John Stember FanBox

GIA

 

 

JOHN STEMBER PRESENTS

‘ G I A ‘

EXHIBITION NEW YORK

september 2014


 

history

 

 

 

Meteoric is the only word to describe Gia Carangi’s rise to supermodeldom. She arrived on the Manhattan fashion scene as a seventeen-year-old David Bowie fan with a major wild streak and was immediately signed by the Wilhelmina agency, one of the most prestigious anywhere. Just as quickly she became the girl everyone was after. “I started working with very good people,” she said in a 1983 television interview. “I mean all the time, very fast. I didn’t build into a model. I just sort of became one.”


Photographer John Stember was captivated by her beauty, her dark, sultry features—a refreshing contrast to the wholesome, blonde-haired, blue-eyed glamour that was the current standard. But there was more.  . . . a rebelliousness, restlessness, like an animal totally unpredictable something that was unlike any other girl … she could be as sweet as a kitten one minute and without warning turn into demon that would push you to the limit … fortunately I connected with her rebelliousness and she knew that so we never got into any conflict ourselves … but with just about everyone else she would just go tell them to “fuck off’.

 

“There was something she had” … I’ve never met a girl who had it like Gia,” Scavullo said. “She had the perfect body for modeling: perfect eyes, mouth, hair. And, to me, the perfect attitude: ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ”

 

Gia was different. She was gay, and off duty she de-accentuated her enviable curves—many considered her to have the best breasts in the business—with men’s motorcycle jackets and beat-up jeans (a look that in later decades would become quite mundane, but at the time was dangerously raw). Her tough brand of street chic influenced the stylists and photographers she worked with. Diana Ross, then riding high on the disco wave, wanted to keep the holey denims Gia loaned her for her 1980 album-cover shoot; typically unimpressed, Gia wouldn’t let her. But once on set, and made up heavily in the style of the times, 

Gia would transform into an image of sexualized perfection, all glossy lips, smokey glances, and cascading hair.

 

At eighteen, she was making $100,000 a year—a major sum, more than a decade before mannequin Linda Evangelista declared she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. She booked the best jobs: Versace ads, Vogue.

 

Working with Gia could be chaotic, however, and her antics are legendary: riding off, for instance, on the back of a stranger’s Harley-Davidson still wearing clothes from a shoot. “It took about three days to get the outfit back,” the photographer Albert Watson recalled in Gia’s 1993 biography. Another time, on set for an ad, she tore into a roast chicken while wearing Yves Saint Laurent couture, much to the horror of the maison’s reps.

 

Vera Wang, an editor at Vogue before becoming a designer, told the magazine in 2010 about a memorable swimwear gig with Gia: “She came out of the van naked and started running in the sand. I was only a few years older, telling her she couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t listen. Finally, Gia returned to the van. Gia compromised. She would wear the tops but not the bottoms of the swimsuits. I got back to New York and asked [the fashion editor] Polly Mellen if things like this ever happened to her, and Polly said, “Ab-so-lute-ly not.”[4]

 

Gia’s desire to shock was aggravated by drugs. She graduated from the marijuana, quaaludes, cocaine, and booze of her teen years to snorting heroin with the Studio 54 and Mudd Club crowds, and then began shooting up. Track marks on her arms became visible in photographs, and Gia’s fellow models called her Sister Morphine. On her lone Vogue cover shoot, with Richard Avedon, the photographer got one frame before Gia told everyone she needed to use the restroom. She climbed out the window, hailed a taxi, and was gone. She was said to go straight from photo shoots to the Lower East Side’s shooting galleries to get her fix.

