Stephanie Seymour

US Playboy March 1991

Stephanie - A Herb Ritts Portofilo

Start with a secluded beach, miles of white sand on Hawaii's Kona coast. Paint the sky turquoise to match the smooth Pacific. Add one of the worlds's beautiful women, equal parts beauty and energy, and one of the reigning photographers of celebrity and glamour. It's the intersection of magic and technique-photographer Herb Ritts's latest exhibition, starring supermodel Stephanie Seymour. "A sea fantasy," Ritts calls it. "It's always summer on that beach. I wanted these images to suggest a timeless summer, and Stephanie was perfect. She combines a very childlike, innocent quality-like the Little Mermaid-with a mature kind of beauty. In the modeling world, she's known for her great body, but it's what she does with that body that counts. Stephanie's sensuously creative, and she trusts me," he says. "It can be harder to make beautiful images when your model doesn't have clothes to work with. That wasn't the case in Hawaii." His mermaid agrees. "I do trust Herb," says Stephanie, who at 22 is a veteran of countless fashion shoots and three famous appearances in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. "All alone, with no need to cover myself-this was more interesting than a fashion shoot. I could be uninhibited and free."

The Ritts-and-Seymour mutual-admiration society expands: "Because this was for Playboy, there was no commercial pressure. It wasn't about the clothes, because there were no clothes. I liked that. This was about the photographer's vision, and about me," says Stephanie, who earned her fame-not to mention the lust of S.I. readers-by looking great inside the creation of the globe's top fashion designers. "I'm delighted," Ritts says, "by the fact that Playboy wanted these images-new, atypical images that would look equally good in Playboy or Vogue." As longtime fans of the women in that magazine, we must say that we can't quite imagine these photos in Vogue, but we think we know what he means. Beauty is, as Ritts suggests, independent of context. Still, we're delighted to have given Stephanie Seymour, with her famous friend's help, a chance to shed the inhibitions of commerce and show our readers a supermodel in the very private, vitally personal act of modeling nothing but herself. This exhibition, like the Cherish video Ritts directed for his pal Madonna, is a rare commingling of talents. We think it's one of the best recent examples of the photographer's art. It is also-let's be honest-a rare chance to trump Sports Illustrated's near-perfect swimsuit issue (Stephanie makes her third S.I. splash in early February). Asked whether she has a favorite S.I. bikini, Stephanie says, "No. I don't think about them, I just wear them." To her, clothes are clothes. The real Stephanie Seymour, says Stephanie Seymour, is the one you see here.

Shooting this pictorial wasn't easy. Ritts, Seymour and company had to hire a fleet of jeeps and go off road, bouncing over scrub and ancient lava, to reach their empty beach. Soon another obstacle intervended. The local kelp was all wrong. It was too stringy and thick-too ordinary- to suit Ritt's vision of "a sea goddess." As his goddess waited, he ordered a shipment of seaweed from Marina del Rey, California. "Stephanie's a trouper," he says. "She was patient." When the California kelp arrived, it was slimy and cold. The thoroughly modern mermaid endured "two ridiculous hours," says Stephanie, smiling at the memory, while stylists festooned her with the accouterments of Venus rising from the deep. From morning until last light, she played Venus for Ritt's lens. "Some jobs are hard work, but when you're with someone you like, there's nothing to be afraid of," she says. "That's the kind of intimacy I have with Herb. When we started this shoot, I knew it would be fun-and it was." Models are often their own toughest critics; Stephanie admits that years of seeing hyperglamourous images of herself on hundreds of glossy pages can make a woman "picky." But when she saw these photos, "I fell in love with them. They were creative and different. They were ... beautiful." Looking back of his idyl with Stephanie, Ritts cites a singular detail: "Her eyes. In different lights, they change color, from blue to green." Asked what makes a supermodel super, Ritts says, "I can answer that in two words-Stephanie Seymour."