Barbara's ''Exotic Adventure''
(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, March 9th, 2004.)
Until the next full-figured fashion magazine(s) debut, we have but two print periodicals that espouse the timeless feminine ideal--and both are "custom publications" (i.e., sponsored by a single company). Charming Shoppes produces Figure, of course, and Europe's leading plus-size retailer publishes its self-titled magazine, Elena Miro--the latest issue of which has just reach North American shores.
The issue has many outstanding features, including descriptions of island retreats and jungle hideaways, recipes for "artistic dishes" that look simply delectable, personality quizzes ("Are you 'Vamp,' 'Nun,' or some part of both?"), and a profile of an artist whose work appeared in the original Morbidamente Donna exhibit. But the magazine's raison d'etre is surely its fashion spreads, and in this issue, Elena Miro treats us to a gorgeous editorial titled "Avventura Esotica" ("Exotic Adventure").
This is one of the best layouts that we have seen in any magazine since the demise of Mode, and it shows how, with a little imagination, a talented creative team can take casual fashion basics and present them with considerable zing.
The layout is set in a tropical/jungle environment, but is embellished with some Orientalist touches. On the title page, the palm trees towering over Barbara Brickner remind one of Joseph Conrad's famous description of the jungle landscape in Heart of Darkness:
Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick . . .
Some readers may prefer outfits that are more body-conscious, but the dress suits the setting, and hints at the model's classically-shaped figure. Barbara's pose is perfect, giving the impression that she is luxuriating in her surroundings.
Here is a headshot that we particularly admire. "Hands in the hair" is always a winning pose, and the big, "organic-looking" accessories (wooden beads and bracelet) harmonize with the theme of the layout. Note the interesting makeup details (better seen in the larger scan, viewable by clicking on the image), such as touches of gold under the eyes:
It is always encouraging to see photographers opting not to turn models one-quarter sideways to minimize their silhouettes, but rather, shooting them straight-on (or in profile), so that their curves are visible. And observe how the background elements in this image, such as the gnarled tree, and the tangled roots, echo the furrowed texture of the skirt:
Even the simplest of casual outfits can benefit from a dash of femininity, like the visible decolletage in this image. And that coiled, wreathe-like necklace is an inspired addition:
The layout ends inside a tropical hut, but the pillows, blanket, and Turkish drink set add an Orientalist element that reminds us of Addition-Elle's spring campaign:
Exotic trappings can enhance casual clothing as much as they can contribute to the allure of lingerie, and they add the fantasy element that is essential to all great fashion spreads. In its most creative days, Mode even offered entertaining storylines with its layouts, and in this image, we can imagine Barbara finally enjoying a intimate moment with her "pasha," after being seduced--or after having done the seducing--throughout the rest of the editorial.
Bravo to Elena Miro, to Barbara Brickner, and to the entire team responsible for these images. Dark, grimy, street environments may provide suitable backdrops for anorex-chic models wearing deconstructed modernist attire, and smeared with freakish makeup, but plus-size models deserve to be photographed in the kind of lush settings (contemporary or historic) that match their abundant, intoxicating beauty. Taking full-figured models out of the sterility of the modern city and placing them in a more primordial environment reminds the viewer that this kind of beauty is natural and life-giving, and that it is flourishing all around us--despite every attempt to constrain it.
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