On one series of sublimely honest images, she is stripped naked, her bare body and face captured in unforgiving daguerreotypes by master artist Chuck Close. In a grouping of video stills, she is the ultimate working-class girl next door, flipping burgers and mopping up in Tom Sachs’s ironic reinvention of a McDonald’s. Through the lens of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, she is transformed into a blushing bride—blushing perhaps because she seems to have misplaced her wedding gown, though she is armed with a strategically held bouquet. And there she is as a nurse, a tomboy, a sex kitten with a pet monkey.
How could one model inspire so many uniquely evocative visions? The most obvious explanation, of course, is that the artists and photographers charged with the task of capturing her have immense creative powers. But there is also a more subtle reason for the strength and variation of the portfolio: The subject is not just any model. She is Kate Moss, the most controversial and, intriguingly, the most enduring model of our era, a human canvas upon which fashion designers, photographers and artists have felt compelled to work. “When she started she was so different from everybody else in terms of size and body shape and attitude,” says van Lamsweerde, a photographer whose work is equally at home in magazines and galleries. “She’s definitely a generation’s muse. I can’t think of anyone else from our generation whom you’d aspire to look like.”
The very notion of a muse is something of a hot button these days. In her book The Lives of the Muses, Francine Prose wrote that “every historical period re-creates the muse in its own image.” But among those represented in this portfolio, few have had what we tend to think of as a muse at all—a subject, invariably female, who, with the divine force of a Greek goddess, inspires an artist to create beyond what his mere mortal powers would allow. The painter Alex Katz has found his muse in his wife, Ada, for some 45 years. On the other hand, the nearest thing Close has to a muse is a 35-year-old photograph of his friend the composer Philip Glass, to which he has returned for paintings and prints again and again. Still, it’s what Close describes as the formal qualities of that picture—“the Medusa-like curls, the wonderful, heavy, druggy eyelids”—and not Glass himself that inspire. For some the very idea of a muse is outmoded, antifeminist even. The painter Lisa Yuskavage undoubtedly speaks for many contemporary artists when she says, “My real muse is me.”
But if W has had a muse these past 10 years or so, she would have to be Kate, who has appeared on 15 covers (prior to the nine separate covers printed for this issue) and in countless fashion shoots, by everyone from Michael Thompson to Bruce Weber. Her long collaborative relationship with W is partly what prompted Creative Director Dennis Freedman to commission this portfolio. “Kate has been our muse—ours and our photographers'—for the simple reason that there are so many aspects to Kate’s personality,” he says. “She’s a woman, she’s a child, she’s a tomboy, she’s very sexual, she’s smart, she’s funny, she’s good, she’s bad."