The concept behind Roger Moenks’ latest book isn’t exactly novel: pretty pictures of moneyed women. But the veteran photographer — whose résumé includes spreads for various international fashion magazines — sees no reason to reinvent the wheel. “People will be fascinated with this book because there’s a dream in it,” the shutterbug insists. “These women are modern royalty.”
“Inheriting Beauty” (out Feb. 15 from powerHouse Books) is a photographic survey of posh, well-bred women from all across the globe. While the tome includes most of the usual suspects (New Yorkers Renée Rockefeller, Margherita Missoni and Tory Burch), it also features some relative unknowns to the Stateside social pages, such as Xeujing Tan, a fixture on the Beijing fashion circuit, and Italian Baroness Tatiana von Gecmen-Galdweck, whose blue blood can be traced back to William the Conqueror. A lot of the women are personal friends of Moenks, though some were handpicked by the Giorgio Armani offices (the designer’s niece, Roberta, appears on the cover). And of course they provided their own beautiful settings, be it poolside at their Palm Beach manse or sitting prettily in the drawing room of a London town house. “Roger likes to capture you just the way you are,” gushes Roberta Armani.
For Moenks, the idea of shooting non-Hollywood types was refreshing. “How many times can you see Tom Cruise on the cover of a magazine?” he asks. “These women are different than celebrities. They are much more themselves. They style themselves. There’s not the assistant, the manager, this one, that one.” Initially, the snapper saw the project taking shape as a magazine spread, but one social led to another and eventually Moenks had shot more than 60 ladies.
And while he sees photographing such women, rather than Tinseltown starlets, as a noble effort, not everyone agrees. “I was criticized by friends who asked, ‘Why don’t you take pictures of poor people?'” the lensman recalls.
But Moenks’ work garnered accolades from others, namely the women in the book, who admired his laid-back style. “He’s a one-man show,” enthuses Marjorie Gubelmann, (who appears Carolina Herrera-clad in her chintz-laden Upper East Side living room). “He just shows up with his little suitcase, ready to go.”
But some women approached the topic with trepidation. “I’ve seen those bad portraits where women look like domestic dictators or freaky spoiled tyrants,” says Celerie Kemble (who Moenks shot after she logged in a long day at the office), “but I had seen Roger’s work before.”
For Samantha Boardman, who was snapped amid her contemporary art collection, involvement in the book took coaxing from friends (and fellow “Inheriting Beauty” subjects) Gubelmann and Burch. But, ultimately, Moenks sealed the deal himself. “I spoke to him on the phone and just melted,” Boardman recalls.
Still, even after their participation in the project, some of the women aren’t totally sure what to make of the book’s title. As Kemble sees it, “I just appreciate the term [beauty] being used in the first place.”