IMAGINE

From left: Anne (Russia) in dress and hat, Nina Ricci. Blouse, Miguel Adrover. Natasha (former Yugoslavia) in bodice, Imitation of Christ. Blouse, Prada. Petticoat, What Comes Around Goes Around. Jeans, Levi’s. Headscarf, Dolce & Gabbana. Socks, Gaultier Paris. Liliana (Mexico) in jacket, Dolce & Gabbana. Stripped jeans, Christian Dior. Hair pieces, M.S. Schmalberg. Kae (Japan) in  kimono Jean-Paul Gaultier. Dress, Salvatore Ferragamo. Aline (Japan and Brazil) in top and pants  Gaultier Paris. Audrey (France) in dress Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture. Stella (UK) in jacket Dolce & Gabbana. Tank Michael Stars. kilt, Gold Label by Vivienne Westwood. Carmen (Estonia) in dress Miu Miu. Alek (Sudan) in pants Giorgio Armani. Jewelry, Craft Caravan. Karolina (Czech Republic) in dress, Marc Jacobs.

 
 

From left: Lya (Ethiopia) in dress, Christian Dior Haute Couture.  Anouck (Belgium) in jacket and skirt, Veronique Branquinho. Madelaine (Spain) in jacket and dress, Gaultier Paris. Sharon (Israel) in caftan, Missoni. Marcelle (Brazil) in bikini Tom Ford for Gucci. Headdress, Pau Brasil. Rohini (India) in skirt OMO Norma Kamali. Rings, Chanel Haute Couture. Bracelets, Erickson Beamon. Maggie (USA) in top OMO Norma Kamali. Miniskirt, Dolce & Gabbana. Mariacarla (Italy) in dress Dolce & Gabbana. Pin, J.M. Schmalberg. Mini (Sweden) in blouse, Dolce & Gabbana. Corset, OMO Norma Kamali. Skirt, Miguel Adrover. Boots, Prada.

 
 

Fashion editorial inspired by John Lennon‘s song. Photos by Patrick Demarchelier. Harper’s Bazaar, December 2001

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A Key Motif in Dior’s Fashions

Monsieur Christian Dior and his gardener, date unknown

 
 

The story began in 1906 in the hills above Granville in Normandy within the gardens on the property where the Dior family had recently settled. Around the villa, Christian Dior‘s mother built a lush garden from the ground up combining rare species of plants. It was young Christian who created and designed the rose garden. Throughout his life, the rose remained his favourite flower. It was key motif in his fashions (featured in prints, embroidery, brocades, etc.) and an essential note in his fragrances. Furthermore, the very name of his childhood home – les Rhumbs – is also a subtle reference to the rose: it defines the cardinal divisions of space, which in French is called ‘la rose des vents’, or windrose. Therefore, the rose, which was so vital to the life and work of the designer, has also become essential to Dior Jewellery collections such as Rose Dior Bagatelle.

Ever since, each designer at Masion Dior (Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and Raf Simons) had followed the tradition of including roses in the collections for this iconic French brand, whether in prints, accesories or even on a showstopping stage.

 
 

Rose de France afternoon dress in taffeta with colored rose print, Spring-Summer 1956 Haute Couture collection, Ligne Flèche (Arrow Line)

 
 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Roses Mousseuses influenced the rose print

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice wearing Dior by Yves Saint Laurent. Photo: Richard Avedon, 1957

 
 

Madrileña Dress of floating pale gray faille, Dior by Marc Bohan. Alexandre of Paris coiffure. Photo by Richard Avedon for Harper’s Bazaar, December 1960

All The World Is a Stage

Take a Bow is a midtempo pop ballad with a “Sukiyaki”-like Japanese touch, performed by American singer-songwriter Madonna. It was released as the Bedtime Stories‘ second single on October 28, 1994. The song also appears on her compilation albums Something to Remember (1995), GHV2 (2001) and Celebration (2009).

