This naked model is the sign of a new Puritanism

THE UK edition of Vogue has a naked woman on its front cover this month. Oddly, for a magazine that celebrates female fabulousness and glamour, this is only the second time that this has happened &ndash; the first was in 1995 when Kate Moss bared all. (Robbie Williams did too, when he cavorted with Gisele in 2001, but it is probably best to stick a mental fig-leaf over that particular thought.)<br /><br />The lady in question is Russian model Natalia Vodianova, famous for having a 33-23-33 figure. So it&rsquo;s clear that this is certainly not a celebration of the &ldquo;normal&rdquo; woman, or the new curviness that some fashion writers have heralded as the big trend for 2009.<br /><br />If you are looking for female perfection, then you don&rsquo;t have to go far beyond Vodianova. Although she is a mother of three (and married to The Honourable Justin Trevor Berkeley Portman, who owns much of London&rsquo;s West End), she has no stretch-marks or wrinkles &ndash; or at least if she does, they have been airbrushed away. She is glamour incarnate. There is no getting away from the fact that she is uncommonly striking. The photographer who shot her for the cover, Mario Testino, described her as having eyes like a lioness&rsquo;s, which unlikely as it seems, is a pretty good description.<br /><br />No, putting her on the cover is plainly and simply a celebration of naked human flesh. But why now? Well, after the orgy of glamour and fabulousness that has dominated our culture in the recent past, she is a cultural palate-cleanser, the fashion equivalent of a lemony sorbet after a feast of rich food and gooey sauces.<br /><br />We are over clothes. The Versace gowns and Dior bags, the Chanel sunglasses and Theo Fennel necklaces that fill the pages of Vogue and magazines like it, have the air of something that is over, a ludicrous riot of pointless glitter. Skin &ndash; the simplest thing in the world &ndash; is in.<br /><br />Vodianova&rsquo;s cover is also a classy response to the culture of the girl-next-door that has been popularised by Nuts, Zoo and their ilk. Their stock-in-trade has been pushing the idea of female availability, busty check-out girls in their pants taking snapshots of themselves on their cameraphones. That has become not just boring, but depressing, a distasteful sexualisation of everything that is one level above Sid James&rsquo;s leer, a symptom of a glut of everything.<br /><br /><strong>NOTHING SALACIOUS<br /></strong>In contrast, there is nothing salacious about Vogue&rsquo;s photos of Vodianova &ndash; in fact they are pretty wholesome, a celebration of beauty in its purest form. Even your most optimistic Nuts reader would struggle to believe that she is available to him. Vodianova might not appreciate the comparison, but she is a full-stop. She is a punctuation mark at the end of a period of excess. This is a conscious resetting of the agenda, a return to simpler things and an admission that we still want beauty, but in a straightforward form.<br /><br />As such, it can even be seen as a form of Puritanism, nudity being a form of purity (although it&rsquo;s possible that Oliver Cromwell wouldn&rsquo;t have approved). This cover is an example of glamour-fatigue, a weariness with the unending excess of the boom, all the boutique hotels that doubled as designer outlets, the foams and jellies that passed for food and the grim excesses of Dubai, the ultimate in overcomplicated vacuousness.<br /><br />That Vodianova is a mother is also telling. Rather than a skinny, sexless eighteen-year-old wannabe pouting at the camera with fake knowingness, Vodianova is a proper grown-up who is confident in her skin. It is inevitable that Vogue will soon return to superfluous clothes and opulence, but for now we are in a culture that has lost confidence and has gone back to the most basic of basics.