Cameron Silver’s Decades: A Century of Fashion

cameron silver, vanessa getty

Kathryn Freeman, Bill Freeman, Cameron Silver, Vanessa Getty

One of the benefits of a slow social period at the beginning of the year is it gives me time to catch up on reading.

This month’s reading has consisted mostly of vintage finds: “France,” by Denis W. Brogan, a 1961 history of France (purchased for its wonderful mid-century photos), Wylie Sypher’s “Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature,” and a delightful children’s book from the 1940s called “Stories from the Great Metropolitan Operas” (illustrated by Gustaf Tengren, one of Walt Disney’s best artists.)

Cameron Silver

But by far the most wonderful book I’ve read recently is “Decades: A Century of Fashion,” by Cameron Silver with Rebecca DiLiberto. Generously given by Bill and Vanessa Getty to their guests at a book signing party they hosted at Peter Getty’s home (with Marina B, the legendary jewelry brand from Marina Bulgari), the book is a gorgeous photographic journey through the very best of 20th century fashion.

A 1920s flapper dress on Louise Brooks, and on Vanessa Getty (with husband Bill Getty)

Divided into 10 chapters (one for each decade), the book contains some of the most iconic fashion images of the century, such as Marlene Dietrich in a man’s suit, Grace Kelly wearing chiffon Edith Head in “To Catch a Thief”, or Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Helena Christensen in 1990s Gianni Versace.

But the biggest joy of reading Decades is to see the more obscure, rarely seen images that Silver uncovered, ranging from a still of Greta Garbo’s 1926 film “The Torrent,” to 1980 photo by Ron Galella of Olivia Newton-John in a beaded fuschia bodysuit.

Margo Lion and Marlene Dietrich, 1928 – Margo Lion in 1931

I thought the most stunning image is something Silver found from the 1931 German movie ‘Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.’, directed by Alexander Ganowski, where Margo Lion (shown above) performs as French cabaret singer. Margo Lion, an openly bisexual performer in Weimar Berlin, was a friend and inspiration of Marlene Dietrich’s, and played an instrumental role in young Dietrich’s success when the two women sang a lesbian duet in the 1928 Berlin revue, It’s In The Air.

Silver gives two full pages to the photo, a detail of which is shown above-right (you will need to get the book to see it in its entirety.) It was shot in Weimar-era Berlin in 1931, the same time and place as Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” (the basis for “Cabaret.”) Here you see the “divine decadence” of that period — a sophisticated woman of the demi-monde in an elegant gown, sporting a chic, short-cropped hairstyle, holds a monocle in the masculine style, while performing next to an oversized half-nude wooden mannequin. The audience circled around her consists of wealthy men in tuxedos, all bearing the louche hauteur of a figure from Tamara de Lempicka.

It’s a magnificent photo, and an excellent example of when fashion and cinema merged into an original form of art that may have been unique to the 20th century. I’m so grateful to Silver for uncovering the photo, and for highlighting so many other exciting images in the book.

Sir John Paul Getty and Talitha Getty, in Decades: A Century of Fashion

Another fun photo in the book is that of Sir John Paul Getty and wife Talitha Getty, taken in Marrakech for Vogue in 1969 by Patrick Lichfield. With beautiful wife Talitha, who was a muse to Yves Saint Laurent, Sir Paul “combined pioneer spirits, wanderlust, and impeccable taste to define what we think of as bohemian chic,” according to Silver. Lord Lichfield’s photos of the Gettys, taken at the height of the Diana Vreeland era of Vogue, have been influencing designers for over 40 years! Notably, the late Sir Paul was uncle of the party’s host Bill Getty, and grandfather of photographer Alexander Getty, who attended with wife Tatum.

Mary Beth Shimmon and Ricky Serbin – Photographer Alexander Getty and Tatum Yount Getty

Guests at the event included vintage fashion aficionados, Decades customers and fashionistas such as Mary Beth Shimmon, Ricky Serbin, Jennifer Raiser, Monaz Grover, Connie Nielsen, Lindsay Bolton, Alexis Traina, Allison Speer, Gina Pell, Nicola Miner, Summer Tompkins Walker, Kate Harbin, Jenna Hunt, Megha Tolia, Stephanie Ejabat, James Krohn, Susan Dunlevy, Nina Stanford, Anna Weinberg, Denise Bradley Tyson, Joel Goodrich, Alyson and Brad Harrington, Alison and Alex Turner, Angelique and Troy Griepp, Gina and Stuart Peterson, Zem and James Joaquin, Louise and Max Armour, Nadir and Sobia Shaikh, among others.

Cameron Silver and Lauren Goodman – Stephanie Ejabat and James Krohn

Cameron is currently at work on his next book, which I’m sure you eagerly await. In the meantime, you’ll definitely want to get a copy of “Decades: A Century of Fashion,” if you haven’t already!