I Want To Be An Alt

Kellina de Boer

Paul Kolyer

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Chloé: Attitudes
By Sarah Mower


Jane & Serge
By Andrew Birkin


Loulou de la Falaise
By Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni


Halston: Inventing American Fashion
By Lesley Frowick


Dries van Noten
By Pamela Golbin


A Denim Story
By Emily Current, Meritt Elliott, Hilary Walsh 


Veruschka: From Vera to Veruschka
By Johnny Moncada


Draw Blood for Proof
By Mario Sorrenti


Diana Vreeland Memos:
The Vogue Years

By Alexander Vreeland

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Emmanuelle Alt: A Retrospective

I am honored to present today's guest contribution by the endlessly eloquent and erudite Sarah of Style Souk. Sarah looks at the editorial body of work created by Emmanuelle Alt and offers her opinion as to how future Vogue Paris issues will be the same yet different... I hope you will enjoy her informed viewpoint as much as I do. Thank you kindly for this stellar contribution, Sarah!

Emmanuelle: A Retrospective

When Emmanuelle Alt — the box fresh editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris — intimated that the magazine would remain “the same, but different” under her direction, it provoked a paroxysm of head-scratching among the fashion tribe. The same. And yet, different. What might such a paradox signify? Released in April to great expectation, nipples were counted clues were sought within the pages of her first issue but few were found. Unsurprisingly perhaps, as we have been told that the full imprint of Madame Alt will not be felt until the August issue.

So, what to do until August?

For a girl as inherently lazy as I, the option of thumb-twiddling will always be a sound one. But let’s try something less taxing on my Chanel Mimosa nails, shall we? Through the lens of my three favourite editorials, this guest piece for I Want to be an Alt will document the creative output so far made by Emmanuelle. A retrospective, in the loosest sense, clues will be sought in her portfolio before we learn where she — and consequently we, as readers — are headed next.

Those familiar with the iconography of Emmanuelle Alt — and, by extension, Vogue Paris — will recognize its hallmarks. Cigarettes, nudity, and Bardotesque blondes comprise the signature elements of her styling lexicon. In 'Sur La Route' (April 2008, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin) these references manifest in their plenty and we see that, much like a dry Martini, perfection can result from a basic formula.

Seductively drawing on a cigarette, Kate Moss invokes the ‘Don’t Give a Fuck’ machismo of James Dean. It is a nostalgic nod to the 1950s — often referenced by Alt — and the decade that gave us the teenager and juvenile rebellion. It seems apt, then, that the layout should have a textural quality of age. Grainy and faded, the pictures look every bit as vintage as Kate’s beaten leather jacket and motorcycle made dusty from years of being ridden too fast.

With the kohled eyes of a rock star and studded biker boots – surely the kind immortalized by Nancy Sinatra in song — Alt has constructed a new female icon. A counterpoint to adolescent models — who, with their nascent bodies and milquetoast poses, otherwise rule fashion’s stage — she bears the full stamp of confident, sexy womanhood. Alt is, in this way, an iconoclast. Without apology, her portraiture transmits a strong female meme to overturn the norms, the infantilized archetype, of fashion imagery.

Her women are ball-breakers, from the first to last.

Of course, woman cannot subsist on cigarettes and controversy alone. And neither, it would seem, can Emmanuelle Alt. In the ethereal demi-light of dawn, 'Le Temps de l’innocence' (May 2008, Mario Sorrenti) depicts a languid Lara Stone in whisps of lace and broderie anglaise. Barefaced and beautifully disarrayed, her styling is informed by the virginal innocence of girlhood. It is a sensuality — pretty and understated — often eclipsed by the shock-and-awe properties of Alt’s work.

But stop. Look again.

This is an aesthetic engineered not by Mother Teresa but Emmanuelle Alt. As such, a whip-crack of subversiveness can be heard beneath the veneer of quiet romanticism. In one image, for example, Lara is represented in the congress of prayer. It feels a deeply private moment between a woman and her God, yet — with eyes closed in daydream, legs apart, clothes and braided hair loosely tumbledown — there is a subtle inference that she is instead, shockingly, lost in sexual communion.

It is this dichotomy — the ability to marry the orthodox with the taboo, the virgin with the slut — that distinguishes Emmanuelle.

The artful duality of her imagery — and, more especially, the way in which it is used to represent gender — is again evidenced in 'Commando' (March 2010, David Sims). With a bullet-strewn belt and face contorted in the visceral cry of battle, Iselin Steiro is endowed with masculine physicality. Her bare chest, pushed proudly forward in defiance and tattooed with grease, is the token symbol of femininity.

In this aspect, the editorial provides a meditation on androgyny — a familiar emblem of Alt’s storytelling — and the mutability of gender. The curious hybridity of her styling is such that, clothes — and, where it is used, nudity — become sexually transformative. That is, beneath a burnt out tshirt with its peek-a-boo tease of skin, both sexes are seen to co-exist. Women are men. Men can be women. And a slip shadow haven’t-eaten-in-a-week model becomes a lionhearted renegade warrior.

Ah yes, the nudity.

The appearance of nudity in a fashion spread is commonplace but, in lesser hands, it can look hackneyed or simply a conduit for male desire. Not here, however, and never on Alt’s watch. Though her portfolio bears the ink of a libertine and provocateur — and has, without censure, pushed the boundaries of visual style — it is not gratuitous or mindlessly guy-pleasing. It is, instead, a master class on the myriad ways in which nudity might convey and, crucially, augment female strength.

Her work, in furthering the genre of nude photography, is therefore redolent of Helmut Newton. Both share a heritage for imbuing — clothing, ironically — their subjects with such ferocity of attitude that their nakedness becomes a secondary character. As such, where the juxtaposition of nudity and bound hands might otherwise amplify the vulnerability of Iselin, she is, paradoxically, tough. Nude and, yet, armoured. It takes extraordinary skill to tightrope between the obscene and objectifying without ever once falling and, with Emmanuelle, we may do precisely that.

Alt takes the helm after a decade of service under Roitfeld and symbolises, in every way, the progeny — the literal enfant terrible — of Carine’s cradle. She, like the woman who held the top job before her, is an architect of avant-garde not bubblegum imagery. Time will tell what she envisions for Vogue Paris, but — if history is any sort of teacher — we can be assured that, while the pace of its taboo-breaking gallop may lessen, the bread and butter of the magazine will remain essentially unchanged.

Nipples, and all.

Vogue Paris editorial images © 2011 Condé Nast. All Rights Reserved.

Reader Comments (5)

how come she can't make her vogue like that again? as far as I know carine gave her too much freedom on whatever she want's to do for the magazine like she's doesn't need to consult her clothes and layout to her (I think)..oh well theres no permanent in this world except change change change
15 juillet 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbernie
What a great post, Sarah. You really capture Emmanuelle. I felt like I was reading an inroduction to Emmanuelle Alt in Vogue Paris. Bravo!
16 juillet 2011 | Unregistered Commentermike
It's so great to see Sarah of Style Souk here! Sarah has some great insights here, really impressive.
17 juillet 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Kate, when you recommend a talented writer, I always listen! All thanks to YOU for your eye and your suggestion of Sarah as a guest writer, I absolutely love her contribution.
18 juillet 2011 | Registered Commenterkellina
What luck. Freshly pressed brought me to Sarah's blog, which brought me here. I now have two great new sites to follow because of a haphazard click on an interesting looking fashion post. What a talented writer! Sarah's words are just as artful as the work she describes. This is the kind of woman who inspires me to keep writing.
15 septembre 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChloe McDonald

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