PARIS — “Helmut’s world is my idea of heaven. And Helmut’s world is where I would like to go when I die.”
With those words Tom Ford summed up his admiration for Helmut Newton as luminaries from the fashion and art worlds gathered in the Theatre du Palais Royale here to pay homage to the late photographer, who, at 83, died last January after he had a heart attack and smashed his Cadillac into a wall in Los Angeles.
This story first appeared in the July 6, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In a ceremony that was both poignant and funny, speakers Ford, Pierre Bergé, Karl Lagerfeld, novelist Josephine Hart, art dealer Simone de Pury and the evening’s host, Anna Wintour, offered tribute to one of the century’s most influential image makers.
They assessed his talent and artistic vision, celebrating his unique and searing obsession with the erotic.
But they also fondly remembered the man, saluting his unbridled youthful spirit, capacity for enduring amity and steadfast adoration for his wife, June.
“Besides his friendship, his most wonderful thing was his unique love for June,” said de Pury. “It is one of the greatest love stories ever.”
“I’ve lost a partner and a friend,” added Bergé. “They were an exemplary couple; exemplary because his life was founded on the two values that I respect most in the world: love and work.”
Indeed, the speakers eulogized Newton’s major contribution to the collective consciousness of art and fashion.
De Pury called Newton, along with Andy Warhol, the greatest influence on the twentieth century’s visual culture.
“He broke the mold and was shocking,” said Hart. “He broke the mold in the way Beckett broke the mold with ‘Waiting for Godot,’ James with ‘Ulysses’ and Eliot with ‘The Waste Land.’ You know a great artist when you can say that there is a before and after.”
Bergé referenced Oscar Wilde’s quip that before Turner there was no fog in London.
“After Helmut we had a different viewpoint,” he said. “In a word, he was a master of fantasy and rigor.”
On a personal note, Lagerfeld recalled Newton’s inimitable Berliner German. He also recounted an episode when he and Newton visited Marlene Dietrich — but, alas, failed to get her portrait.
“It’s sad that there are no portraits of Marlene by Helmut, especially since they will be spending so much time together now,” he joked.
The most heartfelt paean, though, was provided by Wintour, who termed Newton the most “consistently scandalous” photographer she’s worked with at Vogue.
“I was aghast and amazed with his visual genius,” she said.
She told of her first meeting with Newton, in the Seventies, when as an assistant on a shoot for Harpers & Queen she carted around a wheelchair prop.
“I would have loved to have been one of Helmut’s women,” she said, holding back tears. “I can’t think of a greater compliment than to have been deemed worthy of Helmut’s lens.”
— Robert Murphy