The Image Maker

"I don't think photography is a great art."

It's a surprising statement from Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the woman who brought art and photography together in her fashion photographs and portraits for Harper's Bazaar and others in the 1940s and 1950s. She inspired a natural look in fashion photography that is still important today. But she thinks photography is a snap compared with, say, painting. "For a photograph you put together a composition with darks and lights, but you are using an instrument. I don't think it comes out of a person like painting," she added.

Dahl-Wolfe, who is 91, was in Washington last week for the opening of the exhibition of her photographs at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The exhibit includes many of the portraits and fashion shots, including cover photos for Harper's Bazaar, for which she worked during the great era with editor Carmel Snow and fashion editor Diana Vreeland. If Vreeland chose clothes Dahl-Wolfe found unphotogenic, "Diana would then add something to it to make me interested." Snow, too, was sensitive to a photographer's needs. "She understood well that a photographer had to be happy to make a good picture."

She worked with the great models of her day and said their appearance was not the most important asset. "It is the temperament of the person that is important; they must want to enter into what is going on." She photographed Mary Jane Russell and Suzy Parker. "And when we got tired of the American beauty look I photographed Betty Bacall. She has an interesting face," said Dahl-Wolfe. "Prettiness doesn't matter. Character makes a difference, a big difference."

Her Dior photographs are among the familiar photos on view at the museum. She would attend the shows in Paris and was usually partial to Dior's clothes. "I am not one for extremes. I liked the simplicity of his clothes."

She was there in 1947 when the New Look was introduced at Dior. She liked the New Look then, and doesn't mind today's new look of skirts above the knee. "I'd rather short than very, very long. It is so tacky."

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Avant Gown

Patty Niemi had access to all the top American markets for the wedding dress she wore yesterday. As fashion market editor of Elle magazine, she had seen it all. So what did she choose? She has been watching a young design team named Goodall and Hensley that has been falling in and out of business since she first met them two years back at Henri Bendel. "I loved their things immediately," she says.

Says Cary Hensley, "Patty's one requirement was that she did not want a traditional all-white wedding dress." The dress is a mix of traditional and nontraditional: a cropped motorcycle jacket in white silk with gold zipper and pearl cuff buttons paired with a dress with ivory silk charmeuse bodice and full skirt in light taupe silk. "By mixing shapes, fabrications and colors we were able to create a nontraditional wedding ensemble, yet an ensemble which still keeps in perspective the fact that Patty is the bride and the event is a wedding."

Stella Goodall and Hensley have discontinued the women's line for the moment and will show only a menswear line for next spring.

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Revealing Opinions Were you surprised by all the strapless and off-the-shoulder dresses worn at the Emmy awards last weekend?

Victor Costa wasn't. He's been selling bare-shoulder dresses in huge quantities this season. "The woman who wears a leather skirt and turtleneck by day wants short, spare and bare for evening," he says. "There is a tremendous interest in dressing up by women of all ages."

Costa was in town this week for a showing at the home of Penne Korth for the National Symphony Ball committee and a trunk show at Garfinckel's. In fact, he's on the road frequently -- 48 trips last year to visit stores, buy fabric and attend fashion shows in Paris. He recently saw 12 couture collections -- he won't say how he got tickets. He views them as "a laboratory of how these designers think. Pret-a`-porter has inhibited many creative forces and juices. In couture, it is no holds barred." Costa gets more than just inspiration from couture, he often copies directly.

Christian Lacroix says he doesn't mind Costa knocking him off -- "He copies very well," the designer told WWD.

Costa saw his first couture show, that of Hubert de Givenchy, as a student in Paris in 1957. (Givenchy and Costa will get awards from the Dallas Apparel Mart this year.) He worked for Seventh Avenue manufacturers for several years, then returned to his native Texas to set up his own business. "I have my own factories with 200 women and I can control my product much better than using a contractor." The reward for the consumer is the very fair price of the clothes. (Most dresses run $200 to $600.)

It is the price, quality and flattering design, of course, that appeals to his broad range of customers. Lady Bird Johnson, Lynda Bird Robb and her daughter all wear Costa's dresses. So do some of the New York fashion faithful, like Ivana Trump, who buy a handful of Costa dresses at a clip to alternate with their couture dresses. "I design for the socially involved pay-and-play {charity ball-going} ladies."

And most of them want strapless dresses. "Shoulders and legs are the beautiful part of a woman's body," says Costa.

Notes de la Mode:

Carolina Herrera doesn't have a name for the fragrance she will introduce next spring, but she knows the smell will be intoxicating. At least that is how she reacts to it. At a smell testing session in Barcelona Herrera fainted. "You know, that's a lot of alcohol to inhale."

Sonja Caproni, vice president of fashion for I. Magnin, will join Paloma Picasso and her husband Rafael Lopez Sanchez in a new company that will distribute accessories and small leather goods to stores. Barbara Bolan, who makes wonderful, soft handbags, will also be part of the company. Picasso will oversee everything, "from design to execution."

Who is that sheep on the cover of the Rolling Stone? It's not another shearling fashion statement and it's not the cover. It's just another fashion advertising stunt. Sisley, a division of Benetton, has taken over the back cover of the Oct. 8 Rolling Stone. The ad is styled like a cover shot and it runs upside down. Not very sheepish.