Following the release Madonna’s first book publication, Sex, the erotic thriller, Body of Evidence, and the album, Erotica, in the early 1990s, the media and public’s backlash against Madonna’s overtly sexual image was at a peak. Released in early March, 1994, her first musical release after Erotica was the tender ballad I’ll Remember from the soundtrack of the film With Honors. When Madonna appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on March 31, 1994 to promote the single, her coarse language and behavior—which was provocative, seemingly random at times, full of double entendres (at one point asking Letterman to sniff her panties), profanities, and ended with a refusal to leave the set—caused yet another large public controversy. Following this, Madonna decided to tone down her image and move her career into a new direction. Musically, she explored new-jack R&B styles with a generally mainstream, radio-friendly sound. This new R&B sound was reflected in Bedtime Stories. For Take a Bow, Madonna wanted a more “romantic vein” so she worked with Babyface on the track because he had proved himself to be very successful in his previous works with smooth R&B, working with other artists such as Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, and Toni Braxton.

The chorus expresses the theme of saying goodbye to a lover who had taken her for granted. The title plays upon the verse in the song “all the world is a stage and everyone has their part,” a reference to the line by William Shakespeare in his play As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women mere players”. In his book Madonna: An Intimate Biography, J. Randy Taraborrelli describes the song as a “somber, sarcastic, all-the-world’s-a-stage song about unrequited love… [about a subject] whose phoniness might have fooled everyone else, but not her.” He goes on to say that in the song Madonna tells the subject of her unrequited love to take a bow for “rendering a great, transparent performance in life and love.”

The music video for Take a Bow was directed by Michael Haussman, and is a lavish period-style piece filmed from November 3–8, 1994 in Ronda and in the bullring of Antequera, Spain. It was outfitted by famed stylist Lori Goldstein who received the VH1 Fashion and Media award for best styling. The plot, set in the 1940s, depicts Madonna as a neglected lover of a bullfighter, played by real-life Spanish bullfighter Emilio Muñoz. Madonna’s character yearns for the bullfighter’s presence, with erotic heartbreak. A total of three different bulls were used during the production of the music video. It generated controversy with animal rights activists who accused the singer of glorifying bullfighting.

 
 

 
 

In the video Madonna wears fitted, classic suits by British fashion designer John Galliano. In an interview with MTV’s Kurt Loder on the set of the music video, Madonna said that when she was initially writing Take a Bow the inspiration for the song was an actor, but she wanted the male character in the video to be to be a matador instead because she wanted the video to be about an “obsessive, tragic love story that doesn’t work out in the end” and a matador would be more visually effective in expressing the emotion of the song. The style of the music video has been compared to Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar‘s 1986 film Matador, starring Antonio Banderas.  The music video for Madonna’s 1995 single You’ll See is considered a follow up to the Take a Bow music video, as Madonna and Emilio Muñoz reprise their roles. In that video Madonna’s character walks out on Munoz’s (bullfighter) character, leaving him behind in despair. Madonna’s character is then seen on the train and later on a plane, while Munoz’s character tries to catch up with her in vain.

Madonna requested that Haussman give the video a Spanish theme because, at the time, she was lobbying for the role of Eva Perón in the film version of Evita. She subsequently sent a copy of the video to director Alan Parker as a way of “auditioning” for the role. Madonna eventually won the role of Perón.

The music video for Take a Bow inspired Justin Timberlake‘s video for SexyBack (Michael Haussman, 2006) and was later tributed by Britney Spears‘ video for “Radar” (Dave Meyers, 2009). Madonna won Best Female Video honors at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards for the Take a Bow music video. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction in a Video, but lost to Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson‘s Scream.

To watch Take a Bow music video, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hlt

The Richard Avedon of Asia

Self-portrait

 
 

Russel Wong is a Singapore-born Hollywood celebrity photographer. He had his primary and secondary education at Anglo-Chinese School. His celebrity portraits have earned him celebrity status. He is heralded as “the Richard Avedon of Asia” –an association Wong doesn’t seem to mind.

Like Avedon, Wong creates stunning portraits that are minimal, dramatic, and brilliantly composed. However, his photographs lack the cool indifference and stiffness of Avedon’s work; instead, the imagery is warm, personal, engaging.

Where does that gift comes from? “It’s difficult to explain”, he begins. “When I shoot someone, I feel like I’m dancing. The idea I’m working with is equivalent to the melody I hear in my head… then I improvise what that song’s ups and downs. I often try something wild at the end.”

