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Old 29th August 2011   #1
HSG
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Join Date: July 2005
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Default Valerie by Night (Zay Clothing)


Although they do not adhere to the principles of timeless beauty in every respect, Valerie Lefkowitz's numerous campaigns for Zay Clothing (a branch of the Danish label Zizzi) are nevertheless consistently interesting and exhibit pleasing touches of a traditional aesthetic mixed in with less enjoyable modern elements.

The latest Zay promotion is unique in that it is very much a night piece--perhaps the most nocturnal shoot we have yet come across in plus-size fashion. Few of the images acknowledge Valerie's curves, but her fair skin and blonde tresses look hauntingly attractive when illuminated in powerful flashgun lighting. The pictures blend the immediacy of late-night paparazzi photos with the careful composition of fashion photography.

Take this cover photo from the Zizzi site, for example. The model's golden hair has a bewitching, measured messiness about it, as if the image were taken near the end of a long night of partying. The backdrop, on the other hand, with the sculpted stone walls and elaborate, artistic metalwork, adds a touch of elegance. Though the setting is a metropolitan centre, this is not an "urban" shoot (avoiding the ugly, inner-city decay that pervades the urban genre), but an archaeo-contemporary blend: Victorian settings shot in a modern manner, and a model exhibiting Victorian beauty but dressed in present-day fashions.

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A second cover image shows an interesting multiple-exposure effect. Nighttime flash photography lends itself to innovations such as this, but the image is more than a gimmick. The slightly transparent look of Valerie in several of the exposures, and the way in which she seems to be congealing out of the dark shadows, subtly intimates the thematic undercurrent of this campaign, as does Valerie's pale skin, blood-red lips, and the somewhat eerie, haunting qualities of the funereal stone walls and the impenetrable shadows at the edges of the photographs, where the flash lighting cannot reach.

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And what might that thematic undercurrent be? Readers of contemporary vampire fiction will immediately recognize the atmosphere of these images as evoking the world of Anne Rice, whose denizens of the night exhibit some of the Gothic trappings of traditional vampire lore, but who also dress in the contemporary mode of rock stars and revel in the late-night "party scene."

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Note the wicked black nail polish and the appetitive suggestion that Valerie conveys with her rapacious expression. This may be a convincing photograph of a nocturnal partygoer resting between stops at her favourite haunts, yet the image also carries an almost subconscious suggestion of a vampire thirsting for fresh blood.

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Few of the new Zay images acknowledge Valerie's womanly curves, but this picture is a welcome exception, with attire that embraces her generous hips and indicates her curvaceous figure.

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If the shoot had featured a model with a harsher look, it would have been too severe, especially given the intense flash lighting. But with a model as innately pretty as Valerie, the effect is somewhat softened, and the images achieve a seductiveness that is mysterious yet feminine. The model freely exhibits her sweet, girlish qualities, playing these off against her midnight attire.

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The previous photographs are part of the online Zay Clothing collection, but the following images are taken from Zizzi's biannually published custom magazine, which features Valerie on the cover. Many of the tear sheets in this magalog comprise the same images that appear on the collection page (i.e., the magazine's editorials were assembled from the campaign pictures, not from a separate photo session).

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The title page of Valerie's editorial sets the nocturnal tone of the shoot. The elegant stonework enriches the atmosphere of the photos, while the outfit suggests at least a trace of substance in the model's figure. As for the peculiar shading in these scans, we have reproduced each of these images from the online edition of the Zizzi magalog, and unfortunately, the program that Zizzi uses to post its magazine online lightens the borders of the images to clumsily reproduce the three-dimensional effect of a printed page. We have attempted to minimize these distracting shadings, but the results are not ideal.

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The following photograph is certainly the most Gothic in the campaign, and the one that most strongly evokes a vampiric context, with the elaborate wrought-iron gate, the cobblestones, and the stone pillars suggesting the entrance of a cemetery. The impenetrable blackness behind the gate adds to the eerie atmosphere of the picture. The model's wardrobe blends Victorian touches, such as the lacy blouse, with more contemporary elements, like the model's jeans.

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In a closer view, the model smiles, but rather too broadly, creating the impression that her doll-like sweetness is a merely an affectation to lure in her unsuspecting prey. Note how her scarf covers her neck, as if to hide the marks of the nosferatu. Her pallor is beautiful and striking, as is her blood-red lip colour. What makes this campaign so sophisticated is that the vampiric touches are extremely subtle. One doesn't have to read them into the photos, but they are there all the same.

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In this alluring photograph of Valerie displaying herself against a pillar, the model cranes her neck most provocatively, as if offering an invitation. Her lips appear especially red, while her outfit is a moody black, and the fringes of the shawl splay forth an almost batwinged shape. The massive width of the pillar against which she leans is overwhelming, giving the setting an ancient quality, as do the model's elaborate medallions.

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In another close-up, Valerie strikes a captivating balance between Victorian, doll-like beauty and alluring seductiveness. The jacket is modern, but the lacy gloves have a vintage look--a pastiche ensemble such as a temptress might accumulate if her existence were to continue throughout the centuries. Valerie appears gentle and sweet--enticingly so--but the nighttime setting, the black wardrobe, and the model's pallor hint at danger. Any other model would have been harsher in her poses, and thus made the shoot too obvious, but Valerie achieves a chic effect by presenting herself in a more delicate manner, a delicacy that effectively plays off against the dark context.

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The most beautiful prop in the entire shoot is this fabulously elaborate wrought-iron fence, unmistakably a creation of the 19th century. The way in which Valerie interacts with her surroundings, as well as her languishing pose, create a powerful narrative suggestion. With the impenetrable blackness behind the fence, she seems to be straddling the border between the worlds of the living and the dead, as if tempting the viewer to come closer, whereupon she will suck him into that nightmare realm. The one bare tree behind the fence seems to be an eerie outcropping from this land of horror, reaching upward like a gigantic claw. Yet such menace is merely suggested; one could just as easily read the image as the portrait of a girl who loves the nightlife and who, in the wee hours, leans back to invite an admirer to attempt a kiss. Partygoer or predator? The image conveys both possibilities.

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The following image enacts the dreams of many a fan of the model, who, over the years, have fantasized about hosts of Valeries wandering across their imagination--phantoms of beauty that disappear when the dawn breaks (whether because their dreams end at that point, or because the creatures of the night cannot abide the light of day).

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* * *

Zay Clothing has also released an intriguing behind-the-scenes video showing the making of this campaign. The footage reveals that it was indeed a bona fide night shoot, often photographed in pitch-black settings with no illumination whatsoever, apart from the blinding light of the flashgun. The video also indicates that the crew shot all night and well into the wee hours of the morning. It must have been an exhausting experience--like pulling an all-nighter to complete an essay--but the results justify the effort, yielding a fully nocturnal shoot unlike any we have ever seen before.

Bravo to Valerie and Zay Clothing for creating such a unique, original, and atmospheric campaign.

(Click images to enlarge.)

- Zay Clothing at Zizzi

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