Friday, July 6, 2012

First in Vogue

The November 1988 edition of American Vogue is perhaps one of the fashion bible's most talked about issues to date. The issue marked Anna Wintour's debut as Editor-in-Chief at Vogue and featured on its cover an exotic blonde with wild, unruly sun-kissed tresses and a grin that was so effervescent that I'm certain it could be felt from New York to Kathmandu and everywhere in between. The most intriguing aspect though about the cover was that the model, Israeli Michaela Berçu, appeared wearing a midriff revealing Christian Lacroix jacket emblazoned with a bejewelled cross, and a simple pair of jeans. The cover was the subject of controversy as it was the first time that a model had appeared on the cover in such casual attire, and the image which was shot outdoors in natural light, was a distinct departure from Wintour's predecessor Grace Mirabella's preference of closed cropped studio portraits of models with elaborately made-up faces. 

Michaela Berçu
US Vogue - November 1988
Photographer - Peter Lindbergh
Source - thefashionspot.com

In an interview with American Vogue, Berçu reminisces fondly of the experience, "When I did this photo shoot for Vogue, I had just returned from a trip home to Israel. I had gained a little weight, and when it was time to wear a Lacroix suit, the skirt was too small on me, so I just put the jacket on with jeans. You can even see my small belly in the picture. It was never intended to be a cover, and none of us could have guessed the impact that the combination - a couture jacket and jeans - would have. Everyone was talking about how different it was from the usual covers showing a close-up of a fully made-up face - and they still talk about that cover today."

At the time I distinctly recall scrutinising Anna Wintour's debut issue as Editor-in-Chief, and being somewhat perturbed by the cover's new aesthetic. After all, I was a child of the eighties and a devoted fan of Richard Avedon's close-up portrait style Vogue covers. Cover aesthetics aside, the thing that struck me most though was that I had never seen a model before with Berçu's exotic compelling type of beauty. Normally when I would think of blondes, the image I would conjure up in my mind is that of a healthy All-American Christie Brinkley type. Berçu instead was the very antithesis of that look, with her raggedy-Anne hair, enormous saucer-like eyes, her pinched nose which gave her an exotic Eastern European air, and the most voluminous lips that I had ever seen in my life.

Vogue Italia - December 1988
Photographer - Steven Meisel
Source - bellazon.com

Publication - Unknown
Photographer - Unknown
Source - bellazon.com

US Vogue - March 1989
Photographer - Unknown
Source - bellazon.com

Photographer - Herb Ritts
Source - artnet.com

US Vogue - Unknown
Photographer - Unknown
Source - bellazon.com

US Harpers Bazaar - Unknown
Photographer - Matthew Rolston
Source - bellazon.com

US Vogue - circa 1986
Photographer - Steven Meisel
Source - thefashionspot.com

The Vogue cover appearance marked the beginnings of a remarkable but short modelling career for Berçu who was only eighteen years old at the time. Berçu initially began modelling at age thirteen as a means to finance plans to purchase a motorbike. Berçu brazenly cold-called a number of modelling agencies in Tel Aviv and was swiftly signed by a local agency. Shortly after, Berçu entered and won the Elite Look of the Year competition in Tel Aviv and began working throughout Europe to build her portfolio. Berçu's big break materialised when she met photographer Andre Rau on an assignment for German Vogue. The resulting editorial images garnered the attention of fashion editor Polly Mellen and photographer Bill King. Berçu was summoned to the New York offices of American Vogue and the six foot tall gangly girl who was teased at school because of her bee-stung lips was suddenly one of the most exciting new faces in modelling.

Following her Vogue cover appearance Berçu was ubiquitous, landing on the covers of virtually every mainstream fashion magazine, including Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, British, Dutch and American Elle, Mirabella, Self, Glamour, LA Style, and the French, Italian, German, Australian and American editions of Vogue. More importantly, Berçu was able to collaborate with some of the leading photographers of the day; Steven Meisel, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindberg and Richard Avedon. Berçu landed campaigns for L'Oreal cosmetics and was a star of the Most Unforgettable Women in the World wear Revlon campaign shot by Avedon. Berçu also broke down barriers in the modelling world, as the first Israeli model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

In 1992, at the height of  her success, Berçu dabbled in acting playing the role of one of Dracula's wives in Bram Stroker's Dracula. The film was widely panned and Berçu gradually retreated from modelling to focus instead on obtaining a university masters degree in Drama Therapy, which she now teaches to children. Berçu currently lives in Tel Aviv with her husband Ron Zuckerman and their four children. Berçu is one of the few models of her generation to completely abandon her modelling ties however still looks back fondly on her days as one of the most popular cover girls of the late Eighties, speaking again with Vogue "My career in modelling was very short, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Since I got married I've moved house a lot. I've lived in Paris, Israel, Los Angeles. But wherever I go, I always take my Vogues with me." 

US Cosmopolitan - October 1989
Photographer - Francesco Scavullo
Source - thefashionspot.com

Mademoiselle - August 1989
Photographer - Tiziano Magni
Source - thefashionspot.com

Vogue Italia - November 1988
Photographer - Steven Meisel
Source - thefashionspot.com

Mirabella - May 1993
Photographer - Robert Erdmann
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Vogue - November 1989
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier
Source - thefashionspot.com

British Elle - October 1988
Photographer - Unknown
Source - bellazon.com

Model Magazine - March 1990
Photographer - Unknown
Source - bellazon.com

US Cosmopolitan - June 1990
Photographer - Francesco Scavullo
Source - thefashionspot.com

Elle Netherlands - August 1990
Photographer - Unknown
Source - fmd1.com

LA Style - May 1989
Photographer - Herb Ritts
Source - bellazon.com

Paris Vogue - September 1988
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier
Source - topmodelsoftheworld.com

US Glamour - February 1990
Photographer - Paul Lange
Source - bellazon.com

Vogue Italia - October 1988
Photographer - Steven Meisel
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Elle - September 1989
Photographer - Gilles Bensimon
Source - thefashionspot.com

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