Floating translucent bubbles just seem to be so futuristic even in the present day. For the Harper’s Bazaar Spring 1963 issue, Photographer Melvin Sokolsky (born New York City, 1938) showed how ahead he was of his time with his now-iconic “Bubble” series shoot. Like his peers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, Sokolsky dreamed the impossible and helped revolutionize the art of fashion photography during the heady 1960s. The series is widely credited for launching the trend of bold, artistic visions within fashion photography. According to Jeffrey Podolsky of Introspective Magazine, Sokolsky insisted that female beauty and the gesture of the model herself were just as important as the clothing she wore. At the time, this was a radical concept, and he pushed the idea to the limit in his groundbreaking “Bubble” series in which models donning elegant couture were suspended in a Plexiglas bubble over Paris.
The idea came to him after seeing Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1500) and subsequently dreaming about it. In the painting, a couple appears to be trapped in a bubble emerging from the earth below. In Sokolsky’s dream, he watched himself floating inside a bubble over unusual worlds. “With the awareness that I was prone to live in my head much of the time, and inclined to severe self-criticism,” said Sokolsky, “I began to have doubts whether I could create images on film that reflected the images in my mind’s eye.” The realisation became a series of images in which a model encased in a Plexiglass ball appears to float through Paris. Karen Strike of Flashbak writes that in reality, model Simone d’Aillencourt was clipped inside the bauble, which was suspended from a crane. “There were times when this choreographed dance turned into a Laurel and Hardy comedy,” Sokolsky recalled in 2004. “The morning we shot on the Seine, the Bubble was lowered overzealously into the water, flooding it up to Simone’s ankles, and in turn ruining an important pair of designer shoes.”
When looking at the pictures, we see the bubble first taking off in colour from beyond the New York City skyline, then landing on the Seine River in Paris, where it begins a surreal black-and-white tour of Parisian streets, alleys, and cafes. Designer clothes are on display in each shot, something that’s easily overlooked as model Simone d’Aillencourt cavorts in the plexiglass sphere, drawing a lot of attention (and even a few fireballs) from standers-by. When his work appeared in Bazaar, it caused a fuss. There was the element of surprise, asking readers to suspend their disbelief while also embodying one of Vreeland’s famous motto: to show women “what they don’t know they want.” Who wouldn’t fancy floating around Paris in a Christian Dior ensemble? If fashion is fantasy, Sokolsky grasped the reader’s imagination in a manner never before seen. There are wonderfully cinematic moments in the series as well: scenes of everyday Parisians gazing at a glamorous woman in Cardin drifting above them in, yes, a bubble.