In the complex world of superheroes and in real life, my favourite characters are those who have flaws. I’ve never liked invincible characters because they’re so boring. The birth of a fictional creature like a superhero is based on the construction of his/her myth (the past, the metamorphosis, the crisis, the final triumph); the more complex this process, the more interesting the character. Every culture has its superheroes and I’ve always rooted for two of them – one American (Vampirella) and one Japanese (Lamu), female figures who have flaws (the first is a sort of vampire outcast, fighting against bad vampires, while the second is an alien who pines for a human and uses her powers to keep him by her side). Steven Klein has recently turned to this realm of pop culture for a photoshoot starring Linda Evangelista, published on the September 2012 issue of W Magazine. Super Linda introduces many faces of the same topic through the metamorphosis of the legendary top model; the result is stunning: the contrast between the ordinary/suburbian settings and the over-the-top/fetish outfits is the first noteworthy element.
As a visual nerd, I tried to find the sources of inspiration for some of the pictures of the photoshoot.
Fetish clothing and high fashion accessories create an irresistible mix which characterizes the whole photoshoot. In this picture, for example, Linda pairs Atsuko Kudo latex cape and catsuit to Moschino sunglasses, 3.1 Phillip Lim belt and Versace boots. Her artificial, unnaturally yellow hair can be seen as a reference to the unique hairstyle sported by the Martian Girl (Lisa-Marie) in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996), as well as a nod to Pandemonia, the famous London-based conceptual artist.
When I first saw this picture, a movie starring Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven by Todd Haynes, directed in 2002) came to my mind; I guess this happened because the photoshoot is imbued with a strong 50s/60s vibe: many of the superhero references come from those decades, but the general atmosphere refers to the same period. As for this picture, in particular, it is as if Linda were a traditional housewife (wearing a Marni yellow lambskin coat and a Falconiere bonnet) wearing a superhero mask: the contrast is sublime. If we focus on the mask, it’s clearly a reference to that worn by Catwoman, one of Batman’s fiercest enemies. The character’s costume has gone through an evolution: the full mask was first seen on Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992).
Another picture of the photoshoot, where Linda is lying on a bed, wearing a Calvin Klein Collection leather dress, Piazza Sempione wool and silk turtleneck, Atsuko Kudo gloves and Manolo Blahnik clear plastic boots, presents another reference to a different stage of the character’s evolution. As a matter of fact, the mask by David Samuel Menkes worn by the model reminds us of the one seen on Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt, who played Catwoman in the 1960s Batman tv series.
This is my favourite picture, because the theme of the superhero is presented in all its glory, without contaminations. Here Linda is a true superhero, whose identity must be kept secret: her face is completely hidden by a full-face mask and her body is covered by a vinyl catsuit by Atsuko Kudo. The mask is extremely interesting: I see it as a reference to the masks worn by luchadores. In this Mexican form of professional wrestling (called Lucha Libre), the role of the mask is very important: even if not all the wrestlers wear a mask, it is part of their honour; if a wrestler removes the opponent’s mask during the match, this can lead to disqualification. The fighter becomes a sort of superhero, whose identity must be kept secret: just think that Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, the legendary Mexican luchador known as El Santo, removed his silver mask in public only one year after his retirement and was even buried wearing it. On the other hand, the graphic embellishments of the catsuit remind me of a Japanese superhero, Megaloman, created by Tetsu Kariya in the 1970s.
Talking of catsuit, it’s impossible to talk about science fiction without noting the important influence this piece of clothing has had on the genre. Its basic version – the jumpsuit – was born in the early 20th century, a symbol of the Italian Futurist movement – a simple and cheap garment for everyday use. The idea of pragmatism and the imagery connected to it soon turned the jumpsuit and its tight version (the catsuit) into icons. The number of cinema and cartoon (super)heroes who wear it is endless. The Jitrois lambskin catsuit seen on Linda Evangelista, paired to a Versace belt, reminds me of one of the most famous fictional catsuit wearers, the one and only Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg), the spy protagonist of the British tv show The Avengers.
Linda wears another jumpsuit (this one is by Valentino) in the picture above, paired to an Atsuko Kudo latex crimson cape, House of Harlot gloves and a latex top by The Baroness. The key elements of this look are the cape and the helmet, a clear homage to Nyah, the devilish protagonist of a 1954 British science-fiction film by David MacDonald, Devil Girl from Mars . The character (played by Patricia Laffan) was an alien whose mission was kidnapping men to replace the dying male population of her planet; her weapon was a paralyzing gun, the same held by Linda Evangelista.
Another reference to a famous science fiction film can be found in the picture above, where Linda is a latex-clad alien, resembling the alien form of Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), the thin protagonist of Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976): in this case, the humanoid’s mission was to bring water to his native planet, Anthea.
The sources of inspiration of the last three pictures are just guesses, but I had some fun in trying to identify the real thing. In the picture above, Linda Evangelista is wearing an outfit which refers to the most traditional BDSM imagery – lace-up trousers and over-the-knee boots, hooded top and corset belt. Her pose is very interesting because I think it’s a reference to religion: there’s a Jesus Christ picture on the wall and the position of Linda’s arms seems to create a sort of triangle, which could refer to the Trinity of the Christian doctrine. This is reinforced by the presence of the statuette of a saint (could it be Saint Anthony‘s?). As for her outfit, the shape of her hood reminds me of Kuromi, a mischievous Sanrio character who wears a black jester hat.
I know I haven’t got it right, but the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this picture (Linda seems to be surrendering to enemies) is a cult tv show from the 80s, V, created by Kenneth Johnson. It’s the same old story of aliens trying to take control of the Earth and fighting against humans, but in this case the 80s aesthetics is so clear and kind of appealing. In particular, the black and red uniform of the alien Diana (Jane Badler) introduces the colour scheme we can also find in the Balenciaga dress and Atsuko Kudo gloves worn by Linda.
This last picture introduces a slightly different theme, present in another picture as well. The outfits refer to a different sphere, more safari hunter than alien, but the SM details (the horsewhip, the black leather) are always there. This change leaves me a bit baffled, because it breaks the consistent pattern of the photoshoot, but maybe there are references I cannot get. In any case, there’s an element which surely reminds me of a famous science fiction movie: the Alexander Wang boots worn by the model have a patent leather front insert, a modern version of those seen on Jane Fonda as Barbarella in the 1968 movie by Roger Vadim. Fonda’s outfits, designed by Paco Rabanne, were a display of new technologies and materials and probably one of the best visions on the future given by a fashion designer. Linda’s outfit lacks this quality but those boots speak more than 100 words.
The styling of Edward Enninful is really brilliant because it takes fetish clothing and accessories to a higher level, but there’s another thing which stands out: the setting. All the pictures are set in ordinary indoor locations – living rooms and bedrooms, furnished with ordinary objects and shiny curtains – and outdoor places – a wood or a Tim Burton-like neighbourhood. The only disappointment is the absence of a swimming pool (Steven Klein’s trademark), but the complexity of the pictures and the different levels on which they can be enjoyed make up for it.
 Thanks to my friend F.C.N., who told me this picture was inspired to the movie by MacDonald and took some time to analyze the photoshoot for me, looking for other cultural references.