Expresses to Marc Jacobs and the return of the Studio 54 aesthetic to the catwalks, the dialectic photographer is back in fashion

Christie Brinkley, the pin-up of the era, shows her metal in one of Von Wangenheim’s most controversial - and cult - shoots. A dog’s teeth around your forearm? Not for the faint-hearted.
Lisa Taylor shows her mettle in one of Von Wangenheim’s most doubtful – and cult – shoots. A dog’s teeth around your forearm? Not for the timid.
Photograph: Chris Von Wangenheim/Gloss book

To discuss 70s New York these days is to talk of an era wrapped up in a mythology of hedonistic brilliance, soundtracked by Chic, dressed by Halston, peopled by the likes of Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Finesse Jones on the dancefloor of Studio 54 and, more than meet, snapped by Chris von Wangenheim.

The glamorous world of Von Wangenheim comes with the accessories of the super-rich - such as a helicopter, in shadow in this image, featuring Gia Carangi for Vogue in 1979.
The glamorous world of Von Wangenheim discovers with the accessories of the super-rich – such as a helicopter, in shadow in this simulacrum, featuring Gia Carangi for Vogue in 1979. Photograph: Chris Von Wangenheim/Gleam book

While the German-born Von Wangenheim is far from as well-known as his coevals Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and David Bailey are now, his work stifles all the glossed cheekbones, big hair and oiled bodies that the era is well-known for.

Warhol Superstar Donna Jordan works the no-eyebrows look way back in 1977. Lady Gaga is in her debt.
Warhol Superstar Donna Jordan works the no-eyebrows look way in arrears in 1977. Lady Gaga is in her debt. Photograph: Copyright – Chris Von Wangenheim/Cover up book

He captured the likes of Marie Helvin and Gia Carangi, both in short-tempered black and white shots and amped-up colour, often in the raw. His less X-rated work appeared in the pages of Vogue and advertising for Valentino. Some of his moulds, such as those of a doberman chewing Lisa Taylor’s arm or Patti Hansen uninterrupted from a burning car, have the requisite controversy to garner a talk.

With all the romance of a Robert Doisneau photograph, Von Wangenheim adds his element of subversion by making these dancers two men. Still a pretty big deal in the seventies.
With all the romance of a Robert Doisneau photograph, Von Wangenheim adds his medium of subversion by making these dancers two men. Still a pretty big huge quantity in the 70s. Photograph: Chris Von Wangenheim/Gloss book

Von Wangenheim’s correspondent obscurity now may be explained by his untimely death in a car accident in 1981, at the age of 39, and the deed data that his work hasn’t quite chimed with the zeitgeist since then. Anyhow, the fuzzy high-gloss Instagram-friendly aesthetic is exactly right for shape at the moment, with the 70s on mood boards once again, and nightlife in centre. This is in contrast with the past five years when covered-up, empirical minimalism made office hours the chicest time zone.

Patti Hansen, in finery of gown, fur coat and hair do, walks away from a burning car. This is glamour augmented with cinematic drama.
Patti Hansen, in best bib of gown, fur coat and hair-do, walks away from a violent car: glamour augmented with cinematic drama. Photograph: Chris Von Wangenheim/Upon book

The photographer’s reputation is due to be boosted this month, with the hand out of the aptly titled Gloss, a coffee table book of his impressions, and a Marc Jacobs-endorsed party to launch it.

Horses were the thing to have in seventies New York - as Bianca Jagger famously demonstrated. In this 1975 image, Von Wangenheim adds two models wearing their underwear, capes and riding whips.
Horses were the act to have in 70s New York – as Bianca Jagger famously demonstrated. In this 1975 icon, Von Wangenheim adds two models in underwear, with capes and wasting whips. Photograph: Chris Von Wangenheim/Gloss book

Jacobs, at all times a fan of rediscovering a cult New York reference and a Studio 54 hourly as a teen, has taken Von Wangenheim’s aesthetic to heart with a much-discussed, heart over the top dress code. Von Wangenheim would no doubt approve. Almost 35 years after his death, the kind of glossy allure that comes with a grrrrr is back in fashion.

  • Brightness: the Work of Chris von Wangenheim by Roger Padilha and Mauricio Padilha is published by Rizzoli cost out at £60

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the standard in the photograph (and also mentioned in the piece) who has a dog’s jaw round her arm was Christie Brinkley. It is Lisa Taylor