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August 1 2014

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The Creative Force Behind an Extraordinary New Book on Veruschka Discusses Fashion Film, Fashion Egos, and Fashion Icons

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Veruschka

A friend of mine likes to say that the name of the greatest art director in the world begins with an A—by which he means “A” for Accident. He insists that it is often a chance impulse or encounter that produces the most interesting work. Such is certainly the case with the latest project from Antonio Monfreda—another exceptional art director whose name begins with an A. At a dinner party in Rome, Valentina Moncada told Monfreda that she had discovered a cache of old photos taken by her father, Johnny. The cache in question, stored in dusty boxes, turned out to be three thousand early pictures of Vera von Lehndorff, the German model who would later come to be known to the world simply as Veruschka. A week later, Monfreda walked out of the offices of Rizzoli in New York with a book contract in hand. The resulting volume, Veruschka: From Vera to Veruschka, is a showcase for some very modern-looking sixties Italian fashions, Florence and Sardinia when they were still mostly undiscovered, and—above all—the transformation of Von Lehndorff from an angular young ingenue into the icon who would later entrance photographers like Avedon and directors like Antonioni. “She is the most mysterious model of the sixties,” says Monfreda, analyzing Veruschka’s appeal. “She has the kind of beauty that is chameleonic. It’s the same kind of quality you find nowadays in Kate Moss, the ability to transform in a very natural way in front of the camera.”


If serendipity played a part in the book, it has also been a theme in Monfreda’s career. He started out as an art dealer, but he was looking to switch to the creative side when he had a meeting of the minds with Patrick Kinmonth, the opera director, exhibition designer, and artistic polymath. In short order, Monfreda found himself in New York, codesigning the Anglomania show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum. Together, he and Kinmonth have conceived and installed some of the most memorable fashion experiences of the past decade, including the museum exhibition that accompanied Valentino’s forty-fifth anniversary celebration in Rome and Making Dreams: Fendi and the Cinema, a magically immersive show that took over an abandoned theater in Milan last fall and that will be resurrected in New York next year. And how does Monfreda, who divides his time between Rome and London, deal with the outsize egos he must encounter in his line of work? “That’s a good question,” he says with a laugh. “But sometimes it’s not just a question of power or egoism or nonsense. Egos sometimes have good things to say, and I listen.”

Along the way, Kinmonth and Monfreda’s interest in filmmaking has grown, and they recently established their own production house, The Visual Clinic, to address the needs of their luxury clients. Monfreda believes they can bring a “new energy and a new vision” to the field. In other words, we can look forward to many more happy accidents in the future. In the meantime, enjoy this exclusive short film that accompanies the book (above) and a slideshow of photos from the book that traces Veruschka’s journey as she emerges from a world of black and white into vivid color.

Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli

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Dept. of Culture