Zadie Smith is just the latest. Fashion and literature have a long history.

by admin
Zadie Smith is just the latest. Fashion and literature have a long history.

The most exciting photo shoot in the September fashion issues may not be Vogue’s cover featuring four super models reunited in their super-model magnificence. Nor is it Kendall Jenner or Doja Cat in high-fashion finery on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Instead, it’s Zadie Smith, plunked glamorously into the pages of British Vogue to discuss her forthcoming novel, “The Fraud.” She is photographed by Tyler Mitchell, the 28-year-old who skyrocketed to fame after becoming the first Black photographer to shoot a cover of Vogue, of Beyoncé, in 2018.

Smith, 47, is dressed in the splendor of some of the most compelling and frisky designer brands, like a sculptural gold Alexander McQueen necklace, and an enormous froth of Alaia, the storied sexy-cerebral French brand overseen by Pieter Mulier, with a pair of Tabi boots by Maison Margiela, which are to the art world what Allbirds are to tech: a delightfully hideous uniform of belonging. Smith gives the camera a confident, knowing gaze, as if to say: This glamour stuff, it’s pretty fun.

For as long as she has been famous — she published her debut, “White Teeth,” written while she was still a student at Cambridge, in 2000 — her interest in fashion has been obvious. She appears at readings in patterned dresses, with heels that pleasantly clash, and she has a signature turban. (She wore it in 2016 on the cover of the Gentlewoman, a cult British women’s fashion magazine, and to sit in the front row of the Loewe fashion show in March 2022, its pale pink jibing pleasurably with a sunshine yellow Loewe jacket.)

“I waste a lot of money on fashion. I have a very clear idea of my body and what looks good to me,” Smith tells the profile’s author, Zing Tsjeng. “I don’t want to look at how much it costs. I have an entirely guilt-laden relationship with it.” She shares that she loves Rachel Comey, the New York-based designer of intelligent and wearable Claire McCardell-ish dresses and boots, and Jonathan Anderson, creative director of Loewe.

Vogue’s European features director, Giles Hattersley, described Smith as “a friend of the magazine,” noting that she wrote a piece on Queen Elizabeth II for British Vogue editor in chief Edward Enninful’s debut issue in 2017. There has been a number of notable authors in the magazine’s pages in recent years (Sally Rooney, Isabel Wilkerson, Leila Slimani, Salman Rushdie, Jennifer Egan), and the magazine has a tradition of capturing a group portrait of Granta’s list of best young British novelists. But given the timing of Smith’s new novel, out Sept. 5, “we wanted to pull out all the stops for a shoot and interview to run across our global editions.”

Still, Hattersley notes that Smith’s relationship to fashion is unusual. “I hope Zadie won’t mind me saying that she’s not wild about the dog and pony show of being a model for the day. But she is personally and intellectually intrigued by fashion to a far higher degree than many authors.”

Online, the story was met with rapturous praise. The magazine’s covers, two similar images of the models on Vogue and British Vogue, were shot by Vogue regular Rafael Pavarotti and are more traditional fashion magazine fare: celebrity models in familiar, glamorous clothes, there to promote a forthcoming tell-all documentary debuting on Apple TV Plus in late September. They are also stiff, compared with the passionate naturalism of Smith’s spread, and they raise the question of whether the author might be a better model than the four supers.

“More of this please!” said literary critic Barry Pierce on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding: “why doesn’t this happen all the time? why are there never cover shoots with authors? they literally serve every single time.”

Why, indeed? For much of the 20th century, to be in Vogue was nearly as covetable as seeing your byline in the New York Review of Books. Joan Didion got her start at the magazine. (An essay she published as an entry-level staffer, “On Self-Respect,” is still widely circulated in writing courses and used as Instagram fodder.)

Tina Brown and Graydon Carter made authors such as Donna Tartt and Rushdie regulars on the pages of Vanity Fair, giving them the full Annie Leibovitz treatment alongside dishy profiles, thereby insisting that the glamour of the mind could be equal to the glamour of a well-cut suit.

Over the past decade, though, the literary world and the world of fashion — even more specifically, the practice of taking pleasure in aesthetics, in surface joys, in the kinds of beauty that can feel frivolous or minor — have drifted apart. Writers still appear in magazines. Interview, edited by Mel Ottenberg, has become particularly good at capturing emerging writers such as Emma Cline, Madeline Cash and Ottessa Moshfegh, and Italian Vogue featured Cline and Moshfegh, photographed by shock jock artist Jordan Wolfson, on its September 2021 issue.

But these moments are so rare that they often feel like dares. And as magazines increasingly exist as brand-building exercises for an events business or community, or to buttress traffic-drawing stories that can command big digital advertising dollars, why not turn over more of your magazine pages to what feels precious and interesting, instead of what you suppose might sell magazines?

Perhaps younger writers simply have a more conflicted relationship with fashion. Clothing has largely disappeared from contemporary fiction, even though clothes as clues to a character’s social status or interests, or merely as a source for lovely prose, were staples in literature for centuries (Jane Austen, Marcel Proust, Jean Rhys, Tom Wolfe).

And it is true that earlier generations of writers had more fluent relationships with clothes than the current one: Danielle Steel has used part of the fortune she has amassed selling bodice-rippers to assemble a world-class collection of couture, while Fran Lebowitz is as admired for her wit as she is for her custom cowboy boots, vintage Levi’s and Anderson & Sheppard jackets, handmade on Savile Row.

Didion’s relationship to clothes was almost sublimely untroubled: She saw her packing lists as a lens through which to explain the decline of her mental health, in one of her most famous essays of the 1960s; she also appeared, clad in enormous Garbo-style sunglasses, in a Céline ad in 2015.

Perhaps these authors understand how the aesthetic or identity-play pleasures of clothes complement their own work; perhaps they simply feel that toiling over the right word or the precision of a sentence is an undertaking that should be rewarded with lovely things or indulgence.

It may also be that fashion brands and designers simply don’t know how to engage with the world of books. A Spring 2024 menswear collection by Valentino that put lines from “A Little Life,” the best-selling novel by T Magazine editor Hanya Yanagihara, on jackets and handbags seemed like a too-glib take on fashion’s power to elevate its inspirations.

Still, isn’t a writer’s job to run at contradictions, unsolvable problems and irrational human behavior? Fashion, with its ever more complicated dilemmas, and its naughty entanglement with all the facets of capitalism, seems like the stuff of an epic novel.

Source Link

You may also like