Orchids and Etymology of Desire

‘The overwhelming sensuality of the natural world, whose life force is one of pure desire”

Marc Quinn

 

Etymology of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010. Quinn began his first series of orchids in 2008

 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2015 collection

 

Etymology Of Desire and Prehistory Of Desire (2010) were the centerpiece of the Alexander McQueen women’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris Fashion Week. Cast from real flowers and parading, the orchids meditate on the human obsession of ideal beauty, achieved through the manipulation, modification and control of nature.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely – exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that’s often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

 

The Diary of a Dress: Alexander McQueen Shares the Saga of How One of His Inspirations – A Peter Arnold’s Orchid Photograph – Evolved from Simple Sketch to Production Nightmare to a Stunning Gown Fit for Supermodel Naomi Campbell. Writer: Lisa Armstrong, Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 

Kate Moss wearing an orchid printed Cheongsan by unidentified brand. Vogue USA, January 1997

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A Quick Killing in Art

By Phoebe Hoban

“If you had only twenty-four hours left to live, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I’d go hang out with my mother and my girlfriend, I guess.”

 
 

 
 

Friday, August 12, 1988. On the sidewalk outside 57 Great Jones Street, the usual sad lineup of crack addicts slept in the burning sun. Inside the two-story brick building, Jean-Michel Basquiat was asleep in his huge bed, bathed in blue television light. The air conditioner was broken and the room felt like a microwave oven. The bathroom door was ajar, revealing a glimpse of a black and tan Jacuzzi tub. On the ledge of the tub was a small pile of bloody syringes. There was a jagged hole punched in the bathroom window. Beneath it was scrawled the legend “Broken Heart,” with Basquiat’s favorite punctuation, a copyright sign.

Kelle Inman, Basquiat’s twenty-two-year-old girlfriend, was downstairs writing in the journal that Basquiat had given her. He usually slept all day, but when he still hadn’t come down for breakfast by midafternoon, Inman got worried. When she looked into the bedroom to check up on him, the heat hit her full in the face, like a wave. But Basquiat seemed to be sleeping peacefully, so she went back downstairs. She and the housekeeper heard what sounded like loud snores, but thought nothing of it.

A few hours later, Basquiat’s friend Kevin Bray called. He and Basquiat and another friend, Victor Littlejohn, were supposed to go to a Run-D.M.C. concert that evening, and he wanted to make plans with Jean-Michel. Kelle climbed back up the stair’s to give Basquiat the message. This time, she found him stretched on the floor, his head Jean-Michael on his arm like a child’s, a small pool of vomit forming near his chin.

Inman panicked. She had never seen anyone die, although Basquiat’s drug binges had made the scenario a constant fear. Now it seemed like the worst had happened. She ran to the phone and called Bray, Littlejohn, and Vrej Baghoomian, Basquiat’s last art dealer.

“When I got there,” recalls Bray, “Kelle said she had called an ambulance. She took me upstairs. Jean-Michel looked like he was comfortably out cold. He was on the floor, lying against the wall, as if he had fallen down and didn’t have the strength to get up, and was just taking a nap. There was a lot of clear liquid coming out of his mouth. We picked him up and turned him over. We shook him, and we just kept trying to revive him. It took a long time for the ambulance to arrive. But for a while, after the guys from the Emergency Medical Service came, we thought he was going to be okay. They were giving him shocks and IV treatment. Victor had to hold Jean-Michel up like this so the IV’s would drain,” says Bray, stretching his arms out in a cruciform.

Bray couldn’t take it anymore. He went downstairs, where Inman, and two assistants from the Baghoomian gallery, Vera Calloway and Helen Traversi, were trying to stay calm. “We tried to take his pulse. His skin was so hot,” says Calloway. Baghoomian called the studio just as the paramedics arrived. He was in San Francisco and Helen was forced to act in his stead.

