American Beauty by Claiborne Swanson Frank

American Beauty, Assouline, Claiborne Swanson FrankToday is the official launch of photographer Claiborne Swanson Frank’s first book, American Beauty. It’s a gorgeously photographed,  beautifully produced coffee table book of women — shot in their own clothes, their own makeup, in settings that were meaningful to them.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Frank, and asking her about the  inspiration behind the book.

She explained that portraits were once a woman’s rite of passage — a time capsule capturing their youth, beauty, personality, and (by the nature of their clothes, their props, the artistic medium) the age they lived in. These paintings or photos became a historical legacy — both for the world at large, and (more intimately) for the families that preserved them. (She’s clearly onto something: the Daily Mail just reported that Kate Middleton is sitting for her first official portrait — a birthday gift for Prince William.)

Inspired by the works of painter John Singer Sargent and photographers Richard Avedon and Yousef Karsh, Ms. Frank asked her friends if any of them had ever had a traditional portrait done. None of them had.

This seemingly “lost” art became her passion. She first shot 29 portraits for an exhibition called Indigo Light (partly underwritten by Swiss fashion house Akris). Publishing house Assouline helped her expand that project into a book of 110 “American beauties.”

The book is Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, and J.Crew brought to life. Each photo beautifully conveys a story, and I couldn’t believe (1) that Ms. Frank and her subjects constructed these stories out of each woman’s life (rather than sitting down and drafting the ideas beforehand), and (2) that the compilation should feel so very American.

I asked Ms. Frank if she had any makeup tips (in case I’m invited to sit for her next book). Her advice was to look like yourself (to do your own makeup the way you do every day — or have it done by someone who knows you). She also said to sleep beforehand, drink plenty of water, go easy on the carbs and sugar, and lay off the alcohol at least three days before. She said that shows on the camera more than anything.

Claiborne Swanson Frank, self-portrait

Claiborne Swanson Frank, self-portrait

American Beauty is $75, available at Barnes and Noble, at Assouline boutiques and on their website. For a free preview of the book, check out Ms. Frank’s website. All images copyright Claiborne Swanson Frank.

Two cool things you need to know right now:

1. If you’re in the Dallas area, Neiman Marcus Northpark is doing an event Wednesday, April 11. Come get your makeup done by Estee Lauder global makeup stylist Rick DiCecca, and if you spend $150 at the counter, you’ll get a copy of the book for free.

There’s also a cocktail party at the counter from 6–8 pm. Claiborne (and her friend and co-conspirator Genevieve Bahrenburn — who co-produced the book and wrote the profiles of each woman featured) will be signing books.

2. Vogue.com is doing the most amazing giveaway to celebrate the launch of this book. By submitting a photo of yourself and answering “why you represent American Beauty,” you are entered to win a trip to NYC for fashion week, a photoshoot with Claiborne, a bundle of Estee Lauder makeup, and a $1500 shopping spree to Neimans. What the heck are you waiting for? Click here to enter.

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