Popdose at Kirkus Reviews: Kate Moss in the Academic Machine

Written by Books, Kirkus Reviews

For almost 80 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose joins the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network to dish on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.

This week, a slender girl gets a slender book filled with big fat ideas…

Kate Moss: The Making of an Icon, by Christian SalmonThere’s a point in the development of every self-defined intellectual when he — and it’s almost always a he — dismisses fashion as a meaningless frippery with no place in the life of the mind, and lavishes especial scorn on the profession of modeling: Their “talent” is to wear clothes! he’ll sneer, in a tone suggesting that this encapsulates all that is wrong with the modern condition.

This phase is often (not always) followed by a pendulum-swing to the opposite pole, as inchoate iconoclasm gives way to postmodernism and the attendant fascination with artificiality and “the spectacle.” Fashion and branding become vitally important as an expression of the socially-constructed and context-specific natures of personal identity; every kid on the corner, judging you by the sneakers you wear, becomes a semiotician reading complex indices of tribal and socioeconomic allegiances, and fashion models become the secret heroines of the culture.

Some (myself among them) arrive after all this at a third position — though I’m not sure if it represents progress or retreat — of viewing fashion as just one component in an essentially ludic mode of presentation; not so much a defining characteristic as a plaything. (Unfortunately, by this rubric, to judge by what I’m wearing as I type this, one might assume I am “playfully” “presenting” as a hobo, which rather calls my position into question. To say nothing of my taste.)

The second position is more or less that from which the French academic Christian Salmon writes Kate Moss: The Making of an Icon, out this week from HarperDesign. It is a position he shares with his subject: “For Moss and her friends, fashion, was neither a frivolous subject nor more affectation … Its stakes … included a question of consciousness,” he writes. “[W]hen one was young and living in a London suburb, one was fashion-conscious. Choosing a garment, a pair of boots, or a jacket wasn’t just a question of taste. The choice also had a strategic stake: it was a visa used to cross social boundaries, a sign of identity.”

Salmon is a French writer, editor and academic; his real job title, though, is that of Public Intellectual, in a country that still takes such things seriously, and consequently this is a very strange little book. Publisher HarperCollins has taken a postmodernist monograph — originally published under the more provocative title Kate Moss Machine, as likely in its pages to reference Jean Baudrillard as Karl Lagerfeld — and wrapped it in the trappings of a coffee-table book.

Read the rest of this article at Kirkus Reviews!