Super Mario Testino

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Courtesy of Mario Testino

Museum piece Testino's portrait of Sienna Miller

You know him by the opulence of his work, the impregnable hauteur of his celebrity models and the dogged ubiquity of his clients. But a new exhibition in Madrid reminds you why Mario Testino is one of the great fashion photographers of the age. The Peruvian-born, Irish-Italian lensman has infused his art with enough street-level pop to appeal to the legions of Saturday shoppers that now make up luxury clothing's greatest constituency — but without any diminution of the pouting aloofness required to sell a $2,000 skirt.

Running at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza,, between now and Jan. 9, Mario Testino. Todo o Nada assembles 54 fastidious works by a man who has created season-defining images for Gucci, Versace and Burberry, and had the likes of Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston prostrate themselves obligingly before his lens for seminude studies. Surprisingly, there is a great deal of highly primped flesh on show. Almost half the models are dishabille or naked — as though, having worked in fashion these umpteen years, Testino seeks to transcend the form, forsake the grubby business of garments and ascend into the pure realms of the unclad. Thus we have Gisele Bündchen, arrayed on expensive linens, wearing naught but an eye mask. Here is Kate Moss, flat on her back, buck naked save for heels and sunglasses, and clutching (but of course) a cigarette.

These several nudes are a counterpoint to fashion photography of striking classicism not typical of Testino, but which he presumably deems more suitable for consumption in a museum as opposed to the ephemeral marketplace of a magazine. The images of Sienna Miller or Reese Witherspoon in ball gowns are purest Cecil Beaton, and the dominant conceit of the exhibition lies in the contrast between soft skin and stiff brocade, between voluminous fabric and sparse nudity. Todo o nada, indeed.

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