 

Gia eventually contracted AIDS and died in 1986 at the age of 26. The actress Angelina Jolie, who played Gia in a 1998 HBO biopic, later told The New York Times, “When she’s free and just being herself, she’s unbelievable; that’s the tragedy of her story. You think, ‘God, she didn’t need drugs—she was a drug.’ ”

 

  •   First in Vogue
  • 1978
      October
  •   Born
  • 1960
  •   Philadelphia
  •   Died
  • 1986
      October

 

 

 

HISTORY

  •  
  • 1960
  • Gia Marie Carangi born in Philadelphia. Father Joseph owns a chain of sandwich shops called Hoagie City; mother Kathleen is a housewife.
  • 1971
  • Kathleen and Joseph separate. Gia and her two older brothers leave the family home to live with their mom. Many, including Gia herself, will later say this event casts a lasting shadow over her life.
  • 1974
  • Does her first modeling photos, a series of test shots for local photographer Joe Petrellis. The images are unremarkable, but Gia is intrigued by the process.
  • 1975
  • Takes a modeling course in Philadelphia and begins shooting ads for Gimbels department store. Signs with a local agency, but doesn’t book a single job through it (because of her dark looks, it’s said). By now, though, the teen is paying more attention to the names of photographers in her mother’s fashion magazines, jotting them down in her journal. “We would sit in Gia’s bedroom,” aunt Nancy Adams (just a few years older, she took modeling classes with Gia) will later say, “and try on clothes, putting Ultrasuede outfits together to be fashionable. Patti Hansen was on the cover of Vogue for, like, five months in a row. Gia said all she wanted to do was one cover of Vogue: that was it, just the one cover.”[6] Ironically, though she will eventually grace several international Vogues, she will fulfill that dream, becoming an American Vogue cover girl only once.
  • 1977
  • Photographer and hairdresser Maurice Tannenbaum spots Gia, sixteen, on the dance floor at a Philadelphia club and begins a series of test shoots. By now, the sixteen-year-old has already tried almost every kind of drug, including cocaine and quaaludes.

 

 1978

  • January: A makeup artist and former model who Maurice Tannenbaum has hired for his sessions with Gia helps her get a meeting with top New York agent Wilhelmina Cooper. “Willie” offers Gia a contract on the spot and becomes something of a mother figure. March: Gia moves to Manhattan. May: Booked for Bloomingdale’s newspaper ad shot by Arthur Elgort. November: A Vogue spread photographed by Andrea Blanch features Gia wearing Yves Saint Laurent with a dog leash in one hand and a pet-waste scooper in the other. In another image, she’s in black Calvin Klein next to a street sign that reads dead. The same issue includes a portfolio by Elgort of Gia in body-conscious looks.
  • 1979

  • February: Appears in Vogue wearing a black lace Oscar de la Renta dress, shot by Chris von Wangenheim. September: Vogue runs a Christian Dior ad (the first of several) that shows her nude behind a logo-ed umbrella. October: She appears in the magazine’s Paris couture report.

 

1980

  • Versace’s latest campaign, photographed by Richard Avedon, debuts, causing an international sensation and capturing a major model moment: Gia appears alongside Rene Russo, Patti Hansen, Rosie Vela, and Jerry Hall. March: Wilhelmina Cooper dies from lung cancer, devastating Gia, whose heroin use intensifies; she goes from snorting it to shooting up. Her ad work for Giorgio Armani runs in Vogue for the first time. August: She is photographed by Richard Avedon in a white Perry Ellis knit for her first (and only) Vogue cover. She disappears out the bathroom window during the shoot, angering Avedon and the magazine’s editors. September: As recounted later by her biographer, Vogue gives her “one last chance,” sending her to Southampton, New York, for a weeklong shoot with Francesco Scavullo and models Kelly LeBrock and Carol Alt. When the pictures come back, the magazine’s art department freaks out over a number of frames that reveal red bumps and track marks on Gia’s arms. She switches to Ford Models, but is only with the agency for a few weeks before moving back to her mother’s house in Philadelphia. Considers going into rehab. November: The images with the track marks are published in the November issue—having been airbrushed.
  • 1981
  • Hired again for Vogue—yet another “last chance”—for a July feature on shoes (with photographer Arthur Elgort) that offers no opportunity for her arms to show. Even though she’s still using and has been blackballed by most agencies in New York, Gia is signed in the fall by Elite and attempts to make a comeback. “The thing about Gia was that if she showed up and she was in one piece, the pictures that came out were still incredible,”[7] Monique Pillard, her agent, later says.
  • 1982
  • ABC’s 20/20 airs a report on the modeling industry, featuring a segment with Gia. She feels ambushed by the reporter, who questions her about her drug use and brings up the painful subject of Wilhelmina Cooper’s death. August: Versace ad with Gia appears in Vogue. She’s booked for the designer’s spring campaign, but leaves the shoot early and doesn’t make it into any of the final pictures. September: Gia’s last portfolio for the magazine runs; she’s photographed by Andrea Blanch in fall’s casual—and long-sleeved—silhouettes.

