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“Take a picture of him taking a picture of me.”
This was Kim Kardashian Monday night at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute in Manhattan, which was unveiling a new exhibit by Mario Testino of traditional indigenous Peruvian dress.
This story first appeared in the November 20, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Testino was the man Kardashian was referring to. He had been giving her a tour of the exhibit, which was housed in two snug rooms at the institute, when they paused in front of one of the colorful images for him to snap her likeness, just one more time. She asked the pack of photographers trailing her to record the momentous occasion of their more celebrated peer taking her photograph.
Her instructions more or less summed up Kardashian’s public profile — always, inescapably in front of one camera but preferably several. She was accompanied by her half-sister, Kendall Jenner.
There were two royals at the Sofia Institute that night. There was Kardashian, the queen of the American celebrity tabloid, and Queen Sofía of Spain herself. It is safe to say it was our American sovereign who was the recipient of considerably more attention. Kardashian wore a buff sheer mesh top that left little to the imagination.
But the House of Bourbon never had a chance to meet the House of Kardashian. The queen toured the exhibit early in the evening privately with Testino and Oscar de la Renta, the chairman of the institute, and left just after 7 p.m., a short while before Kardashian made her entrance.
The queen headed to a dinner with Mayor Michael Bloomberg that was part of a two-day swing through New York that will also include, as seems to be the American custom lately, the presentation of an award to Hillary Rodham Clinton at the institute’s Gold Medal Gala Tuesday night. De la Renta joked with the queen that the clothes in Testino’s images reflected the influence of Spain.
“When you see these clothes, you know from which area of Spain the conquistadors came from,” de la Renta recalled later. “And she said, ‘Not the conquistadors, the discoverers of a new world.’”
It doesn’t seem like Kardashian has ever sat for Testino, but she’s been following him around like a groupie lately, maybe after that elusive Vogue cover. In February, she stopped by another opening of his in West Hollywood.
Testino said “High Fashion,” or “Alta Moda” as the exhibit is called in Spanish, came about when he was in his native Peru working on a shoot for British Vogue and found a near-intact collection of traditional indigenous garb. It is the first significant departure from his fashion photography, which regularly appears on the pages of various Vogues, and several editors — Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington — turned up to pay their respects.
“It was very hard to find this variety of dresses in one region in my country, and I wanted to share that with other people who probably will never have an opportunity to see it because it’s hard to see,” Testino said. “That would be my hope, that they discover something new.”
Kardashian, a short time removed from her personal tour by Testino, was in the back debating the work and the pretty colors with her younger sibling. She did not speak to reporters, only posed for photographers. Artist Rachel Feinstein was also near the back inspecting the pieces.
“They’re like sculptures, they’re just these objects, almost like those porcelain figurines you’d see on a table, but then, they’re obviously from Peru and they have this completely different significance for Mario and so they’re great art because you interpret what you want from them. That’s what all great art is,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein was asked what her husband, John Currin, an artist renowned for his appreciation of voluptuous women, would make of Kardashian, who was then still loitering in the gallery.
“Well, Kanye and he know each other. They’re friends,” she said, referring to Kardashian’s companion, Kanye West, who has apparently asked Currin to work on some album covers. “He would appreciate Kim Kardashian just like Kanye does. They have a similar sensibility.”