07 Feb Feature: Nastassja and the Serpent / AnOther
According to American Vogue stylist Polly Mellen, the arrival of a snake on set was an unexpected turn of events. “We were in Los Angeles, and the shoot had already started. We were just doing fashion pictures,” she recalls in the 2001 documentary In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye. Looking for something to give the images a little extra kick, she asked model Nastassja Kinski if she had any ideas. Kinski’s reply? A boa constrictor. Naturally.
In 1981 Kinski was at the height of her career, modelling for the world’s leading fashion titles and appearing on screen for cutting-edge auteurs from Polanski to Wim Wenders. The legendary Richard Avedon had been charged by editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland with capturing the woman of the moment: following his blockbuster 1977 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest photographic retrospective the institution had ever staged, Avedon was arguably America’s most famous lensman.
The creative alchemy between these two industry titans would produce one of the most referenced fashion images ever, most recently recreated by Patrick Demarchelier and Jennifer Lawrence for Vanity Fair. Swiftly put into production by Condé Nast as a poster, Nastassja and the Serpent became ubiquitous as the décor feature of choice for any testosterone-fuelled 80s college dorm. Currently on display at Sotheby’s as part of their Erotic: Passion & Desire sale and going under the hammer next week, seeing an edition of the image in the flesh tells a different story of its creation and legacy.