“It was almost like it was some sort of business transaction,” says Bray. “They put a tube in his throat and they brought him downstairs. They wouldn’t tell us whether he was dead or alive and they took him outside. He had this beautiful bubbling red-white foam coming out of his mouth.”

“We all hoped some miracle would happen,” recalls Helen, who begins to cry at the memory. Outside on the pavement, a small crowd had gathered in horror and fascination. “I was about to leave on vacation with my wife,” says filmmaker Amos Poe, who was a friend of the artist. “We watched as they loaded his body into the ambulance. I saw his father pull up in a Saab. I kept saying to my wife. `Jean-Michel is dead.’ He really lived out that whole destructo legend: Die young, leave a beautiful corpse.”

Basquiat was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn five days later. His father invited only a few of the artist’s friends to the closed-casket funeral at Frank Campbell’s; they were outnumbered by the phalanx of art dealers. The heat wave had broken, and it rained on the group gathered at the cemetery to bid Jean-Michel goodbye. The eulogy was delivered by Citibank art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, lending the moment an unintentionally ironic tone.

Blanca Martínez, Basquiat’s housekeeper, was struck by the alienated attitude of the mourners. “They were all standing separately, as if it were an obligation,” she says. “They didn’t seem to care. Some looked ashamed.” People began to leave the cemetery before the body was buried. Ignoring the objections of the gravediggers, Martinez tearfully threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin as they lowered it into the grave.

Basquiat’s mother, Matilde, looking dazed, approached Baghoomian to thank him for his help to her son during his last days. Gerard Basquiat later admonished his former wife not to talk to the art dealer. The scene was already being set for a bitter battle over the estate of the artist.

The following week, appraisers from Christie’s set to work taking inventory of the contents of the Great Jones Street loft: finished and unfinished paintings, other artists’ works (including several dozen Warhols and a piece by William Burroughs), a vintage collection of Mission furniture, a closet full of Armani and Comme des Garcons suits, a library of over a thousand videotapes, hundreds of audiocassettes, art books, a carton of the Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives!, several bicycles, a number of antique toys, an Everlast punching bag, six music synthesizers, some African instruments, an Erector set, and a pair of handcuffs.

There were also a number of paintings in warehouses: following Andy Warhol‘s advice, Basquiat had tried to squirrel some of his work away from his ever-eager art dealers. According to Christie’s, Basquiat had left 917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.

Artist Dan Asher walked by his old friend’s loft and was astonished to see a number of Basquiat’s favorite things in a Dumpster: his shoes, his jazz collection, a peculiar lamp made out of driftwood, Sam Peckinpah‘s director’s chair. Asher salvaged a few items; he sold the chair to a collector.

It would be another year before Gerard Basquiat ordered a tombstone for his son. But for several weeks after the artist’s death, he was commemorated by a small shrine some anonymous fan had placed by his door. Shrouded in lace, it held flowers, votive candles, a picture of Basquiat, some carefully copied prayers, and a Xerox of a David Levine caricature of the artist, complete with a caption: “In an age of limitless options and limiting fears, he still makes poems and paintings to evoke his world.”

A formal memorial service was finally held at Saint Peter’s Church in Citicorp Center, on a stormy Saturday in November. Despite the rain, wind, and bleak gray sky, several hundred people crowded into the church. Behind the pulpit hung a portrait of the artist as a young man, superimposed on one of his faux-primitive paintings. One by one, his former friends and lovers remembered Basquiat.

Gray, the band with which Jean-Michel had played at the Mudd Club, performed several songs. John Lurie played a saxophone solo. Ingrid Sischy, editor of Interview magazine, read a eulogy. Ex-girlfriends Jennifer Goode and Suzanne Mallouk tearfully read poems. And Keith Haring, AIDS-thin, reminisced about his friend. “He disrupted the politics of the art world and insisted that if he had to play their games, he would make the rules. His images entered the dreams and museums of the exploiters, and the world can never be the same.”

