Addition-Elle's Orientalist fantasy
(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, February 21st, 2004.)
So whom can we credit with creating the strongest campaign for Spring 2004? Elena Miro expands its "Da Sempre Belle" theme this season (to great acclaim), Reitmans continues to use the two most beautiful and popular plus-size models in the industry, the quality of Lands' End's photography and fashions is better than ever, and other retailers have produced a host of memorable images as well.
But when we assess the overall aesthetic impact of the spring campaigns, we might award the laurel to Addition-Elle. Time and again, AE has brought us some of the finest examples of plus-size beauty in the industry--thanks in large part to the extraordinary vision of photographer Max Abadian--but this season, Addition-Elle has outdone itself. For Spring 2004, AE offers the public a contemporary fantasy with unmistakable echoes of a genre of 19th-century painting known as Orientalism.
First, a bit of background. The name of this movement is somewhat misleading, because Orientalist painters did not set their works in China or in Japan, but rather, in parts of Arabia and North Africa, such as Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. During the late 19th century, these areas were largely under the colonial administration of the European powers, and many European artists made colonial "pilgrimages," seeking to capture the dazzling colour, opulence, warmth, and mystery of these faraway lands.
If any individual can be credited with spurring European interest in "Orientalist" themes, it is Lord Byron, whose journeys throughout the Middle East were the stuff of legend. Byron used these exotic locations as backdrops for several of his narrative poems (e.g., The Giaour and The Corsair), and the romance and mystery of these distant regions captivated the European public.
Here is a representative example of an Orientalist painting, a work titled The Reception (1873) by Frederick John Lewis. It offers a good impression of the "look" and subject matter of many works of the genre. Note in particular the intensity of the colours, the crispness of line, and the minute attention to detail:
Now, on to Addition-Elle. The crowning glory of the spring campaign is the following image, showing Jordan reposing like an Odalisque amid soft cushions. The warm colours in this photograph--browns, reds, oranges, and golds--are hallmarks of the Orientalist style.
Paintings depicting beautiful models nestled between plump pillows were a 19th-century staple, with the following canvas, titled A Sleeping Girl (1875) by Albert Moore, being just one example:
By comparing the delicate blues, pinks, and whites of Moore's work (a colour scheme that we see revisited in Valerie's images in the current Reitmans campaign) with the saturated hues in the Orientalist canvasses, and in Mr. Abadian's photograph, we realize how profoundly the blazing sun of the Middle East transformed the colour palettes of the European artists who journeyed to these exotic lands.
Here is another Addition-Elle photo, in which the photographer obviously takes sensual delight in presenting his subject's "fullness and beauty of form":
The ornate chairs and detailed wallpaper continue the Orientalist influence, notable in the following work, also by Albert Moore, titled Midsummer (1886-87):
That influence is also discernible in the intricate gate behind Charlotte in the following image. Hyper-detailed wooden screens often feature prominently in 19th-century paintings, as they provided artists with an opportunity to demonstrate their virtuostic skill with the brush:
And even when the attire in the campaign is more basic, the rich colours of the stone wall behind Jordan--a shade reminiscent of clay pottery, nearly glowing in the reflected light--attract the viewer's attention:
It comes as no surprise that the lush exoticism of the Orientalist style suits plus-size models exceptionally well. The full-figured feminine aesthetic is one of warmth and opulence, and forms a natural "fit" with many genres of 19th-century painting. In fact, as we have often observed, it fits every artistic style prior to the imposition of the minimalist "ugliness chic" of the 20th century. Let us take comfort in the fact that slowly, but surely, the modernist stranglehold on our culture is waning, and that timeless beauty is finding its way back into our hearts.
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