The legendary celebrity-photographer the late Richard Avedon [1923-2004] had once sharply noted ‘my portraits are more about me than about the people I photograph’. This observation from the towering figure who chiselled his reputation on photographing the celebrated and the powerful suggests that the portrait-image could reveal as much about the photographer as it does the sitter-subject – or more. Russel Wong [b. 1961-] who (as stated before) has been christened the Richard Avedon of Asia by the popular media, wields an inventory of celebrity portraits that would exhaust most name-droppers. Joining the tradition of celebrity photographers like Avedon, Annie Leibovitz [1949-] Helmut Newton [1920-2004] and Herb Ritts [1952-2002], Wong’s practice ruptures the slender line between celebrity photography and fine art. Whilst some critics banish this genre as a soft art form shaped by the pressures and demands of celebrity publicity machines, most agree that this species of photography remains one of the most potent and most difficult to commandeer. It is one thing to wrestle for access to celebrities and quite another feat to persuade strong self-willed celebrities who are well-acquainted with camera tactics to trust if not share, one’s vision.

Several pivotal shifts in Wong’s practice occurred after his enrollment in the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1984 for a fine art degree (Photography). There he encountered tutors and mentors whose personal charisma and professional triumphs exerted great influence over his formative development. In his second year, Wong made a 4-month ‘immersion trip’ to Milan, Italy – ‘the Mecca, where all aspiring fashion photographers go to, and where all the big-name photographers pay their dues’ [Russel Wong, interview 2004]. Wong learnt the language, ate the food and hung out at the Italian fashion cafes, like The White Bear, where models and photographers congregated. Most importantly, his photographic style and approach changed radically, and these shifts were not lost on his mentors. Amongst these was Paul Jasmin [1935-], the renowned fashion designer and photographer who worked with Vogue and Interview. Jasmin introduced Wong to his agent who also represented Herb Ritts.

The agent subsequently became Wong’s first agent in his career – opening the doors to major magazine assignments. Another seminal figure was Antonio Lopez [1943-1987] the flamboyant Puerto Rican fashion illustrator noted for his portraits of Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange and Grace Jones. Lopez, a cult figure in the circles, had in the 1970s, run a Paris salon with Karl Lagerfeld for fashion celebrities. Lopez noted Wong’s work and connected Wong to the remarkable photographer Art Kane [1925-1995] who had photographed The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan among others.

“Antonio said, ‘Go to New York. I will help you!’ He invited me to his New York studio in Union Square and he called up a bunch of photographers. At the point when Antonio introduced me to Art Kane, I was ready to be an assistant, intern, anything. I didn’t really care, because I just wanted to see what it was like to do real photographic work in a New York loft.
I would have waited tables, carried the photographer’s lights, made coffee… you name it. But it turned out that I didn’t have to do any of that. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I didn’t have to assist any photographer on my way up. They liked my work, and it all began.”
[Russel Wong, interview 2004]

 
 

Antonio Lopez

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Isabella Rossellini

 
 

Kenzo Takada

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Oliver Stone

 
 

Joan Chen

 
 

John Galliano

 
 

Cindy Crawford

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

Patriot Model

Kate Moss photographed by Terry O’Neill, 1995

 
 

Photos by Richard Chambury, taken  at the launch of London Fashion Week, September 25, 1997

 
 

 

Union Jack Jacket by John Galliano

 
 

Moss in a leather corset, sheer top, and Union Jack flag – makes a brief appearance in Cast & Crew in the October 2009 issue of Vogue UK

 
 

Dazed and Confused, May 2007 issue. Cover photo by Rankin

Hopes and Glory

The Union Jack cap is paired with a leather and horsehair hat by Soren Bach. The black embroidered tulle and lace dress is from Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano

 
 

The vintage Russell Sage Union Jack jacket joins forces with a short tulle dress hand embroidered with guipure and silk taffeta from Elie Saab Couture

 
 

Looking patriotic in makeshift Union Jack trousers by Katie Eary, worn with a Jean-Paul Gaultier’s beaded Deco top

 
 

Images of Kate Moss by Mario Testino, Vogue,  October 2008

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

Muhammad Ali as The Patron Saint of Sports

“The April 1968 Esquire cover of Muhammad Ali posing as the martyr St. Sebastian was one of the most iconic images of the decade, tying together the incendiary issues of the Vietnam War, race and religion. The image is so powerful that some people of a certain age remember where they were when they saw it for the first time. “

Associated Press

 

 
 

Muhammad Ali posing as Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of sports

 
 

SOURCE OF INSPIRATION

 
 