Fab 5 Freddy, who knew Basquiat from his old graffiti days, “interpolated” a poem by Langston Hughes. “This is a song for the genius child. Sing it softly, for the song is wild. Sing it softly as ever you can–lest the song get out of hand. Nobody loves a genius child. Can you love an eagle, tame or wild? Wild or tame, can you love a monster, of frightening name? Nobody loves a genius child. Free [sic] him and let his soul run wild.”

After the service, everyone went to M.K., the bank-turned-nightclub on lower Fifth Avenue. Owned by Jennifer Goode’s brother, it was one of Jean-Michel’s favorite places. In fact, it was his last destination the night before he died. He had come to the club looking for Jennifer. Now people stood around the big television set, sipping champagne and watching a flickering black-and-white video of Basquiat. A photographer from Fame magazine snapped pictures of the known and not-so-known: the jewelry designer Tina Chow, and her sister, Adele Lutz, David Byrne‘s wife. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. It was the perfect send-off for the eighties art star; part opening, part wake.

Tribute to Van Gogh on the Catwalk

Yves Saint Laurent, Tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, haute couture collection, Spring-Summer 1988

 
 

Detail of a jacket embroidered by François Lesage

 
 

Saint Laurent and Mr. Lesage recreated the irises and sunflowers of  Van Gogh’s paintings

 
 

Widely known for his use of watercolor, Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous artwork has been transformed into garments and adapted into fashion trends. Van Gogh’s paintings are not always clear and may even appear distorted in order to drag the 19th century art into current times. Although his work may not be directly printed on garments, designers tend to use his color palette in product design and production. Four of his famous creations included the Sunflowers still life series,Blossoming Almond Tree, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and Starry Night.

the sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy from Rodarte, sent out a collection that was one part Sleeping Beauty and another part Vincent Van Gogh. They explained that they fell for the greens and purples of the 1959 animated Disney classic, and asked themselves who else uses colors like that. They found their answer in the Dutch postimpressionist painter beloved by millions.

Those sunflowers appear woven into elaborate Lyons brocades of the type favored by the great mid-century couturiers such as Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior, although the Mulleavys seem to have washed and treated them to deflate some of that sumptuousness. Those optimistic, life-affirming blooms also appear in delicate silk-floss embroideries, scattered over fragile tulle ruffles.

There is more mid- and late-century couture influence in some of the gala shapes: swathed fichu necklines and bodices erupting into buoyant skirts, for instance, and even a Reine Margot bodice or two that seems plucked from the Christian Lacroix archive. But the fertile and poetic Mulleavy imagination grafts these touches onto modernistic effects. Mediterranean skies are lit by a full moon, and a brilliant Milky Way is evoked in gleaming metallic brocades, crystals nestling in the folds of knits, and clunky heeled sandals in reflective-mirror silver. Meanwhile, ruched glove leather, and exaggerated layered peplums and winged sleeves suggest the princess in an Alex Raymond‘s Flash Gordon story.

 
 

Rodarte, Spring-Summer 2012 Ready-to-Wear Collection

 
 

Textures from Rodarte SS 2012 collection

Special Tribute to Liz Tilberis

Harper’s Bazaar, July 1999 issue. Tom Cruise’s cover was the last cover approved by Liz before her death just 3 months prior. All ad revenue went to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Models, photographers, stylists, make-ups artists, etc., donated their time for free. There are no editorials. It is the one issue which features the solidarity of the fashion industry for an icon.

