"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Promiscuous Consumption



Sometimes exhibitionists make the

best models.



While Warhol's Factory and

McLuhan's academy were

mass-producing the masters'

media massage, Andre Courreges

kicked off the spirit of the New

Frontier with a pair of white

midcalf boots. True to its

forward-looking name, his

Couture Future pumped out high

fashion notably lacking in

nostalgia. Sashaying down the

runway to rock-and-roll music,

the dressmaker's damsels sported

such radical chic as hip-hugging

skirts, halter tops, and

transparent blouses.


[Tom Ford]

Thirty years later, on the

strength of déjà-vu peekaboo

designs that cling to today's

supersylphs, Tom Ford has

scrambled to the top of the

sartorial heap. He cleaned up at

the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards,

claiming statuettes for both his

womens- and menswear collections

and receiving commendations not

only for bringing back Gucci -

just a decade ago seriously

"frowned upon by the real

stylemeisters" - but for

creating clothes that promise to

propel you from the depths of

the faceless pack to the

rarefied heights of the society

pages. These are threads, in the

words of Fashion Television's

Jeanne Beker, "that make you

look and feel rich, powerful,

hot, and sexy."


"Sexy, sexy," echoed Ford,

knowing better than to mess with

success or the fashion press.

Opening up as nonchalantly as

his unbuttoned black shirt, he

did, however, inject a

cautionary qualification. "By

sexy I don't mean clothes that

you're necessarily going to put

on to go out and pick someone up

to have sex with..."



Designers aren't the only

entertainers exercising prudence

in these permissive yet

neopuritanical times. Nor are

they alone in recognizing the

utility of baring their breasts

in public. James Atlas, who also

remembers when parties were

still parties, recently poured

out his heart in The New Yorker

lamenting "The Fall of Fun."

Back in the dark days before

distributed systems and

downsizing had consolidated the

literary-industrial complex, the

life of the mind took shape in

the realm of the senses, an

intoxicating intellectual haze

of heady hedonism and high

rhetoric. Today the phrase

"nipple to the bottle" evokes

nursing a newborn, not a

hangover, and "sex, women, fun"

forms the basis of a lawsuit,

not an evening on the Upper East




Such lyrical longing perhaps

helps explain the popularity of

David LaChapelle. Another

creative genius shaped by the

Halston-era heyday of Studio 54 -

and also a winner at the VH1

Fashion Awards - this

photographer specializes in a

cheery vision of couture and

celebrity in all its

polymorphous perversity. Take

the picture used as a

"trademark" on the cover of his

new book, LaChapelle Land. A

very small-c catholic

interpretation of the Madonna

and Child, it focuses on a

miniature Maybelline girl barely

out of swaddling clothes; her

precocious mouth agape like an

inflatamate, she lies sprawling

on a beach-towel portrait of the

topless Ms. Ciccone.


[L. Dicaprio]

The volume overflows with a

similar mix of sentimentality

and scopophilia, evoking both

Hollywood Babylon and the part

of Camelot that couldn't be

killed at Dealey Plaza. Drew

Barrymore serves up grapefruits

and splatters wedding tradition

in shots that are at once

consummate cheesecake and pomo

pinup. Leonardo DiCaprio struts

his stuff as a white-clad

midnight cowboy. Faye Dunaway

fights for her life in the face

of fading sex appeal and star

power. Placing his camera at the

intersection of trendsetting and

trainspotting, LaChapelle

captures the high-low collision

of white-limo trash culture.


[Photo, Heh]

Against the backdrop of recent

seasons' "new conservatism" and

the traditional strategy of

making bucks through classic

beauty, LaChapelle Land stands

out for its redeeming ugliness,

both as a marketing technique

and a philosophy of

representation. Celebrating mass

culture and making fun of it,

LaChapelle capitalizes on the

mimetic meltdown of

postindustrial America. With an

aesthetic palette equal parts

cinematography and pornography,

he speaks to the extremes of our

consumer consciousness,

consecrating the unrepentant

promiscuousness of conspicuous

consumption into a kind of smut




LaChapelle, unsurprisingly, is

clever enough to disarm critics

by deconstructing himself: The

overleaf depicts a sea of

rosy-tipped Maxfield Parrish

cumuli interrupted only by an

old-fashioned airliner, the

tailfin sporting a single

maraschino cherry, the fuselage

emblazoned with the words

"Artists + Prostitutes." In

LaChapelle Land, all of creation

is a self-propelled,

self-commodifying system.



Thus the sublime becomes

subliminal - not an imitation of

life but an artful reworking of

the soul as a shadow that lines

the luminous cloud of desire. In

LaChapelle's hands, even the

moment of birth becomes a

high-gloss hymn to excess.

Though adoring obstetricians may

raise an infant to the sky, the

real object of affection is the

pair of Grecian spike-heeled

sandals on the mother's shapely

feet. It's not the miracle of

life that creates the warm glow

in LaChapelle Land. It's the


courtesy of Bartleby