Steven Meisel’s photographs appearing in Vogue Italia often feature connections between fashion and art. In the December issue of 2007, Meisel photographed ‘Vogue Patterns’ featuring a series of images of women in designer garments representing the spring pattern trends. There is an immediate link between these images and the ideals relating to art nouveau. Visual aesthetics such as organic shapes and curves, floral motifs, and the centralisation of the woman accentuate ideals of femininity and natural beauty favoured in art nouveau posters during the late ninetieth century and early twentieth century (i). The clever use of mixing and juxtaposing patterned fabrics, courtesy of Edward Enninful, may have been adopted from Gustav Klimt’s paintings, in particular his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1907. Similarly, the embedded women wrapped in fabric also reference his other works including ‘The Virgins’ (1913) and ‘The Kiss’ (1907-1908).
Contextualising art nouveau aesthetics in contemporary fashion, Enninful has incorporated nature inspired tattoo-like body art as a way of modernising traditional conventions. In addition, the models in Meisel’s photographs emphasise a heavy make-up look that contrasts from women represented as natural beauties in art nouveau posters, emphasising the changed perceptions of female beauty and its association within the world of fashion and commerce.
While these images may be considered fine art images themselves, it must not be forgotten the integral purpose of this image as a fashion photograph to appeal to consumers and ultimately sell luxury garments. Teaming up with Steven Meisel, Vogue has integrated concepts of cultural capital to further engage with consumers. Theorist Pierre Bourdieu in The Forms of Capital describes how cultural capital is the power and social standing relating to cultural knowledge and in regards to fashion, develops status on a brand through associated relationships (ii). It is clear Vogue has used cultural knowledge as a way of building a closer relationship between the consumer and product.
While looking at Meisel photograph as is, it could be said that the textile designs of the garments were inspired by art nouveau motifs. On the other hand, if the garments were to be viewed in a different context such as on the runway or on the street, it is likely that the clothing would not have the same reference to art nouveau aesthetics. Considering each photograph features a different designer’s garment it is therefore unlikely that each designer was influenced by this particular period in art. Perhaps the association between the garments and art nouveau images was later identified and thus used as an advertising technique as a way of collating a trend among a number of designer’s collections. It is interesting in that sense how Vogue Italia has used cultural capital to their own advantage to develop a relationship with their audience as a magazine.
Repeatedly Vogue Italia integrates cultural aesthetics not only as advertising techniques for particular brands and products but also for themselves as a magazine that extends to a diverse audience. An example of this includes another page spread of Steven Meisel’s works ‘Water and Oil’ in Vogue Italia’s August 2010 issue responding to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (iii). This series of photographs uses fashion in an artistic realm to address controversial environmental and social issues rather than to focus on promoting the clothing. Collaborating with a number of other fine art photographers, Vogue consistently uses cultural knowledge as a fundamental advertising technique as part of promoting their magazine.
(i) Gontar, C 2000 Art Nouveau, viewed 23 August 2014, <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/artn/hd_artn.htm>
(ii) Berry, J 2014, ‘3404QCA Week 2 Lecture: Fashion, Aesthetics & Art, Retrieved from Griffith University, Queensland College of Art’, Learning@Griffith web site: https://bblearn.griffith.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-1010409-dt-content-rid-2625160_1/courses/2432QCA_3145_SB/Course%20Content/Week%202%20Fashion%2C%20Aesthetics%20%26%20Art/wk%202%20fashion%20as%20art.pdf
(iii) Slone, I 2011 ‘Fashion statement: Vogue magazine’s depiction of oil-slick fashion represents environmental exploitation to some, but daring social commentary to others’, Alternative Journal, vol.37, no.1, pp.32, viewed 24 August 2014 via Gale