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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Every month, half out of curiosity, half out of boredom, I read "Nostalgia", the column in US Vogue wherein some author or ex-model or makeup artist (completely obscure to the masses; practically legendary within the confines of the inclusive world of American Vogue) reflects upon one particular photograph from the Vogue archives that changed their life-- or at least their perception of personal style. Of course, reading this installment always forces me to think about what particular image I would choose; which sole photograph from ten long years of devoted Vogue readership could most adequately define the moment in my life when high fashion ceased to be a forbidden landscape, one which would laugh in my face if it knew I cared, when I really began to relate to what these images meant, when I finally felt included in this elite domain.
Undoubtedly I would choose something from the pivotal summer of 2000, when the fat September issue hit newsstands and seemed more like a Bible or Beatles album than a glossy periodical advertising overpriced luxuries that I really should have resisted. Oh, that summer! When Marc Jacobs winter coats were woolly and Hitchcockian; when Stella McCartney trousers were adorned with silkscreened horse heads, three or four years before the youth of Williamsburg were fully emboldened by the gesture; when the Prada fox-fur collar seemed absolutely beyond It. But still, which? It seems almost rude to include one of these momentous images without including all of them. My main concern with the idea of choosing one photograph is that it necessitates that all context be discarded. What I mean is, how would I have known to love a Marc Jacobs coat as much as I did if I hadn't've had a garish Fendi fur to weigh it against? Would I have so responded to Stella's horse pants if I hadn't seen the same heavyweight satin trousers produced time and time again by Gucci and Versace and whoever, only sans equine embellishments?
What I'm getting at is: sometimes one image can't say it all (actually, reconsidering it, if I did have to submit to Nostalgia, I'd probably pick this one picture of Grace Coddington prodding at a young Prince Charles before a photo shoot; utterly irrelevant, but at least it stands on its own). But, sometimes one image can, and the photograph above of ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog certainly backs me up here. As far as I'm concerned, Agnetha in this photograph looks cooler than anyone else has ever looked, ever (take that, Keith Richards!). The corduroy cap, the denim coveralls (onesie? playsuit? jumper? I never know), the carelessly knotted leopard-print scarf, incandescent bleached hair, feet pigeon-toed in painfully late-seventies suede boots. Gorgeous! Usually when I'm forced to think about my personal icons of female beauty, I err more towards the gamine or the English Rose (ie. Jane Asher). But maybe Agnetha's forthright sexiness in this image is so attractive to me because, being something of a scrappy gamine myself, it is so entirely unattainable. I will never be a knockout blonde bombshell, but she is, and she did it good, better, best (take that, Brigitte Bardot!).
But what is doubly striking about this photograph is the look of sheer despondence on her otherwise flawless doll's face: not shown is the backhand side of Greatest Hits' gatefold, Annifrid and Bjorn locked in the epitome of a lover's embrace. I don't know much about ABBA gossip, but I'm assuming this photograph was taken after her breakup with Benny Andersson (who seems significantly less torn up about it, casually leafing through a newspaper to her right). I love the juxtaposition of her obvious melancholia with the fluffy hollowness of ABBA's pop oeuvre; I love that, even while posing for a publicity shot, Agnetha was incapable of disgusing her unmitigated misery. If it weren't for her face, this photo would be as throwaway as any other press shot of the band, who I barely even care about normally; instead, it is weighty and rife with implication. It stands alone because it doesn't require additional materials in order to be contextualized: all circumstance is clarified within itself.
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