Saint Sebastian,  Francesco di Giovanni Botticini, ca. 1446–1497

 
 

 
 

“In 1967, Muhammad Ali, the world’s heavyweight champion, refused induction into the Army. He had converted to Islam, and under the tutelage of Eliah Muhammad he became a Black Muslim minister. When Cassius Clay became a Muslim, he had also become a martyr. In 1968, while he was waiting for his appeal to reach the Supreme Court, I wanted to pose as St. Sebastian, modeled after the 15th-century painting by Botticini that hangs in the Metropolitan. I contacted Ali and explained this idea and he agreed to fly to New York to pose. At the studio, I showed him a postcard of the painting to illustrate the stance. He studied it with enormous concentration. Suddenly he blurted out, “Hey George, this cat’s a Christian!” I blurted back, “Holy Moses, you’re right Champ!” I explained to Ali that St. Sebastian was a Roman soldier who survived execution by arrows for converting to Christianity. He was then clubbed to death, and has gone down in history as the definitive martyr. Before we could affix any arrows to Ali, he got on the phone with his religious leader, Eliah Muhammad. Ali explained the painting in excruciating detail. He was concerned about the propriety of using a Christian source for the portrayal of his martyrdom. He finally put me, a non-practicing Greek Orthodox, on the phone. After a lengthy theological discussion Eliah gave me his okay. I exhaled and we shot this portrait of a deified man against the authorities. When I saw the first transparency, I believe my exact words to photographer Carl Fischer were “Jesus Christ, it is a masterpiece” Esquire had a sensational cover, and it was reproduced and sold as protest poster. Three years later the Supreme Court unanimously threw out Ali’s conviction. Allah be praised!”

George Lois

 
 

Around that time, Esquire had been featuring controversial covers dreamt up by George Lois, a former ad man. Lois has been widely credited for shaping a generational shift that reflected a turbulent era’s need for change, but he didn’t act alone. For fourteen years, starting in 1963, Carl Fischer consistently photographed the Esquire covers capturing the decade’s revolutionary changes during a time of an unwanted war, a sexual revolution, and a demand for civil rights.

 
 

 
 

We worked over the telephone. Lois never made layouts, never made drawings for the covers. He just had the idea of what the cover should be and he would call up and say, “We have a story about Ali and the fact that he lost his title. Why don’t we do something with him as Saint Sebastian?” And that’s the way it worked on all the covers. I would work out the problems of how to do it and Lois would sometimes show up at the shoots if they were in New York, which was the case here.

I had the arrows made by a model-maker in New York. I assumed we’d paste them on and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, when you pasted the arrows on, they hung down. They didn’t stay horizontally as they should. So we made an elaborate device; we put a pole above Ali and hung monofilament lines, little fishing lines, from each arrow up to the pole. You could see the lines, slightly, on the final print, and they were retouched out. But they were hard to see because they were thin and transparent.

 
 

 
 

Nowadays, we wouldn’t have had that problem; we would’ve put the arrows in [digitally]. But at the time, they had to be pasted on him physically. It was a long, boring process. Ali had to hold the position for an hour.

Carl Fischer

 
 

SUCCESORS

 
 

Tom Cruise. Radar magazine, September/October 2006

 
 

“Sebastien Moura is St Sebastian” in Refresh.  June/July 2007. Photo by Aleksandar Tomovic

 
 

John Galliano. Esquire magazine 75th anniversary (2009)

 
 

Stephen Colbert. August 2009 issue

 
 

October 2009 issue. Ricky Gervais chose to restage a 1968 cover shot of Ali cover which showed boxer with six arrows piercing in his body

 
 

Esquire UK, 20th anniversary (2011)

Portraits of a Red Haired Lady

Hand-painted dress and platforms by special order, Dior Haute Couture

 
 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt, 1907

 
 

 The first of two portraits Gustav Klimt painted of Bloch-Bauer, it has been referred to as the final and most fully representative work of his golden phase. Klimt took three years to complete the painting; preliminary drawings for it date from 1903/4. It is made of oil and gold on canvas, showing elaborate and complex ornamentation as seen in the Jugendstil style. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that broke away from the traditional way of painting. The picture was painted in Vienna and commissioned by Adele’s husband Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. As a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in the sugar industry, he sponsored the arts and favored and supported Gustav Klimt. Adele Bloch-Bauer became the only model who was painted twice by Klimt when he completed a second picture of her, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912.

