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Kate Moss at 40

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FASHION: Moss the face of Calvin Klein's global campaign. Photo: Calvin Klein/PA

FASHION: Moss the face of Calvin Klein's global campaign. Photo: Calvin Klein/PA

FASHION: Moss the face of Calvin Klein's global campaign. Photo: Calvin Klein/PA

In the frivolous world she inhabits, where a season is an eternity, her endurance has been remarkable.

But 40 is a critical threshold in anyone's life. Victor Hugo said it marked "the old age of youth." So what do we make of the model as she approaches middle age?

Moss's allure is magnified by her high-profile silence. And that is part of the appeal. Moss's personality is as cleverly protected as her body image is adroitly projected. She offers the spectacle of absolute thin-ness and what to do with it.

Moss almost never gives interviews, but one of her comments is memorable. Nothing, she once said, tastes as good as skinny feels.

"Icon" is an abused term, but the prominence and power of Kate Moss's image allows its legitimate use.

An icon was a religious stereotype, often mass-produced, but nonetheless conveying real meaning to a devoted congregation in search of succour and inspiration.

 

Idol

We are that congregation. Kate Moss, via Calvin Klein and other leaders of the religion that is fashion, tells us what an elegant woman looks like. And to the men in the congregation, that emotionless stare simultaneously says: "Not in a million years, sunshine."

Future historians will surely note that Moss came to prominence in the late Eighties at a time when "design" evolved from being a technical conversation into a fashionable topic.

The year after Moss was scouted as a child in John F Kennedy airport, the French high-concept photographer Bettina Rheims took her portrait.

The picture shows a salacious innocent, naked from the waist up, with a tumble of curls. The caption says: "Kate Moss, Londres, 1989".

There was a time when superannuated models, with too many bunions for spike heels and too many wrinkles for a cosmetics shoot, retired away from intrusive lenses and began to paint or raise endangered species, while wearing easy-going kaftans.

Instead, Moss leapt the species barrier and, at a time when her peers had retired, ceased being merely a slow-eyed, knock-kneed, snaggle-toothed animate coat-hanger and actually became a subject for art.

Artists competed to capture her essence. The hyperrealist Chuck Close made Kate Moss daguerreotypes. In 2002, Lucian Freud painted her draped on a daybed. One of his last works of art was a tattoo he gave her. She has been sculpted by Marc Quinn.

An exhibition of Kate Moss images was even planned for Paris's superlative Musee des Arts Decoratifs, a branch of the Louvre.

The control and direction of Kate Moss's image is masterly. She unambiguously suggests erotic pleasure, but is in absolute control of access and has her fingers decisively upon the on-off switch.

It's not all about sex but, if we are honest, quite a lot of it is. Yet there are paradoxes in the Kate Moss sexual proposition.

She has been photographed nude since she was 14 or 15 in images that combine absolute frankness with absolute dignity.

She is ludicrously sexy, but not at all smutty. Perhaps she has that quality that the philosopher Roland Barthes found in striptease: "Woman is desexualised at the very moment when she is stripped naked."

I am not sure I agree – a naked Kate Moss is an affirmation not an invitation to sordid venery.

You can check this in last month's 60th anniversary of Playboy, in which Moss did an ambitious session with Mert and Marcus, the Botticellis of high fashion.

 

EXQUISITE

Kate Moss is beautiful, too. But it's Moss's flaws (those teeth and knock knees), in swaggering combination with exquisite bone structure, exceptional poise and a genius for reinvention, that place her at that point between plain mediocrity and boring perfection.

In our own time, the Harvard literary critic Elaine Scarry says we know something is beautiful if we want more of it. And no one has yet tired of Kate Moss.

hnews@herald.ie


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