By  on May 9, 2007

Fashion designers get criticized these days for being too quick to refer to the past, but that's not stopping Neiman Marcus from celebrating the inspiration drawn from prior times in a salute to the present. The occasion is the 100th anniversary of the luxury retailer that began with a single store in Dallas in 1907; one medium is a 42-page "Art of Fashion" magazine ad insert photographed by Tom Munro.

Creating the portfolio, which will feature fashion exclusive to Neiman's from about two-dozen designers, called for a delicate balancing act, both in keeping a foot placed firmly in the present and in the pacing of the images portrayed by Linda Evangelista, Elise Crombez and Hana Soukupova.

"We want to evoke an era [while] portraying real clothes — a mood and feeling on the runway now," noted a Neiman Marcus spokesman. "We do not want to portray costumes," he said at Pier 59 Studios in Manhattan's Chelsea section, where a giant light box on a wooden platform and a protruding Mylar backdrop were being readied to suggest a vision of the future. Some of the fashion on offer is straight off the runway, and some runway looks have been altered.

Hair, makeup and lighting were integral in suggesting a sense of nearly every decade from the Twenties to the present and beyond. In the photos referencing the Forties, Munro said, Crombez and Soukupova were shot in daylight to achieve "a very soft look." Daylight, Munro observed, "enhances the subtlety and softness of that era" and stands in contrast to the ringflash he used to bring dynamism to the pictures of Crombez in an Eighties mood, one the photographer sees as "wild, sexual and powerful."

During the last day of the April shoot, the oversize light box served as a stage for Soukupova, who was modeling seven outfits from Vera Wang, Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Ralph Lauren and Chado, intended to suggest the present and the future.

Each page in the "Art of Fashion" advertising piece, which is to appear in the September editions of Vogue and W, will feature the work of a single designer, among them, Fendi, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors, Chloé, Alexander McQueen, Burberry Prorsum, Chanel and Prada. (Like WWD, Vogue and W are published by Condé Nast Publications.) All of the images were photographed digitally, some in color and others — representing influences of the Twenties, Sixties and Nineties — in black and white.The models were cast with an eye for who could effectively embody women set in different decades. Evangelista was selected to reflect a feeling of the Twenties, Fifties and Nineties; Crombez, a mood of the Forties, Sixties and Eighties, and Soukupova, a sense of the Forties and Seventies, as well as the present and future.

Props in the pictures are few, signaling an attempt to avoid a look that's too retro or old-fashioned. A notable exception are the animal-print portraits of Evangelista amid paint cans and ladders, emblematic of a Fifties look Munro sees as more "decorated" than the "clean" styles of the Forties.

The avant garde, surrealism, and the works of Man Ray and Salvador Dali in particular, informed the "Art of Fashion" section channeling the Twenties. The Fifties' spirit is one of classicism, albeit in colorful, theatrical takes, while ease and extravagance mark the Seventies. An uncomplicated sense of ease was summoned for the fashion portraits pegged to the Nineties, Munro said, one reason those photos are black and white. "It also reflects a social change, an exhale after the power and wildness of the Eighties," he added.

The varied aesthetic references and photographic techniques are envisioned as separating the pictures and helping them to flow, noted the Neiman Marcus spokesman. For example, he said, "graphic, black-and-white" photos evoking the Sixties, contrast with "warm, sexy tones" in photos inspired by the Seventies. Holding a viewer's attention with 42 pages of advertising is challenging, observed the creative team for the 100th anniversary piece, because it is almost twice the size of Neiman's recent "Art of Fashion" portfolios.

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