Lingerie catalogues – we know their sort. Tanned busty ladies looking awkwardly sultry in satin and lace, alongside endless breakfast bar scenes with models looking oh-so-charming in button down pyjamas and velour dressing gowns. All very cosy, rarely inspiring. However, this was all very different back in the ‘70s – or rather for one brief moment in 1976 New York – when Bloomingdales, the definitive upmarket department store, commissioned Parisian photographer Guy Bourdin to shoot their lingerie catalogue. The result – Sighs and Whispers, Bloomingdales – is currently available on Amazon for a suitably eyewatering sum, and is the most Loved post of the week for freelance fashion assistant Sally Anne Loxley.
Breaking the mould for the time, this particular catalogue was newsworthy long before it fell onto the mats of unsuspecting subscribers. Images of what is inside are hard to come by, but a hand-rubbing article in the New York Post describes “ambiguous vignettes, suggestive of je ne sais quoi – smoldering-satin-eroticism, triple-bedded double entendres, Stepford wifery, Bergman heavy breathing and Story-of-O-isms.” As befitted a cult French “monomaniac”, Bourdin’s demands for the shoot were extreme, with Bloomingdales having to promise him complete creative freedom, a process that ultimately proved exhausting. Having called 65 of New York’s top models to the store, asked them to strip naked, and taken Polaroids of each, Bourdin dismissed them all shouting that there were no beautiful girls in New York, and went on to find six unknowns by himself. Total shooting lasted a month – one picture of a model flying through the air into bed and her lover’s arms was reshot so many times that the girl fainted – and the store never saw a single picture until the day Bourdin left. However, it was worth it – as expected, the catalogue has become an iconic collectors item, not least to AnOther’s Lovers.
"Ambiguous vignettes, suggestive of je ne sais quoi – smoldering-satin-eroticism, triple-bedded double entendres, Stepford wifery, Bergman heavy breathing and Story-of-O-isms."
Here, we speak to Loxley about her passion for Bourdin and why she'd like Juergen Teller to shoot an office supplies catalogue.
Why did you choose to love this catalogue?
I have been researching Guy Bourdin's work as part of my Ph.D, and I love that this catalogue represents him honestly – as a brilliant fashion photographer. Because Bourdin's work was rarely seen outside Vogue Paris and he hadn't published any books, the catalogue instantly became a collectors item.
Where would you keep it if you owned it?
The loo would be a good place, if I could get over how much it was worth!
Who makes the best catalogues/lookbooks?
I love that Azzedine Alaïa still send out such beautiful lookbooks. A good friend of mine receives one every season, they look amazing on his bookshelf!
Who would shoot your ideal catalogue, who would star in it and what would it be selling?
Juergen Teller starring Kristen McMenamy selling office supplies. Who knows what the combination would produce?
Where do you buy your lingerie?
I worked at Agent Provocateur for a while, out of ease of knowing their product and fit so well, they would be my first choice.
What was the last thing you bought?
The book, The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton; all I ever seem to buy are books on photography.
What are you looking forward to about Spring?
Just being outside.
Text by Tish Wrigley