8 November 2008

Cottage In Riva Al Mare by Steven Meisel

When I saw the preview of Steven Meisel's most recent story for Vogue Italia, "Cottage In Riva Al Mare" ("Cottage By The Sea"), on Models.com's Daily Feed I liked what I saw but, to be honest, didn't think twice about it.

It wasn't until I had a copy of Vogue Italia Novembre in my hands, had turned the pages, reached Meisel's story (always first fashion, of course), felt the anticipation as I saw the first image and knew I had at least thirty pages of equal beauty ahead of me, finished the story, viewed it again, viewed it as individual images and as a whole, looked at the styling, the art-direction, the makeup, the hair, formulated my own reading of what it all meant, whether it was relevant, why I liked it, and concluded that I had just experienced the magic of a truly wonderful fashion story, that I appreciated the full beauty and depth of Meisel's current offering.

The inherent beauty to this story is unmistakable. The models are two German girls, Toni Garrn and Katrin Thormann (Women Management), both tall, elegant blondes with cheekbones chiseled by Gods, no doubt. Obviously their looks are incredibly important to the success of this story, however the deeper beauty is achieved from the narrative which Meisel manages to create; the love affair he conjures between these young women, which in turn creates a voyeuristic love affair for the viewer.

The filmic element to this story is self-evident, yet Meisel goes further than just referencing film. His soft-focus, natural light, almost-dull colouring and use of photo-montages and black borders all help create a mood of motion, without demeaning the fact that this is a story of stills - a fashion editorial created for a magazine.

We follow Meisel's narrative like we would a film's: turning the pages like flicking frames in slow-mo. Yet, at the same time, we are creating the narrative for ourselves, in our own mind. Unlike in a film where the ending is predetermined. Thus, ironically, the narrative-freedom here is greater for the viewer than if we were watching this in motion on a screen. It must also be mentioned how important the magazine-as-object is here, and I note the difference I felt when seeing this in print compared with online (take note, magazine publishers who want to survive the recession).

As always, I wonder what Meisel is trying to say with these epic editorials he pulls out sometimes. There are of course so many layers to a story like this. The obvious ones (at least to me, which is relevant but not defining) are love, fear, loss, pain, secrecy, drama, beauty, resentment, confusion and ultimately regret. Yet as I write these they seem far too broad, and thus slightly irrelevant. These words fit with my narrative reading of the story, which may be completely different to yours. But, actually, this is wonderful. How many fashion stories allow us to have such deep interpretations? To feel such personal and high emotions toward a single (fashion) image?

I feel Meisel has done something brilliant by presenting us with this glorious and rich fashion story. He has forced us to ask why fashion imagery cannot be (or, at least, isn't often) painful and beautiful and revelatory and meaningful all at the same time, to ask why it is so often impeded by its own self-consciousness from being truly great.

I have heard varied responses to this series of images so far. A colleague referred to it as that "gay women" story, shaking her head. A friend was completely enamored by it's pure beauty, softness, natural light, its photographic simplicity and acuteness to what people want to see in fashion photography right this moment.

For me, it is an example of how wonderful fashion photography can be. It is a testament to the fact that, when the stars align and there's the right team, right vision and, needless to say, the funds to execute said vision, a fashion story can be created that gives us so much more than a view of what's in fashion sartorially this season. (In fact, Karl Templer's styling is so perfectly executed that one would almost forget this is a fashion story were it not for the clothes credits, which could pass as subtitles at a stretch, anyway!)

In fact, Cottage In Riva Al Mare proves that a fashion 'story' can be created which actually presents a true narrative, and, in this case, one which gives us a beautiful insight into a moment, an intimacy, a feeling, an entire world - perhaps of our own creation.

Images courtesy of Women Management Blog, for full in-motion story visit Style.it


Blogger dbp said...

formulated my own reading of what it all meant
i loved that expression considering the act of understanding (and enjoying as well) is absolutely subjective and depends on the personal references and preferences rather than the very execution of the artwork (if a fashion spread can be considered as one).
i totally agree with you on this topic, i did think this was one of the Meisel's masterpieces. very intelligent, very thought about, very focused, therefore, really suggestive. stories like this prove that fashion isn't only about selling fancy clothes and creating cults. it's also about beauty of human nature, its imperfection and hunger for happiness.
what more to say, i am impressed.

10 November, 2008 10:45  

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