Sarah Baker and Donatella Versace’s issue of Baroness is a love letter to sisterhood
Celebrating Valentine’s Day with the release of the single Spritz Me With Your Love, the second issue of Baroness tells the tale of a female music mogul outsmarting her blackmailer.
- Laura Snoad
- 14 February 2020
- Reading Time
- 5 minute read
“‘You did not write Spritz Me!’ the blackmail letter accused. Angelina sat at her desktop, gazing into the distance as she tapped her glossy, impeccably-manicured fingernails.” Trashy, glamorous and instantly gripping, this introduction to the second issue of Baroness – an artist’s book from the team behind Baron Magazine – instantly pulls you in to the tantalising tome.
The book is a collaboration between multimedia artist (and Jackie Collins obsessive) Sarah Baker and fashion legend Donatella Versace, who has guest edited the issue as well as styling the clothes and interiors. The book riffs on the pair’s shared love of glitz, garms and sex appeal, while telling the tale of Angelina Marina, the CEO of Narcissist Records, who in her younger days penned the smash hit single Spritz Me With Your Love. But when a blackmailer threatens to undermine her credibility, her fortune and her relationship with her daughter, Angelina (Sarah Baker) teams up with the Baroness (played by Helena Christensen) to track down the rogue and clear her name.
“It would be fair to say that I have been making artwork about Versace since the year 1999,” Sarah Baker, tells Its Nice That when we catch up with her ahead of today’s release of the single Spritz Me with Your Love for Valentine’s Day. “So much of my work has been about exploring the mystique of luxury products, celebrity culture, and fashion, and of course sex (or the idea of what is sexy) inevitably intersects with this focus.” Born in San Francisco and now based in London, Sarah’s practice hinges on performance art but manifests itself in a variety of different outcomes. She has cast herself as Twin Peak’s Laura Palmer for a photo series, created numerous video works and theatrical performances inspired by Jackie Collins’ novels and, for the debut issue of Baroness, performed the role of a sexually charged female photographer called Angel.
Like many an outrageous idea, the concept for the artist’s book was cooked up at a party by Sarah and Baron Magazine founder Matthew Holroyd, before they pitched it to Versace. “I have been obsessed with Gianni Versace designs since I began my artistic practice,” Sarah tells us. “I just loved his no holds barred celebration of grandeur and luxury and the richness of his colours and patterns – Donatella is the continuation of this legacy.” As an artist, Donatella had been a huge inspiration for Sarah, as a creative force and as a business woman. “There is also a tremendous joy and pleasure in dressing up and feeling fabulous and certainly Donatella Versace represents this.”
Working with writer Jamie Huxley and Donatella Versace herself, Sarah and Matthew developed a storyline inspired by romance novels and soap operas. “Originally there was an alien abduction and the main character Angelina was doused in perfume and burnt at a stake!” says Matthew. “But the original story lacked meaning, so we started to explore our sources further and developed the concept of the ‘bitch’.” The team were particularly interested in the character Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, whom they all adored and felt was somewhat demonised in the 80s show. “The final outcome challenges representations of successful women in popular culture being a ‘bitch’ and instead the central female characters work collaboratively together to deal with blackmail and deceit.”
While originally Angelina was written a victim of her own hubris and had a rather untimely demise, as soon as team started working with Donatella, the narrative started to shift. “It’s no accident that the character of the Baroness evolved into a strong, empathetic, and strategic thinker,” says Sarah of working with the designer. “It also echos a cultural sea change for all women – a sort of a feminist zeitgeist that is all about empowerment over damsel-in-distress victimhood.” Sarah and Donatella wanted to turn the famous Dynasty-esque catfights around by allowing the women to be respectful and tactful, smart and understanding. “More true to how women really are!” says Sarah. “Women are often portrayed as fighting against one other, and we're tired of that stereotypical narrative. The Baroness is more Michelle Obama style: ‘When they go low, we go high’.”
Given both Sarah and Donatella have an unmistakable aesthetic, the visual tone of the project – inspired by romance novels, celebrity culture and Versace glamour – was quick to define. “That part was easy,” Matthew tells us. The part that the team did fine challenging, however, was the legal side of working with a ‘performance artist’. “Photography has problematic authorship laws,” he explains. “Traditionally the person who takes the photograph is the owner of the work, which is ridiculous when we think of this in relation to moving image – the camera man is not credited as the author of a film.” Here Sarah was the star but also the ‘author’, with the photographer taking a supporting role. “This caused lots of problems, from finding locations to organising stylists, many couldn’t really grasp the idea that the photographer was not to be the author of the work,” says Matthew. “I remember one of the stylists that we optioned for the project, their agent got quite irate with me: ‘But Sarah is in the work, who is the bloody photographer?!’ That stylist did not get the job!”
Working with art director Stephen Male to turn the shoot into a book, the publication mixes soft focus scenes of luxury with chunks of dramatic and very funny prose by Sarah. “Over the years, I’ve done several photographic fashion stories and I've written and directed scripted narratives for film and stage but this was definitely the most succinct cohesive narration I've created,” says Sarah. “I also really like that the book is an affordable art object, allowing buyers to explore and decipher the work in the comfort of their own home, bypassing the upper echelons of the high art and fashion worlds which don’t always make indulgence this accessible.”
For those that want to immerse themselves into the work even deeper, the track Spritz Me With Your Love is released today (14 February) following demand from fans. Synth-laden with an 80s vibe, it’s a perfect soundtrack to the smultz of Valentine’s day – or perhaps “Gal-entines” is more appropriate. Just make sure you’re dressed outrageously while you listen.
Sarah Baker x Versace: Baroness