Monday, June 8, 2009

PHOTOGENIC: Ruven Afanador

There was something oddly familiar to me about the images of Carmen, Crystal, Alek and Isabel in Ms. Toledo’s Nordstrom advert. Yes, I keep referring to this campaign – don’t judge me just yet, I have a point. True, I may have a sick obsession with FIT exhibitions and anything Alek Wek ever does, but for the moment, I’m focusing on this one particular photographer…

In 1995, Vera Wang published a small but significant promotional book featuring her fall bridal collection. Photographer Ruven Afanador and Creative Director / Producer Deborah Moses assembled a series of looks meant to capture the attention of high-end fashion buyers and planners, and instead – or simultaneously, I hope – seized the imagination of an artistically inclined fourth grader. Me!

And, alas, they never let go. Flipping from Afanador’s recent photos for Toledo / Nordstrom to my aged Vera Wang booklet, I began researching how else his work has subconsciously impacted my overly media-influenced existence.

Case in Point: The shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal seductively contemplating her first bite of a Granny Smith apple on the September 2006 Marie Claire cover – the only issue of the magazine I’ve ever purchased. That cover marked the kickoff of the mag’s redesign, and, oddly enough, it didn’t sell too well. For most of America, Maggie was too ‘downtown,’ and her slightly sensual prop, along with the rest of the new Marie Claire look, bordered on appearing too high-end.

Apparently, making produce sexy chucks you into the fray of luxury labels that only get ad attention from the likes of Gucci Group and LVMH. That issue sold around 380,000 copies – a serious decline from the previous year’s figure of 641,196.* What a sad realization for then newly appointed Editor in Chief Joanna Coles. Still, she’s taken some amazing strides since, and with Nina Garcia over from Elle, I must admit I’ve been inclined to buy copy #2. (You saw the He’s Just Not that Into You girls on the cover in March and dove for it, too…don’t lie.)

Ruven doesn’t stop there.
The recent work he’s done for Nordstrom’s designer ad campaign (see picture) highlights the lost art of fashion illustration, and the attempt to revitalize it by
marrying photography and illustration. As the daughter of an illustrator, I’ve always been sensitive to the changing face of the industry, and take note of campaigns or editorials that continue to patronize this dying art. I’m totally biased, but I’m all for a full-blown revival.

As a side note, this makes me sadly, but fondly, remember Kenneth Paul Block, who died in April after spending some 40 years illustrating for publications like Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine, and designers including Oscar de la Renta, Perry Ellis, André Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Alix Grès and Coco Chanel.
On a lighter note, I discovered that Ruven also has a hold on my hair! As the photographer behind the ad campaign for L’Oreal Paris Preference featuring Doutzen Kroes, this Colombian photographer has been subtly influencing my color and brand selections for longer than I care to reveal.

So, a big thanks to Afanny, as I’ve affectionately taken to calling him, for the many ways he’s impacted my fashion centric OCD. More to come following my FIT museum visit.

* September 2005 Audit Bureau of Circulations figures cited in Women's Wear Daily, November 7, 2006.

Photo credit: Photographer Ruven Afanador for Nordstrom advertisement, September 2009.

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