Marella Agnelli's neck seemed longer than ever in that famous Richard Avedon photo from 1953. And the 25 scarlet nails set against glistening red lips from Guy Bourdin in 1972 have reached such iconic status that I was told that they are being offered only to museums.
I spent a day at Paris Photo in the French capital (until November 15 at the Grand Palais), where the quality of the work is outstanding. Some of the images are so soulful, shocking or compelling that the appropriate word was the much overused “awesome".
But not the fashion images. With the exception of the whimsical and poetic Tim Walker, whose sweetly surreal 2013 picture of red-head model Karen Elson at a piano with a singing lion was put on display by the Michael Hoppen London gallery, the photographs and their originators were oh, so familiar!
I looked at the Gagosian Gallery's Avedon line up of Marella Agnelli and of Dovima with Elephants (plus a Dior dress), and at Peter Lindbergh's work from the Nineties —and I asked myself why genuinely contemporary fashion photography has so little allure.
Has the fascination with vintage clothing and with current fashion that regurgitates the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, Eighties — and now those deliberately ugly Nineties — ubbed off on photography itself?
All the gallerists I spoke to said the same thing: that post-production, digital enhancement and a general feeling of muddied waters in the age of the computer has divided photography into a strategic “before" and “after".
"Our show is about purity of work," said Ayse Arnal, director of the Louise Alexander Gallery in Porto Cervo in Italy, referring to the Guy Bourdin work intended for museum acquisitions. On offer, too, were more accessible Polaroids.
Michael Hoppen was scathing about the comparison between the reality of sensuality as photographed by Guy Bourdin and the demand of current editors and publishers to create a disconcerting perfection to human face and figure.
The gallerist showed, as well as the enchanting Tim Walker photographs, a series from Rex/Shutterstock reportage images from the 1977 London punk scene. That was long before the smart devices of the digital age put a stop to such innocently captured images.
There were rare moments of discovery. I found compelling the pixilated effect on a supermodel image created this year by Valérie Belin and shown by Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels and Edwynn Houk Gallery from New York and now Zurich.
Then there were the Pierre & Gilles decorative images, such as a portrait of Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and an exceptional 2015 Magical Mirror image of Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. This hand-painted portrait photographed on toile stood out at the Galerie Daniel Templon from Brussels.
London's HackelBury Gallery produced two graphic, unseen fashion photographs by William Klein, among other abstract images. While another more conventional, but moving, Klein photograph of actress Anouk Aimée (1961), with cigarette holder as accessory, was on offer at the Gallery Fifty One for €18,452 (£13,065) - just one of many reprinted works of past or present masters.
The price of quality, in the age of the smartphone selfie, is ever upward. Unless I misread the price tag, a 1990 Patrick Demarchelier photograph of Christy Turlington was offered by Camera Work in Berlin for €95,600.
Putting to one side the varied valuation of fashion work, the images were almost entirely from the past, often emphasising the quality of early printing. (The extraordinary carbon colour printing of Sarah Moon’s work from 2014 at the Camera Obscura gallery was an exception.)
Nick Knight, the British photographer and early creator of fashion film, visited Paris Photo and will receive the Isabella Blow award as fashion creator at the British Fashion Awards at the end of this month. He credits Irving Penn for turning photography into an art form.
But you can't help wondering whether the power of the moving image and the involvement in film of so many current photographers, has moved the goal posts.
Those photographers who shaped their art in a pre-digital age are — just like fashion designers themselves — taking to shows in museums. Sarah Moon will have a retrospective in the House of Photography in Hamburg from November 27. And Vogue 100: A Century of Style will open at London's National Portrait Gallery on February 11.
November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York
November 1926 - Charlie Chaplin in New York
September 1941 - Fashion is Indestructible
February 1946 - The Second Age of Beauty is Glamour
November 1956 - Anne Gunning in Jaipur
December 1968 - David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James
October 1st, 1973 - Limenight Nights
October 1989 - Claudia Schiffer in Paris
October 1991 - Linda Evangelista at the International Collections
October 2008 - Kate Moss at the Master Shipwright’s House, Deptford
December 2009 - Lara Stone in Carlton House Terrace
December 2011 - Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia
September 2016 will see the Kunsthal in Rotterdam present a retrospective of Peter Lindbergh, A Different History of Fashion,curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot.
I still feel intuitively that fashion images, as we have known them, are in decline — whether from a lack of originality, the lure of post-production or even the competition - ridiculous as this sounds - between the glossy professional style and the dynamic smartphone camera grabs.
Coming off Eurostar in London, I went to Paul Smith in Albemarle Street to see a David Bailey exhibition celebrating the launch of his 41st book.