In the 1939 September issue of Vogue, Horst P. Horst’s photograph “The Mainbocher Corset” was first shown to the world. As described by the photographer himself, it was the last shot of the day taken in his Parisian studio in August of that year. While the image may have been last minute, its impact has been anything but (and it is not just me who thinks so; if you Google this image, there’s a lot to read about it). It is by far one of Horst P. Horst’s most famous photographs, as well as one of the most iconic of this past century. It possesses a beauty that is both erotic and timeless.
The first time I set eyes on this photograph was over a year ago. I had been flipping through Glamour (I think) and I came across an advertisement for the Condé Nast store. It really was love at first sight. I immediately went onto their website and searched through what felt like hundreds of photographs until I found the one that I coveted. The smallest print, which is fairly large in size, goes for $125 before tax (but I want the next size up which costs $149 before tax). Oh, and I emailed it to everyone I know asking if they too were in love with it…I was a little obnoxious about it.
This photograph, though quite simple, draws the eye in right away. First you notice the positioning of the head and arms. The woman’s arms are jutting out on both sides of her, sort of cradling her head as she looks down. This positioning also shows off her neck, which in turn elongates her back. The corset has clearly been loosened; there is evidence of this in the way that you see a slight gap between it and her body on the left side as well as the lacing that is strewn about on the bench behind her, as if she is discarding a piece of herself. This is also displayed in her back itself, which is not rigidly straight. One would expect a corset to constrict movement, not fulidify it. The room that which she’s in is barren, but she seems relieved, almost content; it makes the observer wonder what she is thinking about at that moment. Does she know how beautiful she is? And then there is of course the lines of her back themselves. The fact that they’re asymmetrical makes her back interesting. The positioning of her arms lends to a muscular tone to her back, which suggests strength. Despite the fact that this woman is turned away she possesses this strength that you cannot turn away from.
Although I do not yet own this photograph, one day I will. I am still in love with the beauty and strength of it all. I can still just sit and stare at it (on the website) dreamily. I want to be that woman in the photograph, to loosen my corset and thereby loosen my thoughts on life and just live in the moment, embracing myself and my new-found state of mind. The beauty is timeless because it transcends generations. Corsets aren’t worn anymore, aside from lingerie in the bedroom, but the loosening of the corset still speaks volumes over seventy years later. It is by far one of my favorite photographs of all times.