 
 

Illustrations by Karl Lagerfeld

 
 

Obituary by Cartier

 
 

Christy Turlington photographed by Patrick Demarchelier

 
 

Guinevere Van Seenus photographed by Craig McDean, clothes by Yohji Yamamoto

 
 

Naomi Campbell photographed by David Bailey clothes by Versace

 
 

Left: Linda Evangelista illustrated by Mats Gustafsson; Guinevere Van Seenus photographed by Richard Burbridge

 
 

Nikki Uberti photographed by Terry Richardson, clothes by Dolce and Gabbana

 
 

Anne Catherine Lacroix photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadinanne, clothes by Balenciaga

 
 

Erin O’Connor photographed by Patrick Demarchelier., clothes by Calvin Klein

 
 

Natalie Portman photographed by Robert Bromann, clothes by Moschino; Cindy Crawford photographed by Mary Ellen Mark, clothes by Malo; Rita Wilson photographed by Sante D’Orazio; Milla Jovovich photographed by Cliff Watts, clothes by Tommy Hilfiger

The Most-Sought-After Title of the Nineties

Linda Evangelista. Art Direction: Fabien Baron. Photo by Patrick Demarchelier. It was the first issue from Liz Tilberis at Harper’s Bazaar. September 1992

 
 

Sex and design, not that long ago, were total strangers—at least in magazines. You could have sex and fashion, as Helmut Newton had memorably proved in Vogue, and you could have fashion and design, as Alexey Brodovitch, Harper’s Bazaar’s legendary art director from 1934 to 1958, had shown. But Fabien Baron’s remarkable 1992 redesign of Bazaar, under editor Liz Tilberis, brought them together under one elegant, sensuous roof. Baron also introduced art-world and European photographers (Mario Testino, David Sims, Cindy Sherman, Craig McDean, Mario Sorrenti, Raymond Meier, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin) to the fashion world for the first time, permanently altering our perception of what a fashion photographer does.

Baron grew up in Paris, the son of a magazine art director. He came to New York at 23; his first magazine job was at GQ, in 1982, where Bruce Weber was making his name. By the late eighties, he was multitasking prodigiously, producing Barneys’ famous ads with Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell, and working on Franca Sozzani’s Italian Vogue and Ingrid Sischy’s Interview, all at the same time. By 1992, when he landed at Bazaar, he was a ubiquitous design star.

And a new kind of star at that: a “creative director,” which in short order became the most-sought-after (and then clichéd) title of the nineties. “I was the first person to have that title,” he says. “I didn’t want to be just the art director!”

The Elegant Portraiture of Timothy Greenfield Sanders

“For many photographers, fashion is the ultimate. But I’m not a fashion photographer. I’m a portrait artist who shoots fashion”

Timothy Greenfield Sanders

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Pauline Trigère

 
 

Sonia Rykiel

 
 

Rei Kawakubo

 
 

Todd Oldham

 
 

Jean Muir

 
 

Elsa Peretti

 
 

Paloma Picasso

 
 

Carolina Herrera

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice

 
 

Oscar De la Renta

 
 

Jil Sander

 
 

Vera Wang

 
 

Donna Karan

 
 

Naomi Campbell

 
 

Christy Turlington

 
 

Andre Leon Talley

 
 

Liz Tilberis

 
 

Anna Wintour

 
 

Simon Doonan

 
 

Iké Udé

 
 

Hamish Bowles

 
 

Betsey Johnson

 
 

Miguel Adrover

 
 

Patrick Robinson

 
 

Zac Posen

 
 

Michael Kors

 
 

Narciso Rodríguez

 
 

Calvin Klein

 
 

Tommy Hilfiger

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi

A Behind-the-Seams Look at the World of High Fashion

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi can make things out of tulle or nubuck, but his most fabulous creation is the one he has made of flesh and blood. It is Mr. Mizrahi’s hilarious, happily Napoleonic personality that makes such a treat of Unzipped, Douglas Keeve‘s crafty valentine to the fashion world in general and this irrepressible designer in particular.

And intimacy with his subject — as both a fashion photographer and Mr. Mizrahi’s former lover — only heightens Mr. Keeve’s acuity rather than compromising his perspective. Of course in terms of objectivity, it helps that Unzipped has nothing to do with state secrets and everything to do with fake fur.