 
 

Sweater and skirt, Calvin Klein

 
 

Woman with a Fan (Madame Lunia Czechowska), Amedeo Modigliani, 1919

 
 

Amedeo Modigliani painted this–one of ten portraits he did of this sitter–one year before his death and three years after he’d met the lovely Lunia Czechowska (1895-after 1970). The Polish woman and her husband, Casimir, were old friends of Modigliani’s patron/dealer Leopold Zborowski. Despite the facts that Lunia was very much married in 1916 and “Modi” would shortly become involved with Jeanne Hébuterne, or that the two women became so friendly that one took care of the other’s out-of-wedlock daughter, only his death caused the artist to cease attempting to seduce Lunia.

Here he shows his firm friend posed gracefully, her seated body in its yellow dress forming lithe curves against the scarlet background. Later in life, Czechowska vividly recalled sitting for Modi as he drank cheap brandy, sang, lapsed into Italian and, eventually, fell so far into the act of painting that he became oblivious to the presence of another human being. And then, there she was on canvas, left with ” … the impression of having the soul laid bare and of being in the strange position of being able to do nothing to disguise her feelings.” In hindsight, it all sounds rather more seductive than a physical seduction.

 
 

Corset, Bottega Veneta

 
 

The Cripple, John Currin, 1997

 
 

Norman Bryson opens the brilliant, anxious essay he wrote for the lavish book on John Currin with an admission: ‘When I first saw Currin’s The Cripple, what I sensed was not only the cruelty that lay within the construction of the image, but a nasty stickiness in that cruelty, a way it had of making you connive in its own malevolence.’ He goes on to explain that the ‘figure’s misshapen and twisted body evidently originates with the painter, whose attitude towards the deformation he inflicts seems to include enjoyment.’

 
 

Silk-organza petal dress with jewel brooch, by special order, Armani Privé

 
 

Ballerinas, Edgar Degas, 1884

 
 

In this pastel, Edgar Degas revisited a theme he had already tackled in his work in the 1870s – ballerinas resting. He also went back to his regular studies on the effects of contre-jour, lighting which “reduces to silhouette”, suppressing details, erasing the distinctive features of a face or a body, making them anonymous.

But while still employing the old formulae, Dancers was innovative in its size and composition, and without doubt, is the best example of what has been called Degas’ “classical period”. Around 1884, the painter, in fact, simplified his compositions, reduced the depth of his pictorial space, lowered the viewpoint to make it more natural and concentrated on one, single character or group of figures. At the same time, he abandoned the often caricatural approach of his previous works. In doing this, he was responding to a desire expressed by critics and the public: to protest “against the confused mass of colours and the jumble of indecipherable lines that are destroying contemporary painting”. From this point of view, Dancers is effectively a manifesto.

 
 

Sheer dress, slip-dress, hat, mask and belt, Louis Vuitton

 
 

Man-Crazy Nurse, № 2, Richard Prince, 2003

 
 

Man-Crazy Nurse #2 plays the role of the ultimate femme fatale in Richard Prince‘s celebrated series of nurse paintings. Her full-blooded lust barely concealed by her primly buttoned and starched white uniform, she clutches a standard-issue hospital clipboard as if checking off the names of the men she has devoured. Casting a side-long glance, this libidinous nurse seems to have her next patient/victim in sight. Prince’s lushly expressive brushwork, which floods the canvas in shades of fleshy pink and blood red, serves as both a come-on and a warning.

Prince painted Man-Crazy Nurse #2 in 2002, the year he started working on his nurse series, and it was included in his first exhibition of these works at Barbara Gladstone Gallery the following year. In this body of work, Prince appropriated the covers of pulp romance novels from his collection of vintage books and transferred them onto canvas using an ink-jet printer, which he then layered with vigorous skeins of color. He veils his nurses with surgical masks that both add an element of mysterious allure, and turn them into potentially menacing masked bandits. In some cases he retains the original title, while in others he substitutes another novel’s title, and heightens ambiguity by blocking out the elements that provide any narrative mooring for his protagonists. The original covers often included handsome doctors or patients, or scenes of lovers caught in rapt embraces, which Prince subsums into a hazy fog of luridly colored paint.