 

1983

  • Elite stops booking jobs for Gia due to her unreliability and continued drug abuse. She will not model again.
  • 1985
  • Completes a stint in rehab in Pennsylvania.

 

1986

  • Model Cindy Crawford arrives on the New York scene and earns the nickname “Baby Gia” for her similarly dusky, voluptuous features. “My agents took me to all the photographers who liked Gia: Albert Watson, Francesco Scavullo, Bill King. Everyone loved her look so much that they gladly saw me,”[8] Crawford will later tell Playboy. June: Gia is diagnosed with AIDS-related complex. October: Succumbs to complications of AIDS in a hospital outside of Philadelphia. A service for her is held at a small funeral home, and the fashion world will be unaware of her death until months later.
  • 1993
  • Stephen Fried’s biography Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia is published. The New York Times Book Review says the title “should be set out among the fashion magazines in modeling-agency waiting rooms and any other place where teenage girls who have been called pretty a little too often hang out.”[9]
  • 1994
  • Vogue’s Charles Gandee, in a July story about the rise of “heroin chic,” evokes Gia and her “downward spiral.”[10]
  • 1998
  • In January, HBO airs biopic Gia, starring Angelina Jolie. Vogue’s Hamish Bowles reviews the film, saying, the actress “captures something of Gia’s insane, feral charm.”[11]
  • 2002
  • In his April Vogue cover feature on Angelina Jolie, writer Jonathan Van Meter says of her portrayal, “It was as if she understood a thing or two about lesbian supermodels and drugs.”[12]
  • 2003
  • The Self-Destruction of Gia, a documentary, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival. In it, designer Diane von Furstenberg, who used Gia in ads for her clothing line starting in 1980, says, “There was a sadness, something eating her inside always. It was a certain emptiness at first, and then it turned into the addiction.” Fashion editor Polly Mellen, also interviewed, says, “There was no cookie-cutter Gia. No form. She was her own form without knowing it.”[13]
  • 2010
  • Vogue society writer William Norwich lunches in Los Angeles with designer Vera Wang, who talks about working as a fashion editor for the magazine, and how a swimsuit shoot on the West Coast with Gia went haywire.

 

 

 

SOURCES

 

  1. 1. ^
    Gia Carangi interview. 20/20, ABC, January 6, 1983.
  2. ^
    Thing of Beauty, by Stephen Fried. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
  3. ^
    Thing of Beauty, by Stephen Fried. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
  4. ^
    Flash: “Hollywood Beginning,” by William Norwich. Vogue, May 2010. http://archive.vogue.com/Desktop/#/20100501/116
  5. ^
    “The Model Who Invented Heroin Chic,” by Alanna Nash. The New York Times, September 7, 1997. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/07/arts/the-model-who-invented-heroin-chic.html
  6. ^
    Thing of Beauty, by Stephen Fried. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
  7. ^
    Thing of Beauty, by Stephen Fried. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
  8. ^
    Playboy Interview: Cindy Crawford,” by David Rensin. Playboy, September 1995.
  9. ^
    Thing of Beauty, by Stephen Fried. New York: Pocket Books, 1994.
  10. ^
    “Under the Influence,” by Charles Gandee. Vogue, March 1994. http://archive.vogue.com/Desktop/#/19940301/380
  11. ^
    People Are Talking About: “Page to Screen,” by Hamish Bowles. Vogue, January 1998. http://archive.vogue.com/Desktop/#/19980101/82
  12. ^
    “Body Beautiful,” by Jonathan Van Meter. Vogue, April 2002. http://archive.vogue.com/Desktop/#/20020401/250
  13. ^
    The Self-Destruction of Gia, directed by J. J. Martin. Cine L’Mod Productions, 2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CR

 

UP CLOSE WITH CARINE ROITFELD 

As famed for her rock-chic looks as for her talents as a fashion seer, 

Carine Roitfeld is one of the most influential figures in the business. 

