• by January 25, 2006

Vogue's February issue gets off to a strange start--a headline on the Contributors' page asks ''Who (or what) are you loving this Valentine's Day?" Photographer Tim Walker, obviously a Brit, responds that he will be loving his mother in Cornwall. Edward Enniful, a contributing fashion editor, who perhaps also hails from editor Anna Wintour's native land, says he'll be loving ''the Dover sole at J. Sheekey, an amazing fish restaurant in London.''

So much for romance: I guess the Dover sole is forever.

Contributing Editor Dodie Kazanjian's list includes, among other things, "Robert Rauschenberg's life-affirming combines at the Met.'' And that actually makes sense, since Vogue is all about the life-affirming love of objects, especially if they're expensive and cut in the right direction.

It's always killed me how fashion writers, month in and out, must definitively state the season's new thing--say, for example, ''this March, it's all about the pant.'' (Or the shoe. Or the boot. Or the skirt. Or about where the pant meets the shoe. Or the boot.) And perhaps the designers and the magazines all secretly get together and form some sort of cabal about ''what it's about,'' since it usually happens across the board. So what's the key piece for this spring, according to the February issue of Vogue? ''Statement coats.''

What is a statement coat? ''Short, sweet, and cut in dresslike shapes (especially when paired with an ever bigger bag.'')

There are golden coats, white dogs, and enormous bags pictured throughout the photo spread; on one page, a blonde model in a gold coat seems to embody the entire aesthetic as she clenches a gold credit card in her mouth, (woof-woof!) and rifles through her giant white satchel. ( It's actually a Lambertson-Truex ''snow-white doctor's bag, $1,495.'')

Now the post-December months are notoriously anorexic, in terms of ads, for fashion magazines, but this issue is not too painful--it's plumped out with all sorts of eye-catching ads. The fact that everybody had already been meeting secretly about this ''statement coat'' and huge bag trend becomes clear in several of the ads, including the four-page Jimmy Choo spread featuring a bone-thin Nicole Richie. Jimmy Choos, second to Manohlo Blahniks as the fave shoe brand on ''Sex and the City,'' has apparently branched out from mere footwear.: The opening shot shows Nicole making faces as she evades the paparazzi, while wearing a white coat dress and holding a beige reptile skin bag that is approximately four times wider than her hips. I get the feeling that they wanted to make her into a Madonna (who famously posed for Versace) but with her large-ish head and teeny, teeny body and legs, Richie's got a Minnie-Mouse thing going.. In the final page of the spread, she raises a leg and an arm and shrieks, as the tuxedoed arm of a man spills champagne in the air. The shriek, for me, was seeing the cavern inside her exposed armpit so clearly.

As with most first-rate fashion magazines, in Vogue the ads are an essential part of the whole experience (as is the olfactory essences that rub off on your fingers.).

This one does not disappoint--we get the first St. John's campaign, no longer featuring the showoffy daughter of the founder, but rather a pre-pregnancy Angelina Jolie in stripped-down black and white photos. She's all formal and ladylike, shown fully clothed, alone on her chaste white bed, reading. Brrr. Whereas Kate Moss, down and out in the industry for about three seconds on charges of doing cocaine, appears in a Robert Cavalli ad as some sort of mountain cat, in a flimsy animal print dress, sitting in a tree, legs akimbo, waiting to pounce. And Dolce and Gabbana offers several semi-comatose women lying in hay, which gives new meaning to ''down on the farm.'' Someone at Chloe at least has a sense of humor--a model in a lacey linen dress stands in front of a table covered in what looks like your grandmother's best tablecloth.

But back to the editorial. Drew Barrymore graces the cover; her face looks sculpted out of marble as she stands against a rock in a red dress. She's got ''Lucky You,'' a new movie, to promote (natch), but the profile, by the able Jonathan van Meter, is a bit more forthcoming than what the usual twenty-minute interview, controlled by the PR person, provides. This is the woman who recently appeared on "Saturday Night Live" wearing hanging cow udders (to make fun of her Golden Globes appearance), so you can't hate her because she's beautiful, rich, or famous. Much of the piece is about just how dern simple and nice she is, despite it all. One of the pull quotes makes this clear: ''Drew doesn't let who she is get in her way. She's not doomed to being famous. It's almost as if she's had a talk with herself and said, I'm not going to let this get in the way of my life.'' I guess she hasn't had that talk with the art department yet, because on the facing page, she's shown posing at the gates of a Shangri-la like sanctuary, walking her cow. (You want to look your best, in a Rochas black cotton dress with lace overlay, when you have your Guernsey on the leash.)

There's another trick used in the spread that seems to be part of the standard visual setup fashion photographers give to short people. Drew is shown standing high up on a ladder, wearing a gold evening gown with a train that covers all the rungs and then puddles on the floor. She looks gorgeous.

There's a piece about the problems of multicultural marriage, written by a former Vogue staffer who hails from the Midwest and married a Pole. She was in Poland teaching English for a year after graduating from college. He was her student, and when they met, neither knew a word of the other's language. Since the author is pictured in the piece, standing at home in front of her perfect marble fireplace, with her perfect hipster husband, I thought reading about the communication difficulties between two impossibly beautiful people would be a bit hard to take, But it's sensitive, insightful, and beautifully written, with lines like this-- ''a collage of childhood photos to be displayed at our wedding had to be scrapped after thee sepia-hued portraits of young Przemek, in eyeglass frames only Kim II Sung would love, were deemed entirely too poignant.''

There's a nice mix of pieces--even for the off-season. All in all, I give the February Vogue one and three quarters freshly-painted-pink thumbs up--which means it's interesting enough to sustain a full pedicure, too.

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