A voracious bibliophile — an obsession which he has documented in various artist’s books such as American English (2003) — Prince has for years amassed an extensive collection of secondhand books and memorabilia, ranging from titles on film noir and trash literature to letters, manuscripts, publicity pictures, and first editions of favorites such as Lolita.

 
 

Photographs by Peter Lindbergh, Harper’s Bazaar, May 2008

The Unpaintable Beauty

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his painting Portrait of Madame X, photographer unknown, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France, though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America.

Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists; the American painter Edward Simmons claimed that he “could not stop stalking her as one does a deer.” Sargent was also impressed, and anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the upcoming Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. He wrote to a friend:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer in February 1883.Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.

 
 

A figure study of  Madame Gautreau in watercolor and graphite, John Singer Sargent, circa 1883

 
 

Little progress was made during the winter of 1883, as Gautreau was distracted by social engagements, and was not by nature inclined to the discipline of sitting for a portrait. At her suggestion, Sargent traveled to her estate in Brittany in June, where he commenced a series of preparatory works in pencil, watercolors, and oils. About thirty drawings resulted from these sessions, in which many poses were attempted.

Gautreau was bored by the process of sitting; here, too, there were social engagements, as well as the responsibilities of tending to her four-year-old daughter, her mother, house guests, and a full domestic staff. Sargent complained of “the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gautreau.”

 
 

Nicole in Oscar de la Renta photographed by Steven Meisel, 1999

 
 

Julianne Moore photographed by Peter Lindbergh, 2008

 
 

For Spring 2008 Christian Dior Haute couture collection, John Galliano’s primrose path of inspiration had, he said, wended its way from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X  through to the gilded swirls and bejeweled geometrics of Gustav Klimt.

Dialogue Between Fashion and Death

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

YSL Rive Gauche nappa leather platform pump, 2010

 
 

Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane silver skull and leather necklace

 
 

Yohji Yamamoto 1995-1996 Ad campaign photographed by David Sims

 
 

Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2010 eyewear advertising

 
 

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano. Autumn-Winter 2000

 
 

Iris van Herpen Capriole Haute Couture AW11

 
 

Dsquared2 Fall 2010

 
 


Reveal The Inner Self, collection of Taiwanese designer Wei Ting Liang for her 3rd year final project, at the Ecole de la Chambre Synidcale de la Couture Parisenne

 
 

Jean Paul Gaultier, Fall Winter Couture collection 2006-2007

 
 

gaultier skeleton 2011Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show, 2011

 
 

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Fall/Winter 20011-2012

 
 

White cotton jacket printed all over with dotted grey skulls wearing light blue sunglasses by Comme Des Garcons Homme Plus, Spring-Summer 2011

 
 

Narciso Rodriguez’s sketch-books

 
 

Vans skulls slip-on shoes

 
 

Christian Audigier, French fashion designer and entrepreneur

 
 

Vivienne Westwood

 
 

GIACOMO LEOPARDI
DIALOGUE BETWEEN FASHION AND DEATH
A CHAPTER FROM OPERA OMNIA (1824)

Translated by Charles Edwardes

FASHION — Madam Death, Madam Death!

DEATH — Wait until your time comes, and then I will appear without being called by you.

FASHION — Madam Death!

DEATH — Go to the devil. I will come when you least expect me.

FASHION — As if I were not immortal!

DEATH — Immortal?

“Already has passed the thousandth year,”

since the age of immortals ended.

FASHION — Madam is as much a Petrarchist as if she were an Italian poet of the fifteenth or eighteenth century.

DEATH — I like Petrarch because he composed my triumph, and because he refers so often to me. But I must be moving.

FASHION — Stay! For the love you bear to the seven cardinal sins, stop a moment and look at me.

DEATH — Well. I am looking.

FASHION — Do you not recognise me?

DEATH — You must know that I have bad sight, and am without spectacles. The English make none to suit me; and if they did, I should not know where to put them.

FASHION — I am Fashion, your sister.

DEATH — My sister?

FASHION — Yes. Do you not remember we are both born of Decay?

DEATH — As if I, who am the chief enemy of Memory, should recollect it!

FASHION — But I do. I know also that we both equally profit by the incessant change and destruction of things here below, although you do so in one way, and I in another.

DEATH — Unless you are speaking to yourself, or to some one inside your throat, raise your voice, and pronounce your words more distinctly. If you go mumbling between your teeth with that thin spider-voice of yours, I shall never understand you; because you ought to know that my hearing serves me no better than my sight.

