A Magazine, is the shorthand by which the publishing adventure producing ‘A Magazine curated by…’ (some of the world’s top fashion talents) is better known. A Magazine is one of those special and especially lauded niche publishing projects. Intrinsically bound up with the concentrated fashion powerhouse that is Belgian fashion, A Magazine has an ethos and history that focuses as heavily on the conceptual as the fashion design practices that are associated with Antwerp.
The latest in the line-up of fashion designers who has been asked to produce an issue of this most personal of magazines is Giambattista Valli, the Roman designer whose own progress towards launching his own line shortly after the millennium was a rather unusual one. Whilst Valli’s designer credits in Italian luxury house are mostly certainly there – Ungaro, Krizia, Fendi- it is interesting to note that Valli undertook as many roles on the PR and public image side of things as on the design teams.
This social aspect, this ability to move within society, and that special space where high society and the demimondes of artistic bohemia intersect in La Dolce Vita, is one of the undercurrents of Giambattista Valli’s turn as curator of A Magazine. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s self-evident in both the selection of images (maybe even how they were facilitated) and the choices of contributors and interviewees.
Margherita Maccapani Missoni, Diane von Furstenberg and François Sagat all willingly subject themselves to Valli’s questionnaire that connects the strongly visual elements of the issue. Valli’s choices, the world he conjures up -as much as his debut Disco-inspired collections- hum with a certain nostalgia for a very particular world, that strand that connects the heady days of Studio 54 with Fellini’s observations of Roman society in La Dolce Vita and, indeed, far further back to even more ancient Roman society. There is something implicit in this position that speaks of a certain meritocracy, something that historically makes the rich and powerful feel at home with artistic undergrounds or even the flagrantly notorious, perhaps through a certain shared interest in impractical things like beauty and art.
Like many of the other distinguished invitees of A Magazine, Giambattista Valli, seizes the opportunity to produce something that is outside of the expected remit of a jobbing fashion designer. This is not a standard magazine. Rather, the pages are given over as a blank space in which the designer literally takes on the role of curator. In fact, it was this pioneering position of A Magazine that has brought the world the mixed blessing of those in fashion feeling free to cast themselves in a curatorial role, a phenomenon that has become quotidian in recent years, much to the chagrin of those staunchly trained as curators.
In Giambattista Valli’s hands, however, A Magazine produces one of the most clearly cohesive issues ever. The various subtexts about exclusive glamourous cliques of society are anchored in a discussion of the nature of beauty that explicitly runs throughout the title.
In fact, the notion of highlighting any specific ‘article’ becomes rather artificial; a matter of personal taste. In effect, this particular issue of A Magazine is a single meta-article, an ode to and reflection upon beauty. In addition to the elaborated discussions, it becomes all the more fascinating for what is not overtly stated, for example, the societal paradigms that emerge from its presentation. And it also becomes something of an insight into the ‘eye’ of Valli.
This is nowhere more clear than in the wordless article introduced by a Yoko Ono quote that juxtaposes the photography of Jack Pierson and François Halard. Of a similar generation, and both working with photography, there is no immediate connection between the practices of the two artists. Pierson is primarily known for his haunting, impressionistic photos, often with an overtly gay or homoerotic quality, usually realised as a kind of DIY homage to earlier art movements. By contrast, Halard is known as a photographer of architecture and interiors, and, in particular, the lavish and beautiful private homes of the wealthy designed by and containing numerous objet d’art by Modernism’s leading architects and artists.
And then it all becomes effortlessly clear: the expression of beauty and the possession of beauty; the achievement of the art object and its display…. Back to La Dolce Vita, Valli’s eye shows us its preoccupation with beauty as something that always has a social context.