How Beatrix Farrand Inspired Annie Leibovitz’s Vogue Fall Fashion Fantasy

Upon her return Farrand set up her office on the top floor of her mother’s house, taking pains to distinguish herself from the many women of her time who practiced garden design as a hobby. She kept meticulous records, cataloguing bills in shoeboxes and was strict about being compensated for her work, understanding that “things are on a different footing when stamped with a recognized value.”

Was it Farrand’s single-mindedness—the joy that she took in being ever so slightly obsessed—that drew Annie Leibovitz and Vogue’s Grace Coddington to her for these images? “Society, yes, it is very agreeable…a little of it,” Farrand told one newspaper reporter, “But to live for it and in it entirely. Oh, never. This is so different. It is work—hard work and at the same time it is perpetual pleasure. With this grand art of mine I do not envy the greatest painter, or sculptor or poet that lived. It seems to me that all arts are combined in this.”

“I was so intrigued with her story,” says Leibovitz. “Even though she was well-to-do, she knew she wanted to do something.” (“She’s obsessed with her,” says Coddington. “There’s nothing more to be said about Beatrix if you spoke to Annie.”)

Coddington and Leibovitz have spent close to two decades creating fashion fantasias for Vogue, which will be anthologized in Wonderland, Leibovitz’s forthcoming volume of fashion images for Phaidon. Some of the most memorable shoots have starred the model Natalia Vodianova, who under Coddington and Leibovitz’s direction has embodied heroines ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Edith Wharton. This shoot, with Vodianova as Farrand, model Karen Elson as her close friend and patron Mildred Bliss, and the actor Aldis Hodge as David Williston, the pioneering Black landscape artist who was Farrand’s peer, has a valedictory air. “There was a certain nostalgia,” admits Coddington. “We both said this is probably the last time this kind of shoot is going to happen.”