Beverly Johnson, first black woman on the cover of VOGUE, August 1974
My timing was perfect as I attended Monday’s preview of the Costume Institute show, THE MODEL AS MUSE at the Metropolitan Museum, for I arrived at the same time as supermodel Beverly Johnson, the first black woman to grace on the cover of VOGUE magazine (and survivor of an abusive relationship with Chris “Mr. Big” Noth), who is just as gorgeous and svelte as ever. I just hope La Johnson was also invited to that evening’s ever-more-exclusive ball, as well she should have been, for her prominent place in that magazine’s and, indeed, modeling, history.
Marion Morehouse, supermodel of the Jazz Age, beloved by photographer Edward Steichen, painted by her husband, poet E. E. Cummings
In these stressed economic times, scary indeed for magazines and museums, there was a slightly more warm and fuzzy feel to the event. Chairwoman of the benefit gala, Anna Wintour, in a fetching beige paper silk, scallop-edged coat, doffed those trademark shades and seemed less aloof, “democratically” hanging out at the press reception instead of remaining esconced in her seat. Her most prominent social partner was Marc Jacobs, whose company is underwriting the exhibit, and he looked terrific and sexy, tanned with pitch black faux-hawk in a black skirt/shorts ensemble. He addressed the crowd, saying what an honor it was for him to work with the museum, which he grew up with and still avails himself of the research opportunities in their fashion library. Costume Institute Director Harold Koda mentioned how the idea for the show came about during a lunch with co-curator Kohle Yohannon who had the manuscript for his book about Conde Nast models (which became the show’s catalogue) with him. Wintour inspected the show over the weekend and observed of the room which featured the grunge era of the early ’90s, as “just not grungy enough.” With that, hair stylist Julien D’Ys, who had worked on all the mannequins, flew into action, spray painting the walls with drawings of famous models and their names, while, as Yohannon told me, he kept shouting ideas (“Naomi!, Carmen!”) at him.
The apotheosis of the supermodel: Linda, Cindy, Naomi and Christy strutting to George Michael’s “Freedom” at the Gianni Versace show finale
The show, awash with VOGUE covers featuring dazzling icons of the last 50 years, should be a huge popular hit – yes, the “Trinity” (Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington) is prominently featured – and I can imagine hordes of kids just camping out in the galleries all summer long.
Conspicuously absent: Azzedine Alaia (with Grace Jones)
There will be many quibbles, I imagine, about who and what was left out, like the ongoing issues of the scarcity of ethnic models and ever younger and more emaciated bodies being forever, it seems, in vogue. There’s already a big brouhaha about the absence of model-favorite designer Azzedine Alaia, which resulted in certain big-time no-shows at the ball from the likes of Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour and Linda Evangelista. Alaia had evidently designed gowns for some seven models, but personally requested that they not wear them to the event. He should have let them show up in his drag, which would have made the strongest model-as-muse statement of them all.
I personally wish more emphasis had been given, on film, to the thrilling runway work of the models, as well as their print images – from the early, mincingly demure strutting in intimate salons with the models bearing numbered cards of their outfits to the strikingly fresh and energetic seminal pret-a-porter shows of the ’70s to the outrageous extravaganzas which followed by the likes of designers Thierry Mugler, Gianni Versace and John Galliano. And there isn’t a single photo or video sequence of the greatest runway model of them all: Pat Cleveland.
Pat Cleveland, photographed by Antonio Lopez
and here’s a tribute to her:
Donatella Versace at the Ball. Ah, the glamour of fashion!