Book Review: Kate Moss by Mario Testino

Kate Moss. Kate Moss. KATE. MOSS.

When I first considered how to review this book, I toyed with the idea of just repeating her name. She is, after all, its recurring motif — and really, when it comes to Kate, what else is there to say?

Kate Moss by Mario Testino (iconic supermodel and renowned fashion photographer respectively) in all its shiny, plastic enormousness is a very basic volume. Its only text appears in two brief interview-based essays where each describes their relationship with the other. While there is clearly a great deal of respect between them and they are complimentary and kind, neither one is terribly fascinating — nor need they be, since this publication is all about the pictures.

Printed on extra-heavy stock and devoid as it is of both text and pagination, the book feels extraordinarily like an oversized children’s volume. Being a die-hard Kate Moss devotee, I was as delighted as any oversized child could be. It was nice to see familiar images in print and up close. But there were many I’d never seen before, too (which, if you know me, is saying something). I was especially pleased to see candid shots of Moss, including a few with her daughter Lila, of whom she is understandably protective.

I have often tried to define what makes Moss’ image compelling to so many. From heroin chic to coke scandal, her popularity has never waned; she enjoys a lucrative and extensive modeling career after many of her peers have retired. Leafing through this new collection, it’s easy to see that sartorial ease is a big part of her draw. Moss’ ability to normalize fashion moves her from the realm of mannequin to muse.

There is no question that the woman understands clothes — how to move in and manipulate them. Whatever Moss is wearing on set, it looks as though she might have been wearing it before the camera arrived. On the sidewalk, she is so effortlessly turned out, she’s what carefully crafted fashion fiction aspires to be. But there is that Something-or-Other that finishes every picture. She engages. Her editorial pout is impudent and rebellious, her grin slightly wicked. She shows endearing flashes of unexpected silliness. Authentic or not, she is pictorially irresistible. Anyone unfamiliar with Moss (if such a thing is possible) will quickly understand why, even as an awkward and relatively short teenager (she stands at a runway-improbable 5’7”), she captured and conquered the fashion world.

Testino’s earnestness makes him the perfect photographer for this collection. In the world of fashion, his images are a little more intimate than others, and he has an uncanny knack for “looking” models in the eye. Whether plaintive or playful, Testino captures moments that feel utterly honest. Add to this his off-camera friendship with Moss and her own comfort in front of a lens and you have a riveting collaboration.

My only complaint with this book is the lack of page numbers. In lieu of a traditional index, the volume’s final pages contain a series of dated thumbnail photos that illustrate the order of images. The device is amusing (and the dates are nice) but it’s not very helpful.

And otherwise, the only thing left to say is…

Kate. Moss.

Kate Moss by Mario Testino. Taschen, 2010
review by g. stegelmann
photography by Samantha Walton

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