100 years of unseen fashion photos from 'the morgue'

Story highlights

  • The magazine house behind Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair has released archival photos
  • The unseen collection features work by Horst, Steichen and Beaton

(CNN)For every carefully chosen image in a fashion editorial, how many stunning alternatives are relegated to an archive, never to be seen again?

Answer: A lot. In Conde Nast's case, more than 1.5 million, expertly cataloged and preserved in a New York storage otherwise known as "the morgue."
    Protected in a cold room, elegantly boxed and meticulously filed, the imaginings of photographic heroes such as Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst have lain dormant and unappreciated -- until now.
    The magazine house behind Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair has teamed up with Getty Images to release a collection of more than 30,000 unique shots, some available for prints and licensing.
    For Getty's archive director, Bob Ahern, it was a collaboration he had long been courting.
    "Frankly we'd been after their content for some time. It's beautiful," he said. "Fashion is cyclical, it draws so readily on inspiration of the past. To have these images available is amazing."
    Ahern said that while visiting Conde Nast's collection he was "like a kid in a sweet shop."
    "Quite often archives are relegated to the basement, but in this instance it's a state-of-the-art facility. You have vintage prints going back to the 1920s, all

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    gorgeously boxed. They have an amazing cold-storage facility where you have to put hats and gloves on. You don't often see that."
    The images date to the 1920s, documenting almost 100 years of style history through the eyes of the most celebrated photographers. They include prints from Edward Steichen, who is known as the "father" of fashion photography.
    "When you actually get your hands on a vintage print, the way they were printed with different papers and different chemicals that we don't use today, it's amazing," Ahern said.
    "You get that richness of black, richness in the shadows. The whole tone turns it into not just a beautiful image, but a historical item."
    As captivating as the photographers' visions are their star-studded subjects -- from Nancy Reagan to Coco Chanel.
    "Conde Nast got great access," Ahern said. "You've got the gamut of supermodels from way back in the '30s to what we might call the heyday -- the Kate Mosses, the Christy Turlingtons.
    "You also have writers and actors like Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin. You name it, those guys opened the doors for Conde Nast."
    Finally released from their chamber of secrets, now all that remains is for the photos to be seen.