It’s not just that Kate is beautiful, though one would be hard-pressed to describe that permanent pout of a mouth or those ostentatiously high cheekbones as anything but. “She’s kind of off-beauty,” says photographer Craig McDean. “She’s not a little cookie, but she’s probably the most beautiful girl in the world.” Indeed, her imperfections—the teeth that many an orthodontist would love to fix, the nose that’s just a little broad, the smattering of freckles—somehow enhance her allure. Katz first spotted Kate with her then boyfriend Johnny Depp in a SoHo restaurant years ago and found her, as he did when he painted her for this portfolio, simultaneously plain and mesmerizing. “She’s completely ordinary,” Katz marvels. “That’s what makes her so extraordinary.”
Her peculiar breed of beauty—awakened by the clear presence of a complex inner life—is a perfect fit for W. “We are far less interested in appearances,” Freedman says. “We look for character, and Kate has character.”
Freedman is also of the mind that the primary factor separating a great fashion photograph from a great photograph is the lack of complete control and creative freedom on the part of the fashion photographer, who by definition must collaborate with the stylist, the hairstylist, the makeup artist and the client. Otherwise, he says, "A fashion photograph is a photograph with a fashion credit." When Freedman heard that Kate had sat for the eminent British painter Lucian Freud, whose elegantly sensual nude of Kate is published here for the first time, he decided to invite several artists to take part in the portfolio alongside the fashion photographers who regularly grace our pages.
The artists range in age from thirtysomething (Sachs) to seventysomething (Katz) and are just as varied in terms of favored medium and sensibility. Yuskavage, for instance, made her mark in the Nineties with paintings of the female form that confront sexuality head-on, while Richard Prince, commenting on the pervasiveness of mass media and the blurred line between reality and fiction, has appropriated publicity stills of celebrities and cheekily "autographed" them. He has also painted pithy jokes, such as the one printed on the T-shirt that Kate, standing in front of one of his paintings, wears in his photograph here (I WENT TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST. HE SAID " TELL ME EVERYTHING." I DID, AND NOW HE'S DOING MY ACT). In Prince's other picture of Kate, in which she is dressed as a nurse and stands beside a painting of one, he toys with the question of who is borrowing from whom: Are we all—artists included—just a part of one endless cultural regurgitation?
Katz, who helped usher in a return to figurative painting with his reductive, highly stylized portraits in vivid, almost garish colors, offers a subtle allusion to Kate's job. Long fascinated with billboards, he turned in a portrait showing a blonder, sleeker Kate, seductively staring at the viewer over her bare shoulder, an image ready-made to trumpet shampoo or fragrance in the canyons of Times Square.