A smart, spiky documentary with just the right running time (76 minutes), Unzipped appreciates not only the loony excess that makes fashion such a high-stakes adventure, but also the monomania of Mr. Mizrahi’s creative process. Who else watches The Call of the Wild (William A. Wellman, 1935) and obsesses about the lip-liner on Loretta Young? As Mr. Mizrahi explains to the camera, if you’re going to freeze on the tundra, you might as well do it with your makeup un smudged.

A little while later, he is skillfully trying out the same anecdote on Polly Allen Mellen, a fashion arbiter who is enough to out-doyenne any and all of the characters in Robert Altman‘s Ready-to-Wear. (Comparisons between the two films are invidious but unavoidable. For electricity and fun, not to mention fashion sense, this one comes out miles ahead.) Ms. Mellen listens to Mr. Mizrahi in ways that make it clear his charm is working, and that charm counts for everything in this universe. For her part, Ms. Mellen advises him to “Be careful of makeup; be careful!” She sounds solemn enough to be warning Caesar about the ides of March.

Unzipped is filled with such telling moments and lively walk-ons, not only by power-brokers and Mr. Mizrahi’s business associates, but also by the celebrities who give the designer’s world its spark. It’s no small measure of Mr. Mizrahi’s talents as a born entertainer that he can chitchat easily with gorgeous, scene-stealing supermodels (Cindy Crawford talks about her pores, Naomi Campbell about her navel ring, Kate Moss about appearing in her underwear, etc.) and leave no doubt about who is the star of this show.

Unzipped is neatly structured to follow Mr. Mizrahi through the creation of a single collection, which begins in disaster. When first seen, he is crushed by reviews of his last designs (“Certainly his sense of how a modern woman dresses after 8 P.M. failed him”) and is about to start again at square one. The film understands that this process can look silly while being deadly serious. And it enjoys watching while a man who loves his work and lives vividly in his imagination — a fun place to be — tries out ideas. He’s not even really kidding when he daydreams about a fake-fur jumpsuit, perfect for dog-walking, that could work in one of two environments: Alaska or the Upper East Side.

Mr. Mizrahi is seen auditioning models, talking fabrics, working on sketches and gossiping madly about everyone he meets. (He does a dandy impersonation of Eartha Kitt, whose real presence is smoothly intercut with the Mizrahi version.) Throughout all of this, it’s also clear that he is driven rather than frivolous, controlling his employees and the camera crew with equal precision. When one scene finds him ambushed by upsetting news — Jean-Paul Gaultier has done a Nanook look before the completion of the Mizrahi version — he simply puts his face in his hands and refuses to move. That’s not as good as yelling “Cut!,” but it’s the next best thing.

The candor of Unzipped may be as contrived as the pouf skirts, but that doesn’t lessen its appeal. After all, in what other culture can you overhear people saying “punk and Hasidic” and have the slightest idea what they mean? (They mean a fashion gaffe by Jean-Paul Gaultier.) Even the film’s carefully controlled scenes can be revealing, as in its glimpses of Sarah Mizrahi, who beams at her boy and says “My Isaac made this” with motherly pride. She is all maternal encouragement until, when teased by Isaac, she insists: “That’s not funny at all. I have a very good eye.”

(Only Mary Tyler Moore in her Mary Richards days seems to rival Isaac’s mother as a feminine influence on him. Whatever that means, this film knows enough to leave it unexplained.)

Edited to capture the mounting drama of staging a collection, and filmed by Ellen Kuras in a fluent variety of camera styles (grainy black and white to accentuate the workaday fashion world, exuberant color for the finished clothes), Unzipped builds its tension until it reaches the big day. It looks on as Mr. Mizrahi changes from life of the party into drill sergeant, frantically finishing the clothes and insisting on a see-through ballet scrim to partly shield the models who are backstage. That idea itself becomes a theatrical triumph.

