Behind the Scenes: creating the cover for Art Deco Fashion

The exhibition catalogue Art Deco Fashion has proved enormously popular, partly perhaps because of its striking cover. The cover references an Edward Steichen image, Mrs Robert Johnston in a Coat with mink collar, 1934, which showed a wool jacket with a fur collar. In order to photograph the NGV’s monkey fur Tippet and muff c.1935 in this style, quite a number of NGV departments and individuals were involved.

Imaging technician, Philip White, traced the wallpaper from Steichen’s photograph, then through a number of trials adjusted the contrast between the various greys and the proportion of the geometric tiles to better match Steichen’s. The wallpaper was printed life size (which takes a few hours) and used as a backdrop behind the mannequin.

To prepare the Tippet and muff for photography, Textiles Display specialist, Annette Soumilas, recreated a 1930s style black wool crepe dress that would be worn under the mint green monkey fur collar and muff. She also blocked a head piece of soft curls from milliners crin sprayed grey and finished it with a half-moon black head piece we both described as a ‘full stop’. It was dressed in the conservation lab, then moved into the photographic services studio, where photographer Narelle Wilson placed the work in front of the wallpaper and prepared the lighting to best highlight the shape, texture and colour of the collar and muff.

Together we positioned the angle of the mannequin to evoke the figure in Steichen’s image, Mrs Johnston. Narelle also chose the crop, again with reference to Steichen’s image. The final image was sent to graphic designer Dirk Hiscock who used it to create a magazine-style book cover with an elegant masthead to complement the accompanying catalogue Edward Steichen: In High Fashion. Finally, he added glimmering silver to the geometric wallpaper for the final touch of glamour.