Eyes asquint, lips parted, thighs locked in a cocaine-and-catwalk honed vise around an 18-year-old boxer named J’Leon, arched over a bed of fake sheepskin and early Motown LPs: Maybe this staged tryst is what fashion magazine W means by its headline “Motown Hit: Kate Moss & Bruce Weber Do Detroit.”

Morgan Morel
The view from a Detroit highway. (KIMBERLY CHOU, PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)
Morgan Morel
Morgan Morel
Industrialization on the riverfront. (KIMBERLY CHOU, PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

It’s not just Detroit residents wagging tongues since celebrated photographer Weber and supermodel Moss – her status wavering day to day between famous and infamous – descended on the city early this summer for a photo shoot among its notable neighborhoods. Of course, the Detroit Free Press duly noted the high-fashion sphinx’s sudden presence. Fashion circles had been buzzing for months in anticipation of the Motown-Weber-Moss collaboration. Greater Detroit romantics have been waiting decades for outsiders to see the city again as an infinitely rich ore, pregnant with culture and promise.

The feature spans 50-some pages. Weber stages a lazy afternoon picnic on Belle Isle, a late night in a downtown bar and a basketball game between an awkward Moss and Detroit Piston Lindsay Hunter’s kids. He shoots the controversial Heidelberg Project and Woodlawn Cemetery, the final resting place for both Rosa Parks and rapper Proof.

Moss is far from the lone star of this production. Weber photographs the city’s embodiments (Aretha Franklin, Tiger Stadium), enlisting Detroit natives like University sophomore Chanel Hamilton as models. Moss often looks out of place and haggard, but 17-year-old poet Aungelique Patton-James shines. Her ode to Moss (“Miss Perfection”) runs full-page opposite a black-and-white photo of the poet and the model sleeping entwined on a couch, clad in Hugo Boss and Chanel.

It would make sense to confuse the W photo story as championing Detroit’s singularity. Weber takes great pains to find the beauty in Detroit’s granite tombstones and rust-coated Hoffa campaign signs. Carnival colors jut from stark blacks and whites. A drag queen’s red-and-blue platform Nikes brighten a graying street corner. A hand-crafted helicopter and garish painted carousel horses overwhelm Moss as she dangles from a doorframe at “Hamtramck Disneyland,” a massive yard-art installation by Dmitro Szylak in the mostly Polish-Ukranian neighborhood of Hamtramck. The obvious danger of trying to capture “everyday Detroit” – rather, everyday Detroit plus an out-of-place supermodel – is the potential for coming off as exploitative the city and its denizens. Detroit’s self-image is fragile enough as it is. Weber knew it was going to be hard to pull off this project, and he just misses it.

With its charming mix of urban blight and Beaux-arts architecture, Detroit is newly cool. It’s hip, it’s fashionable, it’s a shuddering mass of synonyms for “trendy” that should never be applied to the Motor City.

In French, de modev or

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