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Remembering Victor Skrebneski

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Legendary photographer Victor Skrebneski passed away on April 4, 2020. For this blog post, Nena Ivon, past president of the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, delved into her personal archive and reflects on her friend’s work with the Museum.

Victor Skrebneski had a varied and exciting association with the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum through the years. During his half-century career, he was known for his striking images of models in advertisements and portraits of celebrities, but his work encompassed so much more than that. His extraordinary editorial photography graced the pages of Town & Country magazine, as well as numerous breathtaking books and catalogues. Victor’s eye for composition brought life to advertising campaigns for major retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin. His work was displayed in major exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.


Undated self-portrait of Skrebneski. © Victor Skrebneski

Victor and the Costume Council were a perfect pairing—an iconic creator documenting an iconic costume collection. His contributions to the Costume Council and the Museum were extraordinary and leave us with breathtakingly exquisite images. He helped develop the Costume Council’s annual fundraiser—the legendary Donors’ Ball—through his unique invitations, serving on occasion as decor chair, and helping bring illustrious designers to headline the galas, such as Hubert de Givenchy in 1995.


Victor (left) looks on as Nena Ivon (standing) speaks with Givenchy and Bonnie Deutsch, a past Costume Council president, at the 1995 Donors’ Ball.

Here are two of examples of Donors’ Ball invitations featuring Victor’s photography.


The 1986 Donors’ Ball was presented at the opening of Northwestern Atrium Center (now 500 West Madison), which is connected to the Ogilvie Transportation Center.


Donors’ Ball 1990, one of my favorite invitations!

(From left to right) Mr. Victor Skrebneski, Mrs. Owen H. Deutsch and Mrs. Donna L. (Sugar) Rautbord, Chicago Historical Society Donors' Ball Co-Chairs, flanking Mr. James Galanos, fashion designer who received the first Costume Committee Award for Design Excellence in a special ceremony at the Donors' Ball, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 1992.
Victor, Bonnie Deutsch and Sugar Rautbord, Donors’ Ball Co-Chairs, flanking James Galanos, who received the first Designer of Excellence Award at the Donors’ Ball, Chicago, November 20, 1992. CHM, ICHi-069729


Geoffrey Beene (left) was honored in 1996 with the Costume Council’s Designer of Excellence Award. Pictured with him is past Costume Council president Lawrie Weed, Victor, and Ed Weed.

One of his extraordinary contributions to the Costume Council was a ten-page color photography spread in the October 1984 issue of Town & Country magazine, which featured seven Executive Board members in front of some of the Costume Collection’s spectacular pieces. Truly a memorable captured moment in time.


Beverly Blettner, past Costume Council president, with one of the crown jewels of the costume collection—Paul Poiret’s Sorbet! © Victor Skrebneski

In addition to his work with the Costume Council, Victor’s work can be seen when you visit the Museum. His portrait of Benjamin B. Green-Field is on display at the entrance of the gallery named after Green-Field. The milliner was a generous donor to the Museum, and the Costume Collection includes a huge assortment of his whimsical Bes-Ben hats.

ortrait of Benjamin Green-Field
Undated portrait of Benjamin Green-Field. CHM, ICHi-173662; Victor Skrebneski, photographer

My last photograph taken with Victor was at a Fashion Group International Chicago event late last year. Pictured with us is Dennis Minkel, Victor’s longtime assistant, studio manager, archivist, and keeper of the flame. All of us are indebted to Dennis for his support of the Costume Council. We are holding the photographs of us that appear in Victor’s latest book, Skrebneski Documented. At the time of his death, Victor was working on two more books.


Dennis (second from left), Victor (center), and Nena Ivon (right), December 3, 2019.

It was one of the highlights of my life to not only work with this genius but to call him a dear friend for more than fifty years. His legacy will live on in the history of Chicago, the city he loved and called home.

 

 

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