So what's next?

 

BY MELISSA WHITWORTH | 19 AUGUST 2012 

 

 

 Carine Roitfeld Photo: MARIO SORRENTI


 

Carine Roitfeld conducts our interview wearing a black negligee. Reclining on a black leather sofa at the photography studio at Pier 59 in New York she has just finished a day in front of the camera, rather than behind it, where she usually resides. The shoot was with Mario Sorrenti, who this year took the pictures for the revered nude opus known as the Pirelli calendar, and is photographing Roitfeld in moody black and white for her campaign with Mac cosmetics.

 

The 57-year-old former editor of Vogue Paris has just become a grandmother - her daughter, Julia, gave birth to a daughter in May. But today there is nothing grandmotherly about her. She is wearing that black silk slip, commissioned by Olatz Schnabel, and a black silk robe by Kiki de Montparnasse. Her smoky eye make-up is smudged just so. The pictures will launch a collection for Mac based on Roitfeld's signature make-up style, which is, she says in fabulously discombobulated English, 'a little bit destroy'. 'I like to put black on my eyes, but I never put it on very well and I think it looks sexy,' she says. 'When you put it on in the morning it looks better by the evening. It is very wrong to sleep in your make-up but when you wake up the next morning, I think it looks very good.'

There's a little black star on her left cheekbone. 'Since I've always wanted a beauty spot like Marilyn Monroe, I added some star stencils that you can fill in with liquid eyeliner. I never had a beauty spot but I think perhaps a star is much more fun.'

She tells me she thought of the actor Ryan Gosling to make her feel sexy during the shoot. She likes to tease. There's a Gallic irony ever present in whatever she says and a sense of theatre, naughtiness. She is undeniably alluring, living proof that a woman - or at least a Parisienne - can be sexy at any age.

 

The erotic has been the selling point of Roitfeld's career - as a stylist starting out 30 years ago at French Elle, as a consultant for Tom Ford during his Gucci years, and then as the editor of French Vogue for 10 years. 'Pfff', she says to this. 'A lot of people say I am the queen of porno-chic. "Chic" is good, but "porno" is not. I am very happy you use the word "erotic" and not "pornographic". I never treat a woman as an object, and even when we use bondage [Karen Elson, for example, was pictured in the magazine in 2007 tied up with a curtain cord], I don't think the woman seems to suffer; she is never just an object. She is tough, my woman. I always think model and woman is more important than the clothes. Most of the time when I do shoots I think the girl is an actress more than a model.'

But make no mistake, the erotic sensibility is purely for work. 'Only in pictures,' she says firmly. 'People told me I was a nymphomaniac. Maybe I seem crazy because of some picture; maybe it's my art, what I have to express. But I have been with the same person for over 30 years - we never married because I am superstitious - but with the same person for ever. I've never been a nymphomaniac.'

 

It's true that however hard-edged she may seem in conversation she is more maternal than mosh-pit. She and her partner, Christian Restoin, and their two children have become one of the royal families of international fashion. Restoin is behind the classic shirt label Equipment. Julia, their daughter, is a model, photographer and creative consultant for fashion labels (Tom Ford picked her to be the face of his first perfume, Black Orchid, in 2006). Vladimir, their son, is an art dealer and curator, and fixture on New York's social circuit.

 

'I look a bit rock'n'roll because of my black eyes, my black clothes, because I am quite skinny', she says . 'But I have always been more of a mummy than an editor. I speak to my children every day. We are a very compact family. For me they are the most important and they know that. I never fly away because of that, always with my feet on earth.'

 

And now she is a grandmother. 'I am very excited, but to be a grandmum, what is it? For me a grandmum was always a very old woman.' At this point Sorrenti's wife, Mary Frey, arrives at the studio and, as if to prove a point about grandmères, Roitfeld informs her that she thinks Sorrenti 'fell a little bit in love today'. She leans towards me in faux conspiracy. 'I prefer to tell her I try to seduce her husband,' she says, signature eyebrows raised.

