Oh, Grow Up

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Oh, Grow Up


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


ASKED TO COMMENT on the recent ad campaign he shot for Versace, Steven Meisel tells me it was all about "extravagance. Over-the-top LA excessiveness--is that a word?" Not that fashion hasn't often trafficked in opulence. But Meisel, perhaps best known for his infamous Calvin Klein jeans basement shoot and his queues of artificially gritty, Avedon-inflected model-zombies for cK One perfume--both styles of ripe adolescence--now gives us with his Versace excessiveness (yes, it is a word) an opulent fantasy structure about the power of the adult.

Given the cultural staple of the ersatz sexy, cutesy teen--from boy bands to Britney Spears to Teen Vogue--adulthood suddenly looks like nothing short of a luxury good. An unconscious (?) desire for the adult helps explain how Meisel, with the unerring aid of stylist Lori Goldstein, manages to present everything in a way that includes yet is somehow beyond parody--both of the superrich and of Versace's usual gaudy style, which up till now has always had more to do with louche rock 'n' rollers, lucky whores (of both sexes), and arrivistes than with Taste. Big fafa diamonds, huge sunglasses, fully dressed blonde hair, blue-green eye shadow, ladies (models Amber Valletta and Georgina Grenville--as young Donatellas?) tranquilized with poodles, a decorator mix of baroque, moderne, and classic furniture, and various tchotchkes (pink rhinestone cigarette lighters, coral fragments, chinoiserie) of a provenance indefinable other than that of luxury.

How easily this could have been merely a send-up of sturdy society horticulturist C.Z. Guest or LA doyenne Candy Spelling, who in a recent interview justifies the 56,000-square-foot vastness of the Spelling mansion by way of her husband's unwillingness to get on a plane. ("There are a lot of well-to-do people who have many homes everywhere in the world. We don't. And we don't have a plane or a boat. So we use every room in this house. This is all we have.") Little match girl-like, Candy's "this is all we have" is as disconcerting as witnessing abject poverty. Perhaps because Meisel recently took up residence in LA, it seems he wants to understand what's mesmerizing and hysterical about being so disconcerted, and what the city has to do with it: This certainly isn't East Coast blueblood, but it's not simply LA glamour run amok either. …

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