There's nothing like an 18-foot-long anaconda to upstage a rock star. Never mind it's a marvelously rumpled and completely insouciant Alice Cooper in a tux, doffing a top hat and clutching a cane. It's the 160-pound snake, draped over his shoulders and across his lap, its fat, scaly skin iridescent, that's the show stealer.
Talk about putting the squeeze on. Which is entirely the point of John Varvatos' fall 2007 ad campaign. It's the designer's sixth season showcasing rock stars -- past seasons have featured Iggy Pop, the guys from Velvet Revolver and Chris Cornell. But this one is wonderfully freaky in a way none of the others were -- just the right clash of ingredients: man, reptile and this dreamy evocation of Regency glam that Varvatos found at a friend's 1920s estate in the Hollywood Hills where the photo was taken.
For his part, Cooper plays it just right, the expression on his face somewhere between nonchalance and ennui as if this were just another day in his rock 'n' roll life. "Good thing I wasn't wearing a snakeskin suit," he joked backstage after Varvatos' show at New York fashion week. "It might have been a relative."
For the shoot, Varvatos enlisted rock photographer Danny Clinch (they've done this before), and creative director Stephen Niedzwiecki. "We know Alice is all about the snakes," Varvatos said. "So Stephen and I thought we'd get a couple of monster ones and decide once we got in the room whether or not it worked."
But the cozy session with Annie the anaconda wasn't as easy as it looked. To begin with, it took four handlers to carry her into the room.
"The snakes I'm used to won't kill you because they can't swallow you," Cooper said. "This one looked at me like: 'I could swallow that guy.' And one of the first things she did was yawn, and those jaws just opened up like they could swallow a Holiday Inn maid."
But after draping the snake around him and taking a few Polaroids, they knew it was a natural pairing. According to Sharon Ainsberg, the casting director who wangled the rocker for the shoot, Cooper needn't have worried about being swallowed whole. "Annie actually loved Alice," Ainsberg said. "They had a real connection."
At least someone was sure.