A model reclines on a boat in the middle of a lotus-speckled lake in Kashmir; another strides confidently across the pillars of the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque (Qutub Minar complex, Delhi) as a snake charmer plays his pungi. The year is 1956 and British readers of the Vogue Magazine were (once again) spellbound by these dreamy images that captured the elegance and glamour of Indian heritage.
In the years after World War II, the global focus shifted to the newly independent colonies. This was a time characterised by political, cultural and economic changes. India, a new republic in the making, was in the limelight during these years when Vogue UK commissioned ace photographer Norman Parkinson a photo-shoot in the country. And so, he travelled from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir, photographing the models Anne Gunning and Barbara Mullen. The theme : Winter Sunshine Wardrobe.
These are undoubtedly some of the most enduring fashion portraits created by Norman Parkinson— blending the rich Indian architecture with high fashion.
Parkinson set up a Chanel in contrast to the Mahabalipuram shore temple, a cotton muslin dress by Atrima found the perfect companion in Kashmir, a Jaeger in front of the City Palace in Jaipur, and Christian Dior on Chamundi Hill above Mysore & at the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Mosque !
The 1950s were not only about spending on luxurious brands but it this was also a time when the idea of fashion and being comfortable was established. In the west, resources were now available and consumerism became part of people’s lifestyle.
Norman Parkinson’s compositions were not of his time. Away from the typical studio setup, he conjured images that sought to convey a story. India therefore was perfect – it offered a stunning narrative, a mood, an ambience, and vibrant colours.
At a time when flight travel was still expensive, these sublime pictures offered a glimpse into a world that people couldn’t access.
Here are some black and white photos from the shoot :
Today these images may seem stereotypical – but in the 1950s, India had not been portrayed in a dreamy avatar. The exotic tag was intact but Parkinson was careful to show luxury as a compeer of the Indian aesthetic.
Photos: Norman Parkinson Archive.