The fashion shoot without clothes would seem to indicate that fashion journalism has at last disappeared up its own well-toned fundament.
Last week, America's daily fashion newspaper Women's Wear Daily felt the need to comment at length on the latest issue of this relatively small- circulation title, claiming that the nude shoot, which leaves nothing to the imagination, was the "hot topic" in fashion circles. This kind of high-profile reaction is what makes Dutch magazine noteworthy. It currently has a circulation of 45,000 a month (25,000 in Holland, 20,000 internationally), is four years old, and was initially published as a style title for the people of Holland.
WWD also asked Cristina Ortiz, the designer from the French house Lanvin, how she felt about her label being represented by a girl covered in goose- pimples and showing her breasts. Her answer was: "I wasn't shocked at all... I think it is the Lanvin woman, sensual but not aggressive." And Ortiz was so happy that she put pen to paper, writing to the editor to thank him for modernising the idea of her customer.
Impressionistic fashion shoots are not, strictly speaking, a new or revolutionary idea. All magazines regularly attribute a barely visible hem or shoulder strap to a designer label when, in fact, it could come from anywhere.
Ultimately, with all fashion magazines it all boils down to revenue, and keeping advertisers happy. Matthias Vriens, Dutch's editor-in-chief readily admits: "It was an easy trick to pull, but we have got to make money. When I came up with the idea for 85 pages of nudes with clothing captions, some friends and colleagues thought it was ludicrous, but the bottom line is that the pictures are beautiful, not offensive. Girls appear in magazines in the nude all the time. Boys never. But this is humanity at its most natural."
Indeed, the shoot features all the regular advertisers, including Fendi, Jil Sander, Joop!, Prada Sport, Calvin Klein and Chanel - and also courts potential advertisers. There have been no complaints. If anything, the themed nudity forces the onlooker to assess and analyse why one particular image has been placed with a certain designer label.
Vriens's editorial policy is representative of his nationality: "I am Dutch," he states. "We are a very open-minded race, and this magazine is for open-minded people. We didn't take each picture with a designer label in mind, but when the shoot was finished, I took the prints to my office, stuck them to the wall for two weeks and puzzled away. Some of the pairings are obvious, such as the feet in water with the shoe label Cesare Paciotti; others less so. The Missoni picture features girls with plaited hair. The plaits represent Missoni's knitting. Fendi [known for fur coats] was also obvious. There's a little fur available there, on the pudendum," he points out, and then laughs at my facial expression, which is a perfect example, he says, of my Englishness (those Ikea adverts are so spot-on).
Last year, when Vriens, now 35, was made editor-in-chief, he began to generate the fashion editorial from Paris, and by this summer the whole magazine, including global music, arts, and travel, in addition to cutting- edge fashion, was being created from the city. Vriens also took the step of publishing the whole magazine with English text. Until August of this year it was a half-Dutch, half-English mix. In the last few months it has become one of the most talked-about of the new generation of European style magazines, and is becoming increasingly influential as a global title, because it takes an honest look at the world as it is now, and has no major ties to advertisers (hence the nudity). Therefore it is not heavily niched towards one type of lifestyle, though it is gay-friendly, with an equal balance of gay and straight contributors.
A pull-out portfolio by the photographer Mario Testino, published in 1996, was so popular that Testino recently published his first book, Any Objections?, based on it. Yves Saint Laurent, the legendary fashion designer, also came out of seclusion to be photographed for an issue devoted to his work. High-profile subscribers include Tom Ford of Gucci, Miuccia Prada, Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld, and sales in New York, London and Paris are currently increasing monthly.
"I do what I do now, simply because I can," says Vriens, who runs the magazine almost single-handedly in Paris on minimal budgets, with one assistant and a trainee. "Let's face it, everything has been done, so I want this magazine to be different. Why make a Marie Claire, a Vogue, a Face or an i-D? They are there already."