 

Roitfeld was born in Paris to a Russian émigré father and a Parisienne mother, whom Roitfeld describes as the ultimate, chic 'classic Frenchwoman'. One of her first memories of chic is doing her mother's eyeliner. 'It was the mid 1960s, and she was wearing a Pucci dress, and I was helping her put on her black eyeliner in a straight line,' she says. 'To be symmetrical can be difficult, so she asked me to do it.'

 

She began modelling aged 18, but quickly turned to freelance fashion styling. In the 1990s the sexy, glossy advertising images she created with Mario Testino for Tom Ford's Gucci label (famously, she ignored Ford's phone calls for some time before eventually agreeing to work with him) not only helped to define - or redefine - the formerly ailing Italian house but was instrumental in launching the idea of the fashion label as global superbrand. In the last decade, with the proliferation of blogs and minute-by-minute news from fashion shows and parties, interest in the editrice has grown.

 

And Roitfeld's distinctive personal style and her outspoken nature have turned her into something of a celebrity. Cue another 'pff'. 'All kinds of girls and boys, they love fashion,' she says. 'People are very curious and they want to know everything. So before it was the supermodels or the photographers, and now it is the "super-editor". Anna [Wintour of American Vogue] became a super-editor. Me, I have a strong character and a strong personality, but 10 years ago - before the blogs - nobody knew me.'

 

One of the storylines in The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger's roman à clef about her time as an assistant to Wintour, which became a blockbusting film - concerned a French editor plotting to take over the American magazine. There were rumours that this was more than just a Hollywood storyline and Roitfeld was next in line at American Vogue.

'It was invented,' Roitfeld says of the supposed rivalry with Anna Wintour. And of Wintour herself: 'She's tough but she's very honest. I like that. When my kids came to New York she invited them to dinner and as a mum those are things you don't forget. She is not my best friend, we never talk on the phone every day, but she is someone I respect, and the older you get in this business the fewer people you respect.'

 

Roitfeld's time at French Vogue was filled with controversy - on the page at least. It was her desire to keep alive the spirit of the 1970s and 1980s, when photographers with erotic sensibilities such as Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton made their names at the magazine. She says that became harder. 'Now it's so censured, it's very difficult, and you can do less now than you would be able to do 20 or 30 years ago,' she says. 'Sometimes they [her critics] were right. Of course now we discover that cigarette is very bad or of course anorexia is very bad. But I think you have less and less freedom and it is very sad because it is fashion. Fashion is supposed to be light and not try too hard.'

 

One story, inspired by Roitfeld's own paranoia about public lavatories, featured a model peeing in a car park. 'When I was going in nightclubs there were cameras in the toilets looking to see if you were taking drugs, so I said, "OK, I will never go to pee in the toilet in a nightclub." I will always prefer to go to pee behind a car. We took a picture like this.' It's not something one can imagine Anna Wintour or Alexandra Shulman, her British counterpart, admitting to. 'It was reality for me,' says Roitfeld. 'It is important to have a sense of humour and always with a certain chic. Even if the girl is peeing behind a car, she is doing it with a chic attitude.' But of course.

 

Things got more serious when, after the release of the December 2010 issue of French Vogue, which was guest-edited by Tom Ford, the magazine was accused of promoting paedophilia. The issue featured an image of a 10-year-old model, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, in high heels and lipstick, posing on a tiger skin, with the headline: 'Quel maquillage a quelle age?' ('What make-up at what age?') This, it is alleged, was Roitfeld's undoing. On 17 December 2010 she announced her resignation. As rumours swirled that Condé Nast had tired of her outré sensibilities Roitfeld gave an interview to the German newspaper Der Spiegel . 'Now it's all about money, results and big business,' she said, adding, 'Ten years is a long time - and especially 10 years in a gilded cage. They were wonderful years, but sooner or later birds want their freedom again.'

 

Today she is more prosaic. 'It's true, you are not free to do the project like we are doing today [with Mac]. You are not free to work with Karl Lagerfeld and the advertising. You are not free to help a designer. So now I can open all the perspective in front of me. I change job so I have a lot of possibility.'

