Editorial — Editorial of the Month – August – Wildflower – Zoo – No. 31

What happens when a rock star turned photographer points his camera at a model turned singer/song writer? The answer is that you get the fashion story ‘Wildflower’, styled by Arianne Phillips, in the current issue of Zoo magazine.

Zoo No. 31 – Wildflower – Photo: Bryan Adams. Styling: Arianne Phillips

Zoo No. 31 – Wildflower – Photo: Bryan Adams. Styling: Arianne Phillips

The rock star in question is Bryan Adams and the model, Karen Elson; no doubt the wildflower of the title and quite clearly the perfect muse for this story that vacillates between a faux documentary style and shots that narrowly come close to the cheesy gonzo images of burlesque that they imitate. They remain fake however: no DIY trailer park version of a glamour shot -with which we are all unfortunately far too familiar thanks to the Internet- ever looks this good.

Never really a full-blown narrative, Bryan Adams’ story nonetheless conjures up a kind of filmstrip of a shoot from which we can piece together strong ideas based around a small-town country girl and her saucy secrets. Perhaps we’re in David Lynch territory, a kind of ‘Blue Velvet’ in progress? Or perhaps it’s more of a documentary, the common or garden story of a girl doing what she needs to do to survive –if only to satisfy her own sensual needs- a barely noticeable existence in some backwater of North America.

Wherever it’s going and whatever it ultimately says to us, it does so with a certain innocent charm. Not that the parts that are not so innocent are any less sexy for it. On the contrary, ‘Wildflower’ seems to have a certain touch that only a man who really likes women could bring, a certain intrinsic understanding that is often missing in fashion’s depictions of women that are usually informed – dare we say it – by a woman or gay man’s vision of femininity. Mr Adams camera seems to intuitively understand that most straight men are most interested in real women, attainable women whom they might voyeuristically covet from afar and whom, fingers crossed, might actually be accessible to them.

If this explains the previously unprecedented success of the gonzo in the porn industry, then, unfortunately, things are a little more complicated with ‘Wildflower’. Well, naturally, it’s not porn, for a start. But, if pornography uses the most graphic depiction of base carnal desire enacted, at one end of the spectrum, then it would also be naïve to pretend that libidinal stirrings have nothing to do with the sight of Karen in lingerie at the other end of the scale. Hold that idea. Combine it with a little genuinely noble romance and, basically, you have what most people want in a relationship, that crazy little thing called love.

Bryan Adams effortlessly pulls off creating the idea that Karen Elson, his wildflower, is that girl next door, the one that a man could love body and soul. But think again: she’s actually a super-successful model and rising star on the international music scene to boot. Dream on, lads. Now you understand why women always moan about how fashion photography is responsible for creating unrealistic expectations of women. This time, she’s just not realistically yours.

If ‘Wildflower’ amply proves Bryan Adams’ ability to simultaneously create an almost believable fantasy whilst showing off desirable garments from top fashion brands, it also provides a suitable vehicle for explaining fashion’s ongoing fascination with Karen Elson who, as if that weren’t enough, seems set to make the effortless transition from catwalk to concert hall, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Suzanne Vega.

Zoo No. 31 – Wildflower (detail) – Photo: Bryan Adams. Styling: Arianne Phillips

Zoo No. 31 – Wildflower (detail) – Photo: Bryan Adams. Styling: Arianne Phillips