Let Icons Be Icons

Following the release of Annie Leibovitz photos of Michelle Williams looking bang tidy – and then some – all done up like Marilyn Monroe last week, I got thinking about modern fashion editorial habits (sounds highbrow, actually done on the number 56 bus home). More specifically, I was pondering the fairly habitual practice of dressing up this generation of actresses, models and other pretty types as ‘Fashion Icons’, rather than, well, themselves: you can even do it yourself this season with Banana Republic’s Mad Men branded collection.

So Michelle Williams, tortured ex of Heath Ledger, becomes the equally tortured Marilyn (as does Lohan, and any other pneumatic sort); Lara Stone is a 21st century, fur-friendlier Brigitte Bardot; seven different actresses recreate classic photos of Elizabeth Taylor (including Winslet) for V Magazine; January Jones is this year’s Grace Kelly; Georgia May Jagger becomes Margaret Thatcher and Lily Collins and Kaya Scodelario do Audrey Hepburn for Tatler and Vanity Fair respectively.

Though this is all good and well – indeed, as the pictures below demonstrate, this can create some stunningly artistic and entirely beautiful shoots – it sometimes can seem a little too easy (and cheap – Kim Kardashian as Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra anyone?). Unless this generation are actually recreating some element of the icons they impersonate – Williams is in the upcoming film My Week with Marilyn about Monroe and Cate Blanchett brilliantly appeared as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There – the practice of dressing stars up as Monroe, Jackie O, Taylor, Hepburn et al. can go too far – feeling fraudulent rather than fun. Lindsay Lohan may be fragile and curvaceous and obsessed with Norma Jean, but recreating Bert Stern’s ‘Last Sitting’ shoot in 2008 was fashion filler while her career crumbled. Likewise Lily Collins may be a promising young actress and the daughter of a famous rock star (though I’m not sure you can apply the term ‘rock star’ to Phil Collins) but her Tatler shoot styled as Audrey Hepburn suggests she isn’t interesting enough on those points alone.

More interesting are the girls who reference a classic look and make it theirs – see Gwen Stefani’s homage to Jean Harlow or Lou Doillon’s assured, understated nod to Patti Smith. Even Lady Gaga, who has previously worn meat dresses and wombs for outfits, took Madonna’s conical bra and added a healthy dose of pyrotechnics at the MuchMusic Video Awards in 2009 for a hilariously original finale. It is this use of fashion iconography that is wittier and ironically more original: conveying more about the women of this generation than using editorial pages to do somewhat creepy, and sometimes lazy impressions of previous queens of screen and stage. The subtlety may require more thought, but it assures longevity, and it is this that ultimately makes an icon.

The Impressionists: 

Michelle Williams by Annie Leibovitz, US Vogue, October 2011

Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There

The Pretenders:

Lindsay Lohan by Bert Stern, NY Mag, February 2008

Kaya Scodelario by Michael Roberts, Vanity Fair, November 2010

Lily Collins by Robert Erdmann, Tatler, June 2011

Georgia May Jagger by Terry Richardson, Harpers Bazaar, September 2011

Kate Winslet by Mario Testino, V Magazine, Autumn 2011

The Borrowers:

Gwen Stefani by Matthias Vriens McGrath, Elle UK, April 2011

Lou Doillon, borrowed from here


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