“I’m all for amusing, crazy goings-on,” fashion editor Diana Vreeland noted one night, in December 1975, at the launch of Deborah Turbeville’s fictitious fashion magazine Maquillage, “but essentially fashion is a totally serious business and it always has been.” Produced in a limited edition of one thousand copies, Maquillage was first shown when the New York bookstore Rizzoli held the exhibition Fashion as Fantasy, which presented fifty-two spreads of Turbeville’s images on two large boards, as if they were on the wall of an art department.
At the Fashion as Fantasy opening, Andy Warhol stood at the entrance next to a Charles James ribbon dress; Paloma Picasso screened a fifteen-minute film about herself; and Rudi Gernreich attended with two models wearing bicycle handlebars on their shoulders, reflectors across their chests, and bicycle seats repurposed as loincloths. For Turbeville, a fashion photographer and former editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Maquillage presented the realities of fashion through the guise of a magazine but with pages that looked like illustrations for a crime novel.
Maquillage exchanges the lacquer of promotion for an introspective view of working life within the fashion industry. Polaroids, handprints, scratched enlargements, and high-contrast black-and-white photocopies, collaged with postcards and letters sent from models and associates to the photographer, outline another view on fashion. Disjointed accounts of aspirations and fears unfold in monochromatic and washed-out tones. One handwritten fragment reads: “I’m working for Guy Bourdin for five days (I think during collections), for which I am happy. I have wanted to work for him for a long time, I hope that he won’t be too sinister.”
In the same month that Maquillage was released, prints of Turbeville’s bathhouse series, which had been published in American Vogue in May 1975, were included in the first exhibition to survey a history of fashion photography, Fashion Photography: Six Decades, curated by Robert Littman. On December 28, the New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer published a damning review, describing a Turbeville photograph as “one of the most beautifully composed pictures in the show, yet its ‘Marat/Sade’ imagery leaves one wondering if we have not moved beyond the boundaries of fashion photography into something more pathological.” The review brought Turbeville a succès de scandale beyond the pages of the fashion magazine. Yet, Maquillage counters Kramer’s accusation, suggesting that the deviant social pathology at play in her work is not a thematic import, but merely a reflection of the experience of models working in the 1970s.
Four decades later, in a post–Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo-inflected landscape, Maquillage appears prescient in its resonance, for example, with Cameron Russell’s Instagram posts of anonymous stories of model mistreatment via the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse, and it prefigures the Model Alliance, established by Sara Ziff, in 2012, to raise awareness around harassment, mental health, and eating disorders. But Maquillage offers a more nuanced idea of the magnetic pull of fashion. As another postcard notes, “I am dying to do something glamorous.”
Alistair O’Neill is Professor of Fashion History and Theory at Central Saint Martins, London. ■