September Vogue jumps out on the news stand for all the wrong reasons. On her fourth cover in three years, Keira Knightley's hair looks reminiscent of a baby primate (though not in a cute way), her pose is all wrong for the Balenciaga she's wearing, and her expression has a whiff of self-consciousness and striverdom about it — like some vogueing drag queen's idea of a Vogue cover. Which means the stuff inside must be doubleplusungood! Although my esteemed colleague, Dodai, has already brought you two of the issue's more bizarre contributions to the fall fashion discourse, fear not! There's still plenty left to see from the summit of the fall ladymag pileup. Keira Knightley in Berlin, Sasha Pivovarova in scarlet and alabaster Alexander McQueen, Caroline Trentini in the only Caroline-jumps-for-Condé editorial that has ever made any sense, and what the cover shot would be if this were a real fashion magazine, as we take deep breaths, don sensible footwear, and scale, together, Mount Vogue, after the jump.
For some reason, Caroline Trentini has practically never within living memory been permitted to keep both feet on the ground in an American Vogue editorial. Anna Wintour's favorite springy Brazilian, seemingly without regard for osteoarthritis or patellar tendonitis, casts herself nobly aloft in every season, in every setting, and in every conceivable kind of pump, flat, sandal, mule, platform, and T-strap. Sometimes in the past she's had partners in airborne crime like Elise Crombez (whatever happened to her? Did she age out of the industry at a ripe old 26?) but most often it's Carol, alone, doing what apparently comes naturally. In case you've forgotten her crucial gravity-defying role in Vogues past, they even run a June 2008 photo of her midflight in crampons and 24k gold fur on a Patagonian glacier on page 544:
So. Surprise! There's a jumping editorial in this issue. But! This time, instead of heading into mid air to sell sheath dresses to office workers (in some makebelieve world where office workers can afford Lanvin), Caroline jumps for a reason. Kind of. It took a while (in fact it took so long I'm half sure the jumping overlapped with a ready made narrative completely by accident) but Vogue finally found a story where Caroline leaping in frocks makes sense — because she's posing with the three kids who'll take turns playing Billy Elliot when it opens on Broadway October 1. Dancers! Dancers jump!
And the results are beautiful.
Seriously, the editorial is kind of breathtaking.
And then the magazine goes and ruins all the uncharacteristic pro-Vogue mojo it dredged up with that heavenly dozen pages by painting the distinctively freckled and pale Trentini the color of burnt Cheetos and giving her a vicious bikini wax so she can wear a swimsuit that makes my vulva scream and reach for the smelling salts. Oh well! The aesthetic contact high was nice while it lasted.
September Vogue to me signifies a worrisome rubicon in the gerrymandering of the definition of "model" to include any two-bit celebrity with a film or an album or a divorce to promote. (I have nothing against actors and I think Keira Knightley is a fine practitioner of her particular craft. But I don't try to do her job and I ask the same courtesy in return.) Ordinarily the actress — supposedly a ringer to drum up readership, although that paradigm appears increasingly flawed — gets the cover because she is profiled inside; the "fashion spread" accompanying the inevitable puff piece is just a bit of lifestyle-y, cult-of-celebrity-reflecting extra bang for your buck. But in this issue, there is no profile. Keira Knightley has 18 pages of this magazine to herself to illustrate a paragraph about Berlin and "the current generation of intriguing, intelligent provocateurs working there." Keira Knightley isn't an actress posing for showy portraits to illustrate, however obliquely, her own press: She's treated here like any old pretty face attached to a random (no, really random: Knightley admits she had never even been to Berlin until the shoot) concept — and a wardrobe of this season's clothes. She is, in these pages, presented more as model than actress.
So it is my judgment of her as a model and nothing less when I say she looks, on almost every page, perfectly awful. She doesn't know what to do with her hands. She doesn't know what to do with her face. She doesn't know what to do with her mouth, so in picture after picture, she lets it fall limply open. She doesn't know whether to mug for the camera or grasp for some idea of high-fashion gravitas; she sort of does both and she sort of does neither and it all comes off badly more often than not. In this jailhouse dress photo she's actually grimacing.
As one commentator noted, a propensity for holding your lips pursed and half-open makes it look like you're always blowing on an invisible bowl of soup.
Keira Knightley has more of a neck in that sketch likeness she's holding up than she does in most of this edit. One of the reasons why non-models just aren't as good at showing fashion to its best effect as models are is because they don't have the practiced photographic subject's knack for guessing how the human body will read in two dimensions from a given angle - so here I am worrying why this beautiful woman doesn't appear to have a neck, instead of thinking about either of those potentially interesting dresses.
This is her best shot and it's pretty fantastic. But is it worth the 17 other hammy, overacted, more or less off-looking lavishly produced editorial pictures full of light and color and signifying nothing? I say no.
Because, seriously, what kind of a culture are we living in that when Anna Wintour tells an Academy Award-nominated actress to tie a trash bag on her head because some art world folks are dossing in Berlin (apparently for such deep and meaningful reasons as the fact that in New York you can't smoke anywhere anymore), the Academy Award-nominated actress automatically does it? I tell you who ties trash bags on their heads because Ms. Wintour says so: Models. And we submit to the vagaries of fashion editor whims good naturedly, because it's an honest living and better than many, and because we certainly aren't inclined or empowered to question a shoot's direction like, say, a respected actress would (or should) be. And we do it because we don't have the comforts that being Hollywood's second-highest paid actress confers. Keira Knightley, you may be beautiful, but more importantly, you have at least some measure of talent; you ought to be sharing that with the world. Don't just model, because done barely adequately it's bullshit, trust me.
Now. Back to sublime: It's Sasha time.
Sasha Pivovarova is a goddess. The lithe Russian elf (who, as a part-time artist, would've been a much better fit for that Berlin story than Knightley) is nevertheless the perfect foil for McQueen's clothes, which can skate close to excessively baroque territory. She wears these dainty little embellished slippers in every shot and it makes for a really nice change from the ubiquitous 4 lb heavy, 7" tall editorial platforms.
I don't dig the waxed-candyfloss hair and I know it must have been painful to achieve. But, I think, thoroughly worth it.
For future reference, Anna Wintour: This is your cover shot.