This Vogue Editor Creates the Wildest Photo Shoots

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Karlie Kloss in Belle Fleur by Patrick Demarchelier, Vogue, November 2014.Photo: © Condé Nast

Last night, Anna Wintour fêted Vogue’s executive fashion editor Phyllis Posnick at Pace Gallery for the release of her new book. In Stoppers: Photographs From My Life at Vogue, out now from Abrams, unusual editorial photos conceived over the course of Posnick’s nearly three-decade career at Vogue are interspersed with behind-the-scenes stories contributed by photographers and models.

“What I’ve always enjoyed so much about Phyllis is the way she would work with very peculiar kinds of insects and animals — auditioning tarantulas, mice, bees,” Wintour told the Cut. “She would always have 100 different handlers in the studio. Not handlers for Beyoncé, but handlers for bees.”

In “The Big Chill,” an editorial shot by Steven Klein for the November 2004 issue, a nearly nude model wearing a carrot-colored wig and black stilettos stands in a bone-chillingly bleak meat locker. Grotesque animal carcasses hang at the forefront while the model cowers near the back of the frame, her skin radiating an eerie, electric-blue glow under the freezer’s light.

For a story about luxury facial moisturizers, Posnick commissioned Irving Penn, who splashed models’ faces with cream instead of lotion. To illustrate a story about invisible braces, Steven Klein ordered gilded custom-made grills for model Angela Lindvall’s teeth. In the shot, Lindvall sits in an unremarkable suburban backyard breastfeeding her baby — the glimmer of gold escaping her mouth transforms the frame into something sinister.

“If four different photographers illustrated the same subject, you’d get four different projects,” Posnick explained. She prefers photographers who like to be challenged — “not by me but by the subject matter.” In photographers and models alike, she values an irreverent attitude, strong sense of humor, and the ability to animate beauty stories that deal with, as she puts it, “the same subjects of lips, eyes, skin, fitness.”

In 2012, Posnick commissioned Steven Klein to photograph a story about women beginning to resemble each other after going to the same doctors for treatments like Botox, collagen, and fillers. “We didn’t think this was such a great trend,” she said with marked understatement. Posnick proposed using twin models for the shoot, but Klein wanted to use “Real Dolls,” anatomically accurate, life-size figurines that are five-foot-five and weigh 70 pounds. When the makeup artist Linda Cantello discovered on set that the dolls’ painted faces could be wiped off, Klein encouraged this erasure. It gave the series a nightmarish, surrealistic feel.

Perhaps one of the most shocking editorials in Stoppers is “Knee High,” which illustrated a story about trendy cosmetic treatments for women’s knees. In a photo shot by Helmut Newton, a woman in a negligee cleans splattered blood from a grimy bathroom floor, where a body outline is traced in bold black lines, suggesting a crime scene. “He was no champion of cozy domesticity,” Posnick writes of Newton. “After the photos ran, this fax arrived: ‘Dearest Phyllis, I’d love you to fax me the anti-Newton letters for my archives! Thanks a million. Love as ever, Helmut.’ If there were no letters, he would be disappointed.”

Other photographers she worked closely with over the years include Patrick Demarchelier, Tim Walker, Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz, Anton Corbijn, and Mario Testino — each of whom are given a dedicated section in Stoppers.

Click ahead to see elaborate editorial shoots in which models wear wax lips, swarm with bees, and swim with horses — all testament to Posnick’s degree of trust in her collaborators and wide-ranging, prolific career.