Irving Penn, One of Fashion's Most Influential Photographers, Dead at 92

Irving Penn, One of Fashion's Most Influential Photographers, Dead at 92

Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951

>> Irving Penn, one of the fashion industry's most influential photographers, died this morning at his home in Manhattan, according to a friend.  He was 92.

Penn started out in 1937 as an unpaid design assistant at Harper's Bazaar, but it wasn't until he was hired as assistant to Vogue's art director Alexander Liberman in 1943 that his career started taking off.  His first assignment involved designing Vogue's covers: He sketched out several designs, but none of the staff photographers would oblige, so at Liberman's behest, he photographed them himself. His very first color photograph for Vogue, a still life of a gloves, belt and pocketbook, became a cover — October 1, 1943.  His photographs appeared on over 150 Vogue covers over the next 50 years.

His perfectionism comes through in his work — Liberman related a story of when Penn was asked to take a picture of glasses falling from a serving tray.  He apparently insisted that Baccarat crystal be used for authenticity's sake, and went through several dozen shattered glasses before the final picture met his standards.

In 1947, Penn was asked to make a group portrait of the twelve most photographed beauties of that era.  At that session, he met Lisa Fonssagrives, a few years older than he and credited by some as the first supermodel.  They fell in love and were married in 1950. The two collaborated together, producing what become some of Penn's most memorable pictures — including “Rochas ‘Mermaid Dress,’ Paris” and “Woman with Roses, Paris” — on his first assignment to photograph the Paris collections for Vogue. "I didn't know Balenciaga from a baseball player," Penn told Vogue in 2007. "But she was a real pro. And she was not offensive about teaching me."  Their marriage lasted 42 years, until she passed away at 80 in 1992.