some of Newton’s most iconic stories done with the legendary Vogue fashion director Polly Mellen. For the December 1974 issue, Newton and Mellen went to the Pacific island of Maui to shoot “Hawaii — Adventures in Sundressing.”
Newton posed soon-to-be supermodel Cheryl Tiegs with soon-to-be Hollywood star Rene Russo dancing to the sounds of a phonograph on the edge of Haleakala crater. The lesbian overtones in the picture were scandalous for the time, and readers’ reactions ran the gamut from praise to canceled subscriptions.