Almost all models who achieve some degree of fame find themselves blamed for whatever agenda their era's most vocal scold happens to be pushing. In the cover story on Kate Moss in the December Vanity Fair, British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman remembers the uproar over the 1993 layout that photographer Corinne Day did for the magazine. "Everything was hung on this shoot," says Shulman of the simple shots of Moss, hanging out in a bedroom in her underwear and T-shirt (as you might expect a 19-year-old girl to do), "anorexia, porn, pedophilia, drugs — the evil quartet." The exact things claimed, later that year, of the shot Mario Sorrenti took for Calvin Klein of Moss stretched out along a couch.
Those charges went well beyond the usual "models make us feel bad about ourselves" nonsense (I'd like to announce that I blame Jimi Hendrix for being a flop at my fifth-grade guitar lessons). If I dwell a bit on the naysayers in what's meant to be a celebration of the most extraordinary photographic muse of our era, it's not just to crow that Moss has outlasted them but to insist on the significance of Moss as an artist in a time when our response to beauty has become so moralistic, when social science has trumped aesthetics.
The versatility of Moss's expressiveness is on display in TheKate Moss Book, a large, handsome volume that collects photographs spanning Moss's career. These collaborations include the famous shoot Corinne Day did for The Face, showing a bare-faced 16-year-old Moss romping on the beach in Indian headdress, as well as the supple (and sometimes brittle) work that has followed with photographers like Mario Testino (who has produced his own volume on Moss), Peter Lindbergh, Nick Knight, Patrick Demarchelier, and, for my money, the photographers who have done the best work with her, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. There is also a mini-portfolio of Moss as subject for the likes of Chuck Close, Lucian Freud, and Damien Hirst. How you feel about those may depend on how you feel about each artist — for instance, Close's ongoing quest to render his subjects' pores the size of the Grand Canyon.
The editor, Fabien Baron, has cannily arranged the work in non-chronological order, thus suggesting that what we are seeing is not evolution but that the possibilities of sophistication and timelessness existed in Moss from the start. And timelessness is the correct word. Moss has managed not only to embody her own era — her brand of glamour contains a vital element of muss, the sexiness of artful dishevelment, maybe the truest kind of elegance for a harried age — but to suggest that other eras were waiting to be embodied by her. Sitting in a movie theater in soft overcoat and eyeglasses, in a black-and-white shot by the great Ellen von Unwerth, she is the epitome of mid-'60s continental chic as embodied by Vitti and Karina and Christie. Moss as Ziggy Stardust (an Alas and Piggott shot), on the cover of the Christmas issue of last year's ParisVogue, can remind you of the shock of first seeing Bowie — she makes the image seem both classic and fresh. In a 2002 shot by Craig McDean, Moss appears topless, in heels and a pair of low-slung, eyelet-sutured trousers, her hair a tangled cascade; she brings something like hauteur to the classic confrontational rocker stance. Which is fitting.