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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Beautiful Purple

Stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin, ever in black, on her second favorite color...

Early Tuesday evening I reluctantly dragged my overheated self uptown to John McWhinnie/Glenn Horowitz gallery and bookstore, probably my favorite in the city, for the launch of Purple Anthology (Rizzoli), celebrating fifteen years of Purple magazine. Was it the oppressive weather and the anticipation of a smallish space that was making me so sluggish? Or was it the reality that fifteen fashion years had pretty much shot by?

Purple captured a moment in the 90s by linking art and fashion in a very particular way. It's not that the two worlds hadn't co-existed before (Andy Warhol merged them brilliantly), but this time editors Olivier Zahm and Elein Fleiss commissioned art photographers to shoot fashion, achieving a uniquely raw and spontaneous aesthetic. Artists such as Corinne Day, Mark Borthwick, Juergen Teller, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, Marcelo Krasilcic and Richard Kern shaped and defined their photographic vocabulary within these fashion pages. The covers, meanwhile, broke all the rules of market research. Wolfgang Tillmans' image of a man peering between a woman's naked legs, Vivianne Sassen's blindfolded figure and Vincent Gallo in a Balenciaga dress, shot by Terry Richardson, are just a few of the standouts.

Purple wasn't just one magazine, but several. Purple Prose celebrated the intelligently written word. Alongside often crude and certainly un-retouched images were essays penned by the likes of Bruce Benderson, Glenn O’Brien, Kim Gordon, Jutta Koether and Gary Indiana, as well as the editors themselves. And then, of course, there was Purple Sexe. I have always been attracted to the provocative, and had secretly been planning to do my own magazine that combined fashion and sex in a brutally honest approach to eroticism. But when I first set eyes on Purple Sexe, my personal project instantly seemed redundant. No need to compete, just to participate.

The magazine had such an impact on the industry and fashion photography itself that it inspired an army of point-and-shoot photographers to pick up their snap cameras. But more than this, it provided a showcase for more experimental designers Martin Margiela, Bless, Lutz, Maria Cornejo and Susan Cianciolo, who I remember styling for a shoot with Marcelo Krasilcic. Naturally backlit, she sat on a windowsill in his Chinatown studio, cradling his cat who had walked into the shot. There were also Japanese favorites, such as Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe. Initially, Purple seemed free of advertiser dictates, incorporating them like a special guest invited to come play with the cool crowd. Things have changed considerably over the years, and it's now the advertiser that seems to host the party.

Arriving to the Purple Anthology launch, I was surprised not to see the usual suspects. Soon enough though, Glenn O’Brien, photogs Mark Borthwick and Maciek Kobielski, and artist Hope Atherton—perfectly accessorized in fantastic enormous rings—popped in, along with designer Elise Overland, whose forearm-long armbands were an equally impressive commitment to accessorizing. I ran into fellow stylists Keeghan Singh, Christopher Niquet and Masha Orlov, whose oversized Ksubi T-shirt dress seemed like a cool solution to heat-wave dressing. I chatted to picture editor and curator Emma Reeves, Abrams' Eva Prinz, DAP's Alex Galan, Anthony Petrilose of Empire Books, who also collaborates with Rizzoli. The notoriously affectionate Olivier Zahm, too, showed up, followed by many a pretty girl.

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