photos by Lucian Perkins
text by Robin Givhan
Published by Chronicle Books
120 pages, 1998
Buy it online
Demigoddesses at Work and Rest
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
It was a 1990s phenomenon. The coat hanger girls of earlier in the century -- chosen for their unlikeliness to compete with the clothes -- have this decade become mondo-mega-superstars in their own rights. Some of them demanding fees that make even professional athlete's incomes pale by comparison. This development has not been without a couple of sides. There are those to whom supermodel stardom is second to none. Others deride the advent of skinny girls as demigoddesses. Runway Madness is about none of that.
For more than a decade, Lucian Perkins has documented the absurdity of fashion as well as the drama. He shoots the action on the runway, but more than merely recording a model strutting along a catwalk, he captures the unguarded moment: the surprising juxtaposition, the beauty in subtle detail, the instant in which a model's pleasure is reflected in a shy smile.
The balance of the introductory text sounds equally publicity-department-generated. Where we get to see a bit more of Givhan's own style and insight are in the cutlines to the photos themselves. In the 50 or so words she's allotted with each photo, Givhan manages to sneak in not only textual illustration, but even some history and drama. For instance, for a backstage photo of a delighted Todd Oldham and some of his models from a 1990 show, Givhan tells us:
It takes a designer months to put a collection together. The actual presentation is over in about fifteen minutes. After the show, magazine editors converge on a designer's showroom to make preliminary decisions about which sample garments will be featured prominently in upcoming issues.
Each photo is given equally thorough treatment and Givhan has a great deal to teach us. Unfortunately, Runway Madness has been set up in traditional art-book style. The photos themselves are unblemished by the intrusion of potentially illuminating words. The book itself is scattered with quotes from famous fashion personalities, ("I don't even want to be a lady. I want to be a woman. Oftentimes in a fitting I say, 'Oh, just to be a woman for fifteen minutes!' The clothes are so beautiful. It's a fantasy. It's what inspires me." Designer Isaac Mizrahi. ) including various designers, models and fashion writers. Givhan's cutlines have been relegated to the back of the book, each with a thumbnail-size version of the photograph at the front of the book. That means that following the narrative makes for a lot of front and back flipping: and no one likes to work that hard just to follow the photographs.
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of The Next Ex.