Ever since Stefano Tonchi moved to W, revamping it from top-to-bottom, I've had mixed feelings about the magazine. W holds a special place in my heart. My dad used his frequent flier miles to subscribe to a whole stack of magazines, which started my love for the medium. In particular, discovering old, apparently unread mid-1990s issues of W in my garage played a big role in kick-starting my interest in designers, haute couture and the industry as a whole. It had a decidedly less consumer-centric stance than the other fashion magazines - there were no prices in the editorials! - which is probably the perfect thing to get a kid drunk on dreaming about the rarefied upper echelons of fashion. The December 2002 issue of W was the first magazine I ever bought by myself. Julianne Moore covered the issue, shot by Michael Thompson, wearing a mess of red curls and a hot fuchsia dress. It was a cold, drippy November day in the long-gone Waldenbooks at Alderwood Mall, and I was sold on the way W covered the European collections before Style.com really got serious about reviewing shows. (Once upon a time, Plum Sykes, author of Bergdorf Blondes and The Debutante Divorcee, used to write reviews for Style.com.) After leafing through a huge fashion extravaganza shot by Bruce Weber, including a circle of models in a candy rainbow of Marc Jacobs’ cap-sleeve satin dresses for Louis Vuitton, I was in love. I had every intention of starting a collection, which was a valiant effort for a teenager with no driver’s license and no income. Nevertheless, every time my dad needed to drop by Albertson’s or Trader Joe’s or anything in the same strip mall as a Half-Price Books, I would tag along and shell out for as many $1 back-issues they had in-stock. Sometimes I would hit the jackpot, but usually I struck out.
Everything about the magazine at the time felt fresh and new and like a lesson to be devoured. There were editorials I found completely shocking at the time. I remember feeling a little disturbed by Natalia Vodianova’s bleached eyebrows, chopped bangs, and demonic, blackened baby pout in “Secret Garden,” shot by Dusan Reljin for the November 2002 issue (http://vivelechic.livejournal.com/114845.html), though it’s impressive about how almost tame and run-of-the-mill this now looks a decade later. In the years before Lady Gaga, W offered a taste of the haute that no other media outlets accessible to me were able to provide.
Now…I don’t know. I leafed through this year’s September issue and was disappointed that I felt none of the elation or sense of wonderment that I did a decade ago. Of course, part of that could be attributed to my own changing perceptions, no longer an outsider of the industry and possibly a little jaded to the idea of extreme imagery by its blatant penetration into everyday popular culture. Still, I had high hopes. What’s in the issue?
Penelope Cruz snagged the cover, with Mert and Marcus behind the lens, zoomed tight on her flawless face. Her Lynn Ban lapis necklace is a statement that renders her clothing irrelevant. She's obviously a gorgeous woman, and it's comforting to see her on the cover of W again.
Saks Fifth Avenue was the only department store to buy pages in W this year, making it stand out from the other department stores. Unfortunately, the images themselves are more bland than any recent year I can recall Saks’ ads being. Circles and mirrors and white backdrops, oh…I think I fell asleep.
There's a profile of Oberlin alum Jessica Jackson Hutchins, whose work is provoking and at times grotesque, but always fascinating. Her move to Berlin from Portland with her husband Stephen Malkmus (of the band Pavement) and their two daughters seems like it could start an expat trend for Portland hipsters. If only.
Saskia de Brauw stars in an editorial shot by Mert and Marcus and styled by Edward Enninful that is bold and Fashion-y and full of body padding, though I don't think I'll remember any of these shots a decade out like I do with the old Natalia editorials.
Steven Meisel shot a gothic fantasy inspired seemingly by The Path, starring Hanne Gaby Odiele, Meghan Collison, Yuri Plesku (who starred as a goblin in the Balenciaga ads with Gisele a few seasons back), and some lesser-known models, dressed as bloodied, forest dwellers out of a Grimm tale of horror, cooking models dressed as fawns over a fire, engaging in some ritualistic feat of sorcery, and playing with horrific dolls. Edward Enninful is a masterful stylist that I adore to no end, but this photoshoot fell flat to me for no particular reason other than it felt so out-of-place and it gave me flashbacks of Hot Topic more than anything else.
The best part of W in recent months has been the 40 and Fabulous section, devoted to photos from W's past 40 years. This month, old clippings of designers span three pages, from Alexander McQueen to Geoffrey Beene. The photos in W under Stefano Tonchi have all been so frustratingly small. Why should I have to squint to see something up-close? I'm 25 years old, dammit. Still, it's sweet to see old, foxy photos of Nicolas Ghesquière or Ralph Lauren.
With more than a decade of following W under my belt, I've come to view it as a magazine that I will pick up out of habit more than out of any real desire to see what's inside. Still, I'm open to finding something inspiring inside. There was a photo from W of Lara Stone wearing Jean-Paul Gaultier that I saw at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and thought, gosh, why isn't every shot this breathtakingly off-putting and beautiful? Breathtakingly off-putting and beautiful is probably the best way to describe what W at its most perfect moments.