American Beauty is Claiborne Swanson Frank's portraits of friends. She worked under Anna Wintour at Vogue for a couple years. Her family owns Swanson Vineyards in the Napa Valley, a cru frequently served at Martha Stewart parties. And yet there's an air of genuine hippie chic prevailing throughout the book, an attempt to make amends, don't hate us cause we're beautiful, easing the polarity. America doesn't want another French revolution. American Beauty is the 1%, building a bridge with the rest of us. It's Town & Country with grace and a slight hint of apology.
Her publisher Assouline, also produced the $7000, you read that right, $7000 edition of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté's space photographs he shot 220 miles in orbit as one of the first private space explorers. They released The Allure of Women and The Allure of Beauty, two very popular coffee table books of film and fashion icons like Veruschka. For the sake of diversity, they also published Glenn O'Brien $650 retrospective of early Penthouse magazine photographs, lest we forget Anna Wintour started out working for Bob Guccione as the editor of VIVA, which metamorphosed into OMNI. So yes, we're breathing rarified air.
The short captions describing each women in American Beauty are penned by Genevieve Bahrenburg who is managing editor at Above Live, a glamorous sustainable lifestyle and fashion project owned by Nicolas Rachline, grandson of Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, founder of Publicis. So I wanted to focus on the work these women do in association with environmnental or charitable missions.
Ralph Nader says "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us!" Billy Wimsatt coined the term "cool rich kids" in his book Bomb The Suburbs, describing how sons atone for the sins of their fathers. David Rockefeller Jr. and David de Rothschild are both oceanographers. Rich or poor, we all breathe the same air.
Rather than developing a sense of guilt and entitlement about their station, the bane of class struggles, the socialites described in American Beauty have chosen to put their situation to good use. There's only so much one can do to save the world, or at least the planet, without quickly landing in the poor house. It's a matter of balance how one's status can influence situations, important not to lose grip on that power to remain relevant.
Growing up in Palm Beach, Beverly Hills or the Hamptons, can be for some, a sure path to a life of booze and pills. A healthier addiction is to use one's opportunities to soften the edges, make life safer and more comfortable for everyone around you. I think it's in that spirit that this book was photographed, written and produced, to create a new family hinged on this kind of activism, one not based on desperation, but on one's ability to make a difference while preserving a comfort zone.
Nobody needs to freeze their butts off in makeshift tents on icy sidewalks! I remember a time when being a hippie meant sharing, living in community, building solar houses. Today homelessness is rampant, while half the buildings in major cities are empty. There's obviously a disconnect, and although a book like American Beauty doesn't seem at first glance to be about the cultural divide, if you scratch the surface you realize that's in fact the challenge many of these women have to face and have set for themselves.
Some of the women photographed are:
- Lily Kwong works with her father on Nuvana, a social media and educational gaming company that encourages children to get away from their computer screens and head into the world on community-based “missions.”
- Katie Traina serves on the board of directors of Compass Family Services, the oldest organization in San Francisco dedicated to helping families break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
- Elettra Wiedemann is actively involved in One Frickin Day, raising funding for charity projects around the globe, including the building of solar-power installations in clinics in Rwanda and Haiti.
- Arden Wohl co-produced Playground, a documentary about child prostitution in America.
- Emily Ford is the senior advisor at Global Philanthropy Group.
- Erin Burnett is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
- Fernanda Niven was one of the founders of Organic Avenue, sits on the board of Edible Schoolyard to bring organic menus to cafeterias across America.
- Barbara Pierce Bush is the CEO of Global Health Corps, placing young professionals from around the globe in yearlong fellowships with organizations that serve impoverished communities in both the U.S. and Africa.
- Joan Smalls is involved in Project Sunshine, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children and families living with medical challenges.
- Bettina Prentice has become deeply involved in Coalition for the Homeless and Artwalk NY.
- Amanda Hearst, deforestation and climate change loom large, recently co-founded Friends of Finn, a charity to raise awareness about animal cruelty.
- Vanessa Getty is the founder of the San Francisco Bay Humane Friends animal shelter.
- Monique Péan is an environmentally conscious designer, runs the Vanessa Péan Foundation that aids disadvantaged communities in Haiti.
- Alina Cho, CNN star was part of the Emmy and Peabody award–winning team that covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
- Georgina Bloomberg is highly committed to her work with several organizations, including the Equestrian Aid Foundation, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society.
- Summer Rayne Oakes, serves as editor at large at Above LIVE, and is co-founder of Source4Style, which aids in sourcing sustainable materials for fashion design.
- Lauren Bush Lauren, creative director and co-founder of FEED Projects, provided over 60 million meals worldwide.
- Maggie Betts directed The Carrier, which follows a pregnant, HIV-positive Zambian woman in a polygamous marriage.
Genevieve Bahrenburg writes at the end of her introduction: "Claiborne’s careful selection of subjects, as well as her own personal story, demonstrate that if a woman is sufficiently ambitious, focused, and gifted there is nothing she cannot accomplish."
Let's wish she's right, so these women, many out there still growing up, waiting to be discovered, can save our country and this planet from itself.
Friday March 30th, 2012
6pm to 9pm
Lu Magnus Gallery
55 Hester Street
New York, NY
The VOGUE Launch Party! NYC, 03.29.2012