Women of Singular Beauty: Chanel Haute Couture

Image of Women of Singular Beauty: Chanel Haute Couture by Cathleen Naundorf
Release Date: 
October 2, 2018
Reviewed by: 

Do not be misled by the title of the book as most prospective readers will be expecting a large monograph filled with a plethora of glossy images using clothes from the Chanel archive. In a way, you do get that but they are not the cut and dried editorial images that most fashionphiles are accustomed to finding in a book of this genre. Naundorf is a photographer first, an artist second, and a contextualist of settings and locations; she sets a mood.

As Jerome Neutres puts it: “The subject justifies the photo, but it is the style that explains the photographer. Some of the strongest and most important works in the history of photography had fashion as their subject . . .”

Naundorf photographs Chanel in a way that might evoke frescoes from centuries ago or possibly long forgotten photography from eras gone by; the images transport you. She uses a large size format of Polaroid, which only relates to the Polaroid most of us know in name only. The historical locations for all the photos figure into the history of the brand and its eponymous designer. Each image stands on its own, and in the same breath, they tell a story about Chanel when seen in their totality.

As Jerome Neutres states: “With the images in this book, Cathleen is not merely illustrating the universe and Chanel’s haute couture creations.”

It is a very odd sensation to finish a book like Women of Singular Beauty and have words like lyrical, mythical, poetic, evocative, and intimate come to mind. What is also striking is that Naundorf uses the same premise that Paolo Roversi did in his Dior Images and yet the results couldn’t possibly be more disparate. It is as if each image has its own story to tell and not just about the dress.

If there is anything negative to be spoken of, it would be the end of the book in a section titled "Diaries of Cathleen Naundorf." This reviewer understood that the concept was to give the reader added insights into the mindset and modus operandi of the photographer and her oeuvre, but what happens is that the translation from reality to book form becomes a bit difficult to decipher given the size restriction of the book versus the size of the actual mood boards that the photographer has meticulously assembled. The “Diary” section could possibly be fodder for a book on its own content and purposes for this amazing photographer.