FASHION — Although it be contrary to custom, for in France they do not speak to be heard, yet, since we are sisters, I will speak as you wish, for we can dispense with ceremony between ourselves. I say then that our common nature and custom is to incessantly renew the world. You attack the life of man, and overthrow all people and nations from beginning to end; whereas I content myself for the most part with influencing beards, head-dresses, costumes, furniture, houses, and the like. It is true, I do some things comparable to your supreme action. I pierce ears, lips, and noses, and cause them to be torn by the ornaments I suspend from them. I impress men’s skin with hot iron stamps, under the pretence of adornment. I compress the heads of children with tight bandages and other contrivances; and make it customary for all men of a country to have heads of the same shape, as in parts of America and Asia. I torture and cripple people with small shoes. I stifle women with stays so tight, that their eyes start from their heads; and I play a thousand similar pranks. I also frequently persuade and force men of refinement to bear daily numberless fatigues and discomforts, and often real sufferings; and some even die gloriously for love of me. I will say nothing of the headaches, colds, inflammations of all kinds, fevers — daily, tertian, and quartan — which men gain by their obedience to me. They are content to shiver with cold, or melt with heat, simply because it is my will that they cover their shoulders with wool, and their breasts with cotton. In fact, they do everything in my way, regardless of their own injury.

DEATH — In truth, I believe you are my sister; the testimony of a birth certificate could scarcely make me surer of it. But standing still paralyses me, so if you can, let us run; only you must not creep, because I go at a great pace. As we proceed you can tell me what you want. If you cannot keep up with me, on account of our relationship I promise when I die to bequeath you all my clothes and effects as a New Year’s gift.

FASHION — If we ran a race together, I hardly know which of us would win. For if you run, I gallop, and standing still, which paralyses you, is death to me. So let us run, and we will chat as we go along.

DEATH — So be it then. Since your mother was mine, you ought to serve me in some way, and assist me in my business.

FASHION — I have already done so — more than you imagine. Above all, I, who annul and transform other customs unceasingly, have nowhere changed the custom of death; for this reason it has prevailed from the beginning of the world until now.

DEATH — A great miracle forsooth, that you have never done what you could not do!

FASHION — Why cannot I do it? You show how ignorant you are of the power of Fashion.

DEATH — Well, well: time enough to talk of this when you introduce the custom of not dying. But at present, I want you, like a good sister, to aid me in rendering my task more easy and expeditious than it has hitherto been.

FASHION — I have already mentioned some of my labours which are a source of profit to you. But they are trifling in comparison with those of which I will now tell you. Little by little, and especially in modern times, I have brought into disuse and discredit those exertions and exercises which promote bodily health; and have substituted numberless others which enfeeble the body in a thousand ways, and shorten life. Besides, I have introduced customs and manners, which render existence a thing more dead than alive, whether regarded from a physical or mental point of view; so that this century may be aptly termed the century of death. And whereas formerly you had no other possessions except graves and vaults, where you sowed bones and dust, which are but a barren seed, now you have fine landed properties, and people who are a sort of freehold possession of yours as soon as they are born, though not then claimed by you. And more, you, who used formerly to be hated and vituperated, are in the present day, thanks to me, valued and lauded by all men of genius. Such an one prefers you to life itself, and holds you in such high esteem that he invokes you, and looks to you as his greatest hope. But this is not all. I perceived that men had some vague idea of an after-life, which they called immortality. They imagined they lived in the memory of their fellows, and this remembrance they sought after eagerly. Of course this was in reality mere fancy, since what could it matter to them when dead, that they lived in the minds of men? As well might they dread contamination in the grave! Yet, fearing lest this chimera might be prejudicial to you, in seeming to diminish your honour and reputation, I have abolished the fashion of seeking immortality, and its concession, even when merited. So that now, whoever dies may assure himself that he is dead altogether, and that every bit of him goes into the ground, just as a little fish is swallowed, bones and all. These important things my love for you has prompted me to effect. I have also succeeded in my endeavour to increase your power on earth. I am more than ever desirous of continuing this work. Indeed, my object in seeking you to-day was to make a proposal that for the future we should not separate, but jointly might scheme and execute for the furtherance of our respective designs.

DEATH — You speak reasonably, and I am willing to do as you propose