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PARIS — Is flesh more interesting than designer clothes?

It would seem so, considering the wave of nudity in Europe’s edgy fashion magazines.

This story first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Sexiness and fashion are converging,” said Stephen Gan, editor in chief and creative director of V, whose “Sexy Body” issue hit newsstands this month and features five partly clothed models. While the magazine’s logo strategically shields the more intimate parts of the likes of Isabeli Fontana and Adriana Lima, subscribers get limited edition scratch-off covers.

“It’s not just about showing girls nude,” Gan said. “It’s what was revealed and what was concealed.”

Magazines such as Purple and i-D have long been notorious for graphic photos of splayed bodies, but they’ve been joined recently in the flesh trade by titles such as Love, Achtung and Grey.

The trend may be inching toward the mainstream — and once mainstream will no doubt drive these free spirits back into their undies and frocks. In the meantime, flirting in the buff without drifting into Playboy territory is not always easy.

Some magazines use nude photos to illustrate body issues, as was the case with Dutch Elle’s November cover, which featured Dutch model Lonneke Engel in the altogether. I-D’s summer issue, titled “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” shows Gisele Bündchen with a bed sheet loosely wrapped around her body.

Observers said magazines are mostly looking to legitimize the nude form by portraying the body as beautiful, even without expensive clothes.

“It’s a question as to how the women are photographed — which position, attitude, gaze,” said Katie Breen, an independent consultant and a former editorial director at Marie Claire International. “The only thing that makes sense to me is when women’s magazines show naked bodies that conform to realistic norms.

“I always wondered if nude images make women either incredibly narcissistic [seeing if they resemble the photos], or extremely depressed [not resembling the image] at all,” Breen said.

Gan dismissed the idea that the sexy bodies are designed to fan sales. “The distribution system for magazines doesn’t seem to favor nudes on newsstands,” he said “I don’t think they increase sales, in fact…you risk not being carried by certain newsstands, which is how the idea for the scratch-off V logo came to be.”

Katie Grand, stylist and founder of Love magazine, made her third issue last February a nude extravaganza, with eight cover subjects, including Kate Moss, Lara Stone and Amber Valletta. Each was photographed naked in an identical striking frontal pose snapped by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot, and there was a 40-page naked shoot inside.

“Photographers like nude women and, after a season of ad shoots, they want to take the clothes off,” Grand pointed out, adding that for the February “Icons” issue, “every woman involved was sent a brief and a reference for the shoot. It was great; everybody said yes.”

“There is a sense of liberation, and people are being less puritan. It is the best form of art,” said model Eva Herzigova, who recalled her experience of posing for a private nude photo shoot with Mario Testino. “I felt really comfortable and not exposed.”

Nude covers and shoots often reflect a close and trusting relationship among editor, stylist, model and photographer. Daria Werbowy’s “bare all” candid shoot in her New York apartment in the April issue of Dossier Journal, photographed by Cass Bird, underlines the importance of creating a comfortable environment.

“It is a matter of confidence and trust, the woman’s body is so beautiful and it is a liberating experience,” said the model Denni Parkinson, who last October stripped and clung to kite-surfing Virgin boss Richard Branson for a photo shoot on Necker Island. “At the end of the day, we are all naked bodies.”

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