MEISEL’S MIRROR IMAGES: The staff of W landed a long-awaited coup for its September issue: Photographer Steven Meisel shot a 22-page black-and-white portfolio for the magazine. W staffers were pleased to have Meisel in their magazine and the portfolio was a hit in their Sixth Avenue offices. Meisel took 10 models and shot them in “before” and “after” shots — what they look like all dolled up alongside a more natural look. It appeared to be the beginning of a glorious relationship between Meisel and the new team at W.
The good feelings didn’t last long. In the last week, W staffers discovered that Meisel shot a nearly identical concept for the August Italian Vogue. Meisel did not inform them of this.
In the Italian Vogue portfolio, there are black-and-white photos of model Raquel Zimmermann dressed naturally juxtaposed with photos of her all dolled up. In some cases, she is in nearly identical poses to some of the models in W. In fact, Meisel used Zimmermann in two of his photos for the W portfolio. To make matters worse, this wasn’t something that could be swept under the carpet: Meisel’s portfolio was Italian Vogue’s cover story. One source said that some W insiders believe Meisel may have financed the Italian Vogue photo on their dime.
There are differences between the shoots: They were styled by different people (Karl Templer for Italian Vogue and Edward Enninful for W); W showcases different models (Linda Evangelista, Carolyn Murphy, Karen Elson and Jessica Stam, among others), while Italian Vogue uses only Zimmermann.
Meisel’s agent did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Stefano Tonchi, W’s editor in chief, declined to comment.
The fallout will be worth watching. If it damages W’s relationship with Meisel, Tonchi will lose out on a big-name photographer he’s craved for the magazine. If Tonchi doesn’t act, it will demonstrate the lengths a fashion magazine editor will go to appease a photographer who holds considerable influence in the industry.