Recontextualized Fashion Editorial – Trail Blazers

Mario Testino, Trail Blazers (Daria Werbowy & Lily Donaldson), Vogue UK, March 2008 

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Mario Testino’ s March 2008 Vogue UK editorial featuring Daria Werbowy and Lily Donaldson took place in Cusco, Peru, where the two models are depicted as backpack travelers encountering this exotic culture. Their status of visitors is confirmed across the photographic series, as the deployed narrative shows them arriving, checking into their hotel, meeting with the locals, celebrating a local holiday (The Virgin of Carmen or Mamacha Carmen), observing the landscapes and visiting important landmarks. Their involvement with the locals, although being highly staged and edited, is portrayed as being motivated by a genuine touristic curiosity. The relationship they establish with the Peruvians is grounded in their status of travelers. The contrast between the Us and Them is thus defined by their need to experience the culture, acquire knowledge, and ultimately grasp a sense of cultural authenticity. Reciprocity emanates from the exchanges they have with the locals: playing with kids, wearing colourful clothing to blend in with the celebrations at the carnival. The Other’s presence highlights their status of travelers and estranged outsiders attempting to immerse themselves into this contrasting and rich culture.

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The contrast of the model’s extravagant high fashion outfits with the local’s sartorial customs, fosters a feeling of ‘extraordinary’, underlining how Testino is not capturing an accurate depiction of Peru. This excess engages the viewer visually to stimulate his/her interest and curiosity. These two travelers’ experience of Peru is one of pleasure and playfulness.

Just like the setting, the Peruvian inspired outfits the two travelers are wearing are not attempting to be authentic reproductions and recontextualization of traditional costumes, but rather an appropriation motivated by aesthetics and fascination. In this context, the adoption of Peruvian patterns and textiles highlights the boundaries of the contact zone. Contact zones are “social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination.” (Pratt 2008, 4).  In this case, the transculturation process is inversed, usually being defined as “how subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted to them by dominant cultures” (Pratt 2008, 6). It occurs on the Westerner’s side, diminishing the potential linkage with colonialist intentions”. Ethnic fashion is thus a catalyzer of cross-cultural exchange and reciprocity.

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Below: Lily stares at the landscape from her hotel balcony, highlighting how her gaze is defined by her touristic status and what she sees is only one perspective, biased by her white and Western background.

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Lily stares at the landscape from her hotel balcony, highlighting how her gaze is defined by her touristic status and what she sees is only one perspective biased by her white and Western background.

Below: In contrast with Le Gouès’s photo, the purpose of the lamas in this frame is to show Daria getting involved with the Peruvians spontaneously, using this experience to build her travel souvenirs. The viewer is reminded of her status as foreigner by the presence of her tent in the upper left corner of the picture. The lamas and pastoral locals are not objectified to secure her travel memories but are displayed as authentic subjects, as part of a spontaneous moment.

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Below: The Carnival scene portrays the two models as friendly multicultural tourists intermingled with locals. In opposition to Thierry le Gouès’s editorial, the protagonists are positioned at the same height as the native Peruvians. Consequently, their experience of the exotic does not aim at fostering a relationship of cultural dominance. Here again, the spontaneous nature of the scene builds an authentic “travel narrative”.

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  1. […] frames of the models, he attempted to infuse an aura of authenticity to his editorial. In contrast, Testino’s Peru editorial was conveying authenticity to the travel narrative of the models, not to the actual depiction of […]

  2. […] Mario Testino, Trail Blazers (Daria Werbowy & Lily Donaldson), Vogue UK, March 2008 […]



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