Then the crowd gathers and the show begins. It is alluringly “insane with color” (as Women’s Wear Daily will later gush), and yes, it is exciting enough to make sense of this whole enterprise. You may recall that Ready-to-Wear tried to lend thrills and meaning to this crowning moment by sending models down the runway stark naked. But Unzipped doesn’t have to be that unzipped. It knows why clothes work better.

Fashion’s Favorite Son

Portrait by Russel Wong, taken in Raffles Hotel, Singapore, 1997

 
 

“A kind of Seventh Avenue Oscar WildeTime magazine called Isaac Mizrahi in 1998, after the shocking news broke that the superstar designer was closing up shop. The dimming of lights at Isaac Mizrahi & Co. marked the end of a spectacular run for the Brooklyn native, who had been a fashion and media darling since his first rave reviews more than a decade before.

 
 

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Naomi Campbell, Isaac Mizrahi and Linda Evangelista. Photo by Mario Testino

 
 

Beloved both on and off the runway, the mop-haired raconteur was already a household name when he made a charmingly manic appearance in the fashion documentary Unzipped. By trailing the designer as he prepared his fall 1994 collection (conceived with the help of an Ouija board), Douglas Keeve offered a tantalizing peek behind fashion’s velvet curtain in his film. But not even the king-size force of Mizrahi’s character was enough to sustain the ride. Though his couture-luxe line of candy-color (“Pink! The new beige!”) sequined slip dresses and mink-trimmed ball skirts was admired by critics and Park Avenue princesses alike, his star was destined to fall. Isaac Mizrahi, the personality, was, it appeared, bigger than Isaac Mizrahi the brand.

 
 

Dress from Ready to Wear Spring 2012 collection

But after spending several years on other creative endeavors (including a one-man stage production, Les MIZrahi, and a talk show), the buoyant designer that Vogue once called “Fashion’s Favorite Son” was itching to get back to his first love.

 
 

The polymath Isaac Mizrahi in his studio in Manhattan. Photo: Damon Winter

 
 

In 2003 he surprised the industry by announcing a multicategory deal with Target. Kicking the Mizrahi machine into high gear, he spun straw into gold, raking in as much as $300 million in annual sales for the bargain retailer and paving the way for it to forge lucrative partnerships with other high-profile designers. Meanwhile, Mizrahi was also working at the opposite end of the price spectrum, indulging in glorious fabrics and flamboyant silhouettes with a new haute couture line for Bergdorf Goodman. In a landmark 2004 show, Mizrahi helped popularize the high-low concept by pairing pieces from his two new lines on the same runway. “My goal is that you won’t always be able to tell the difference between what is Target and what is couture,” he said. “If it freaks out a few people now, it will turn them on a few months from now.” The risky proposition paid off, and a trend—populuxe, or luxury for all—was born.

In 2009, Mizrahi applied his golden thimble to the ailing Liz Claiborne brand with a fresh injection of his signature brights and prints. And in 2010 the tireless dynamo launched a collection for the shopping channel QVC, with a broad spectrum of products from jewelry and hats to cheesecakes adorned with his favorite tartans and polka dots.

Running like a thread through all these projects is a philosophy of bringing out the best and brightest from within his customers. To borrow the advertising slogan from his Isaac line: “Inside every woman is a star.”

 
 

Mizrahi and Cindy Crawford. Still from Unzipped

The Brit Pack

From left: Stella Tennant in Stella McCartney, Cecilia Chancellor in Luella Bartley, Erin O’Connor in John Galliano, Jacquetta Wheeler in Nicole Farhi, Naomi Campbell in Julien Macdonald, Liberty Ross in Clements Ribeiro, Kate Moss in Hussein Chalayan, Elizabeth Jagger in Russell Sage and Philip Treacy, Jade Parfitt in Paul Smith, Rosemary Ferguson in Markus Lupfer, Jasmine Guinness in Boyd, Lisa Ratcliffe in Sophia Kokosalaki, Karen Elson in Betty Jackson, Georgina Cooper in Antonio Berardi, Alek Wek in Belville Sassoon by Lorcan Mullany, Sophie Dahl in Matthew Williamson, Vivien Solari in Robert Cary-Williams and Jodie Kidd in Vivienne Westwood. Photo by Mario Testino for Vogue, January 2002