Her new projects in the freelance world are plentiful, and have included guest-editing an issue of V Magazine. Her book Irreverent, a visual history of her work since the early 1990s, was published by Rizzoli last October. She has also collaborated on a book with Lagerfeld, chronicling the history of the iconic Chanel jacket. She has styled the latest two seasons of advertising campaigns for Chanel. 'Lagerfeld always calls me Mme Roitfeld, never Carine. It's funny, he's like a rock star now. You go on the street with him, it's like being with J-Lo,' she says. Then there is the collection for Mac. 'Can you imagine, I am doing beauty shots, and I am a grandma? It's the new trendy thing,' she says.

 

The other new trendy thing is that this month Roitfeld returns to magazine publishing, with her own independent publication, the biannual CR Fashion Book. 'When I started 30 years ago at French Elle, we never do the shoot thinking if Jean Paul Gaultier was advertising or not. We were totally free,' she says. 'But now I understand it is a business and you have to pay attention to the people who put money in your magazine. But there has to be a limit or otherwise you are not a journalist anymore. But this magazine is going to be totally different than what I was doing before, with a new dream team.'

 

Later she says, 'It is a lot of pressure that I put on myself. I could live very quietly, do advertising to earn money.' But she is determined to do things her way. 'The last Joan of Arc of fashion - it will be me.'





 


READ: Prepare for Carine Roitfeld, the documentary

 

READ: Interview, whatever next for Carine Roitfeld?





ai wei wei

 

AI WEIWEI 

NEVER SORRY 

TEASER

 

 

 

 

The first feature length doc on the iconic Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei.

Producer/Director: Alison Klayman 

 

Show your support, and follow the latest on Ai Weiwei at: 

Facebook.com/awwneversorry Twitter.com/

AWWNeverSorry 

http://www.aiweiweifilm.org/

 

 

Every artist has a duty to fight for truth, for freedom, especially of expression 

The battle for him is a constant, despite various attempts by the Chinese government to silence him. The last of which was a real kidnapping. In April 2011, he was picked up by police and held for 81 days in a unknown place. When released, he received a formal caution against making public activity for at least one year. The documentary ends with the artist-hooligan-champion of human-rights lawyer for the voiceless-ironic-actor while singing a song to his followers worldwide. On Twitter, Ai WeiWei has found a second life, that is the way to make open calls and make digital art so completely suited to his artistic life project, where the borders of one overlapping the other, constantly.

 

 

MAKING HINA

the making of

H I N A

 

  
 

 CAILLIE MOASEN ~ EMERE BOPP DUPONT ~ HINATEA BOOSIE ~JENNY TETUANUI

Coming Thursday 3 November

an amateur video by Jayden Heron Black
including Rautea Howan 

 

The Hinano Calendar Shoot, a hymn to the Vahine, has become a much anticipated and unmissable feature for anyone in love with Polynesia... and with Hinano too! For 2012, the calendar’s concept and artistic sense were a creation by photographer   John Stember and advertising agency Pub Conseil.  

 

For 2012, the calendar was a collaboration between advertising agency Pub Conseil and photographer John Stember. The latter, an English artist who has been living in Tahiti for several years, worked on many fashion shoots for internationally renowned magazines; he is the author of “Te Hine Manea”, a book of artistic photography.



 

CADRE NOIR

 

 

CADRE NOIR

alt 

Cadre Noir by Helmut Newton, 1980 | Source: Osborne Samuel
 

NEW YORK, United States — I once began a fashion meeting at French Vogue in Paris with a question to the rest of the team: “Why do we take pictures of clothes?” Everyone just gave me that look and said “Debra!” I know it probably seemed crazy for a fashion editor to say this, but sometimes we need to ask ourselves the question and I think now is a great time to revisit this topic.

Franceline Prat, an editor at French Vogue and a mentor to so many of us, always reminds me that the most important work she did for the magazine was less often inspired by the clothes themselves than by the great stories that she and many of the forces in fashion’s creative ecosystem pulled directly from their own life experiences.