Marc Jacob’s Favorite Muses

Louis Vuitton Handbags by Marc Jacobs, Spring-Summer 2014 collection

 
 

Louis Vuitton celebrates outgoing creative director Marc Jacobs’ new campaign starring his favorite muses. This campaign is Jacobs’ final one for Vuitton. Portraits of French actress Catherine Deneuve, American director Sofia Coppola, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing and French model Caroline de Maigret form part of the mix. British model Edie Campbell, who opened Jacobs’ last show and who scooped the Model of the Year prize at this year’s British Fashion Awards, was also cast. Photos were shot by Steven Meisel with makeup by Pat McGrath and hair by Guido Palau.

V.I.P.’s (Very Important Portraits) by Roxanne Lowit

Roxanne Lowit is one of the pioneers of behind-the-scenes fashion photography as we know it today. “For the first 10 to 15 years I was the only one shooting backstage at all the shows. I had no credentials to begin with but quickly realised that that was my métier, that’s what I found most fascinating.”

The revelation came when she was gifted an Instamatic camera while still attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York studying Textile Design. At the time Lowit was a keen painter, but with this new tool discovered a more efficient way of capturing the spirit of her subjects. “I wanted to paint the people I admired but nobody had the time, so I thought I’d take a photograph of them and work from the photograph,” she says. “However, once I took the photograph I realised that I didn’t need to capture the whole soul in a painting. So I traded in my paintbrushes for a camera.”

Her background in textile design became her backstage pass when she was invited by the designers who worked from her patterns to photograph the completed garments before their shows. Eventually word got out that Lowit’s images were something worth publishing, and in 1978 she was contacted by Annie Flanders from the SoHo News. “She heard that I was going to Paris so she said ‘if you get a real camera I’ll use your pictures when you get back’. I learnt how to put film in a real camera on the plane on the way over. Next thing I was on the top of the Eiffel Tower shooting with Yves Saint Laurent and Andy Warhol. It was all downhill from there because how could it get any better?”

But things did get better, much better. After that first trip to Paris doors flung open for Lowit and her career as a backstage fashion photographer gained swift momentum. As industry insiders came to know and love her, the invitations to the parties flooded in, which was where much of the magic happened in front of Lowit’s lens. The 80s were heady times for fashion and she was always there, stationed in the fray, ready to catch the fanfare, frivolities and outright excess as it happened. “It was phenomenal,” she recalls. “We had the Supermodels and all those designers who loved the Supermodels. There were great parties – Elton John was always there and all sorts of celebrities started coming to the shows and parties.”

These days Lowit finds the more homogenised collections produced by contemporary designers as a result of an increasingly commercialised fashion industry much less inspiring, but revels in rising to the challenge all the same. “I usually play a game with myself, how good can I make this look?” she laughs. “But really it’s just about taking a great picture and finding a great moment. It’s always exciting to think, where am I going to go and what am I going to shoot next?”For the fashion designers themselves, as Lowit recalls, it was a time of tremendous creative freedom, where their unique artistic vision was nurtured by the industry and experimentation was encouraged. The shows, it seems, were less about selling clothes and more about the artistry, theatre and spectacle of it all. “It was so much more creative back then. You didn’t need a name at the end of the runway to know who it was you were watching,” she tells me. “When you saw long red nails with vampish clothes and great big hair you knew it was Thierry Mugler. When you saw flower dresses and a girl on a horse you knew you were at Kenzo. Stripes and knits, you were at Sonia Rykiel.”