As Franceline said herself, “always remember the great characters you meet in your life, they will inspire you later on and you never know when.” Our own life stories will always be, for fashion, the strongest and most powerful reference of them all.

An example she often cited was the shoot she did with Helmut Newton, inspired by a young lieutenant belonging to the Cadre Noir de Saumor, the elite French mounted cavalry which was stationed not far from where she grew up as a young belle of Nice society. The lieutenant had loved her from afar.

Many years later, trying to think of an idea that would please the very difficult Mr. Newton, she remembered the Cadre Noir and the young lieutenant, the beautiful black horses and the magnificent black uniforms, which were a particular fetish of the photographer. So, 20 years later she called up her young lieutenant (then a colonel!) and said, “Do you remember me? I want to come and do some photographs with you!” Luckily for the history of fashion photography, he agreed.

But today, fashion creatives just don’t seem to be pulling from these kinds of personal stories, neither at the shows nor in the pages of magazines. Collections are hailed for having great “pieces,” but if this becomes the focus, it leaves the rest of fashion’s creative ecosystem starving and unbalanced.

Magazines, like great absurdist theater, whether operatic or minimalist, tell only vague stories, made from carefully art directed still images that leave a lot of blanks for the reader to fill in. Who didn’t want to run off to Greece after seeing Bob Richardson’s romantically gorgeous editorial in French Vogue, a tear running down the girl’s tanned face as she ends her summer romance in the final spread of the editorial? This is what makes storytelling so important. It allows us to fool ourselves into believing that if we purchase the following list of items, or wear our hair a certain way, we too would be jetting off to Greece in no time. And if we just head over to Bergdorf’s, we too can have that life.

Why did this all start to change? Maybe it was because of the rise of celebrity in fashion. Or the focus on “behind the scenes.” Or the practice of referencing upon referencing. Maybe it was the focus publishers put on cross-marketing film and record releases. Or perhaps it was the their relationships with merchants, because, the truth is, for the most part, we now take pictures of clothing in order to optimize merchandising.

It was not so long ago that fashion enjoyed a rich period of more personal storytelling, starring creative forces like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto, Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang — and boy did they put on a show! All of these designers found tremendous inspiration in their own life stories. Then the teams that make up the rest of the ecosystem — from hair and makeup artists to shoemakers, jewelers, set designers and music producers — all contributed to the “mise en scene.” There seemed to be a balance then, between the vagueness that allowed us to dream and the more informational “where can I get that?’ aspect of it all.

While watching The September Issue, the documentary about the making of American Vogue’s September 2007 issue, at first I was honestly perplexed by Grace Coddington’s insistence that Galliano’s costume drama collection was her focus for the season. With all due respect to Mr. Galliano (for whom I do have a great deal of respect), it hardly seemed appropriate that in 2007, he would be the key reference point for the creative director of American Vogue considering the radical change we have seen in the way designers, editors, and photographers work today.

But upon further reflection, it made sense. Ms. Coddington comes from the era of fashion storytelling, which was like a beautiful dance between the couturiers, the models, the art directors, the editors and the photographers. They all lived and waltzed through the same world, where Monsieur Saint Laurent fell in love with The Ballet Russes; where Anna Wintour became enamoured with Mark Morris; where Diana Vreeland herself turned the whole of Vogue into a work of theatre both on the magazine’s pages and in its offices. Ms. Coddington was just going back to what she knew was the best way to tell a fashion story.

Luckily, we do have some great fashion storytellers today. So let’s give credit where credit is due. The Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte bring their hard style ballet costumes to Chelsea art galleries. Scott Sternberg refers to himself, not as a designer, but rather as someone who “makes content.” Thom Browne disrobes flying nuns to reveal exquisite clothing which launches a thousand new ideas on how to present clothing, not just in his theatre, but also how to present them in-store, how to present them in the context of a magazine, and, of course, how to present and use the pieces in the theatre of life, as Daphne Guinness, Anna Piaggi and Anna Dello Russo are more than happy to do. It’s much needed oxygen for the industry.

Debra Scherer has worked at American Vogue, French Vogue and Italian Vogue, where she is currently a contributing editor. 

She is co-founder of The Little Squares.



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