Lowit gets a kick out of shooting just about anyone who gets a kick out of being shot. “All the pictures I’ve taken are important to me. They’re all like my children. It’s always the next image I look forward to. But looking back I think my favourites are the ones where the people just enjoyed having their picture taken – they were just having a good time. That’s really when I can capture something great.”

 
 

Roxanne Lowit, Andy Warhol, Jacqueline and Julian Schnabel, Kenny Scharf, Jean Michel Basquiat

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld

 
 

Helena Christensen, Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour

 
 

Diana Vreeland

 
 

Ralph Lauren and Diana Vreeland

 
 

Salvador Dalí, Janet Daly and the recipient of a kiss

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton

 
 

Peter Lindbergh, Arthur Elgort and Patrick Demarchelier

 
 

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

 
 

Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell

 
 

Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista

 
 

>Manolo Blahnik and Anna Piaggi

 
 

Lauren Hutton and a chauffeur

 
 

Elton John in concert wearing the Donald Duck costume, Central Park, New York

 
 

Shalom Harlow

 
 

Amanda Lepore

 
 

Halston

 
 

John Galliano

 
 

Annabelle Neilson Rothschild and John Galliano

 
 

Backstage from Dior Show, Paris

 
 

Kate Moss and John Galliano

 
 

Kate Moss

 
 

Ellen Von Unwerth and Mario Testino

 
 

Herb Ritts, Christy Turlington and Steven Meisel

Life Becomes Them

In her formative years, Monica Bellucci’s most intimate desire was to follow in the footsteps of Gina Lollobrigida, Silvana Mangano, Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren, four Italian muses that, (as she finally also achieved) became magnificent actresses in their country and abroad. Monica began her modeling career at Elite+ Models Agency working with several important brands like Revlon.

 
 

The Most Unforgettable Women in the World Wear Revlon, Ad Campaign phots by Richard Avedon, 1989

 
 

Legendary filmmaker Dino Risi (who directed movies starring by Monica Vitti, Sophia Loren and Ornella Mutti) offered her a leading role in 1990’s Vita coi Figli. Francis Ford Coppola, after watching photos of her in a portfolio offered her a small but arresting cameo in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Bellucci played one of Dracula’s brides who, in one particularly erotic scene, practically devoured Jonathan Harker, the fictional character performed by Keanu Reeves.

 
 

Producer Franco Rossellini, Isabella’s cousin, also appears in the Ad Campaign

 
 

By that time, Steven Meisel made this Dolce Gabbana’s Spring Summer Collection 1992 Ad Campaign inspired by La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), depicting playful mischief and self-indulgence behaviors along glittery outfits. The collection higlighted the trends of that season: short dresses, embroidered accents, bustiers with lifelike flowers, along with D&G’s stylistic signatures over the years, lingerie, lace and so on.

 
 

Goldie Hawn wearing a costume for the frisky photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz. Vanity Fair, March 1992.

 
 

Isabella Rossellini began her career as a model at 28, photographed by Bruce Weber for British Vogue. From 1982 to 1996, she became the exclusive face of Lancôme. Around October 1992, Rossellini made appearances in two of Madonna’s projects: her outrageous book Sex and the Erotica music video.

 
 

British Vogue cover by Bruce Weber, circa 1982

 
 

Lancôme Ads

 
 

That same year, in Death Becomes Her (Robert Zemeckis, 1992) she played Lisle, a mysterious, wealthy socialite who seems to be in her thirties. However, Lisle discloses her true age as 71, and reveals to Madeline (Meryl Streep) the secret of her beauty: a potion that promises eternal life and an ever-lasting youthful appearance. It has been said that after her appearance in that film, Lancôme was considering not renewing their contract with Rossellini.

 
 

Death Becomes Her Theatrical movie poster

 
 

 
 

The comedic film, Cactus Flower (Gene Saks, 1969) marked the return of Ingrid Bergman (Isabella Rossellini’s mother) to the movies. This, her first role in a comedy, garnered critical praise. Goldie Hawn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.