In the ever-changing (crumbling?) landscape of fashion criticism, where compensated cheerleaders and peacocks now reign supreme, it's big news when a turnover presents itself at the Styles section of the venerable New York Times. Which is exactly what happened a week ago when it was announced that Vanessa Friedman will be joining the Grey Lady from the Financial Times, where she wholly created the fashion section and lent tremendous fashion authority to its salmon mousse-colored pages. Though not officially, Vanessa replaces Cathy Horyn, who stepped down from a stellar career at the Times for personal reasons.
It's been made clear, however, that the approach, scope and tone of the incoming chief fashion critic (and fashion director) will not necessarily be the same as that of the outgoing, whose less-than-fawning yet always honest commentary was widely celebrated — if disparaged by those on the receiving end.
So what can we expect from the new guard? To begin with, like her predecessor, Vanessa is thoroughly no-nonsense, exuding a serious demeanor worthy of her scrupulously pulled back crimson hair and vise-grip of a handshake, offered with no air kiss behind it. I know this because I interviewed her for Industrie magazine about four years ago at the FT offices. I found her to be highly focused and articulate, yet also ready with a gentle quip and a friendly smile.
As it turns out, after some digging around for the issue, the interview provides quite a few glimpses into how Vanessa Friedman may decide to run the section. Here are the most intriguing snippets...
You've been the Financial Times' fashion editor for a while now.
Seven years. When I first started here, there was a sense that fashion would sit nicely in the weekend section, where it would be whatever it was. But it’s grown significantly in those seven years. Before I got here, we didn’t have fashion reviews. Sometimes they did them, sometimes they didn’t.
A lot of magazines and papers will start a fashion section for the celebrity quotient or to attract fashion advertising.
It was different here. I think it was really in response to two different realizations. One was the fact that actually the readers did care about clothes. They buy clothes and this was a service that we should be providing. And also the realization that the fashion industry, or the luxury industry, was a big industry and, therefore, something the FT should cover. It's a big business, real meat and potatoes stuff. Having said that, when I was hired, the idea was not that I would do the business side of it. That kind of happened.
Do advertisers hold any sway at the FT?
You said that quickly.
Really, they don’t. And because of that, I think it would be very hard for me to go back to glossy magazines, after having been in a situation where you really are free to follow the story, good or bad.
Glossies, too, have a separation between church and state, or claim to.
Well, they’re not critical. They're there to serve readers in a positive way, to show them what’s good about something. So, fair enough.
How does a fashion house attract a young clientele?
By making good clothes. In an industry based on products, in the end the products will sell themselves. If the products are bad, it doesn’t matter how you dress them up. It’s not going to work with the young consumer, who wants humor, irony, narrative. They're not into that this-is-our-history cheesy narrative.
Did you say snarrative, like snark and narrative?
It’s not a bad word. What I mean is, like the Cadbury adverts with the gorilla banging the drum. It was a really famous ad, which had nothing to do with Cadbury and at the end just said Cadbury. The marketing of no marketing. The willingness to abandon your product and do something funny or tell a great story.
They don’t make ‘em like Bruce Weber anymore. Famed mostly for his star-making fashion photographs for clients ranging from Calvin Klein and Vogue to Versace and Rolling Stone, the self-made legend has simultaneously spent decades doggedly capturing indelible, singular moments on film. His current project, a documentary about the great film-noir actor Robert Mitchum, has been 20 years in the making. Or is it 12? Point is, it's been a while and it could be a while longer. But when it's finished, it may very well be an opus like Let’s Get Lost, his remarkably touching, Oscar-nominated biopic centering on the loves and losses of the hard-living jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.
With a DVD anthology of his films just released, Weber took a breather in his Tribeca studio to speak candidly about his alternate career, his best friendships through the years (dogs and otherwise), his role in discovering several major Hollywood talents, and seeing something in Kim Kardashian, believe it or not.
Lee Carter: You've made a lot of Webersodes, but your last feature film was a while ago, wasn't it?
Bruce Weber: It’s been a while. You know, I started this film on Bob Mitchum and then I kind of stopped for a long time because I started working on short films. I was also working on a film about a close friend of mine, Mrs. Winston Guest, or C.Z. Guest. When she got sick, I wanted to stay on her film because the idea of spending time with her was really great for me. I really adore her so much.
What is it about film that you try to bring to the audience? How is it different from photography?
Well, in a way, I always start my films by taking pictures. It's an extension of taking a picture. When I first made my film Broken Noses, people would say I was just a photographer. And I'd say, Yeah, I know, and I want to make films like a photographer. I can't make films any differently.
Renowned French perfumer and master contrarian Francis Kurkdjian on his latest fragrance (Aqua Vitae), his advice to young noses (avoid cocaine), his favorite odor (sweat), the scents he wears (none), his next commission (Rick Owens), and the crisis in the fragrance business...
So what's new, Francis?
We're launching a new fragrance called Aqua Vitae. The idea for the perfume came about two years ago. We wanted to complete the story that started four years ago with Aqua Universalis. It is about a fragrance as a breath of life and the intimacy it created between two persons. In English, it is known as “the space between us.” I imagined a fragrance that is at once enveloping, warm, almost oriental, but in a light and airy way. That was the technical challenge of this fragrance. Aqua Universalis was about freshness and cleanliness, Aqua Vitae is more about sensuality. For the launch of Aqua Vitae, I invited journalists to see a rendition of the Rites of Spring. My first shock in life was seeing Pina Bausch's Rites of Spring ballet. She made me love modern dance. Forget about classical dance, which I used to think was perfect.
Is it for both men and women?
Yes, Aqua Vitae is unisex. I don’t do men's fragrances the way I do women's. Women’s elegance and men's elegance are different. It's not about allure or sex. I don't do men's fragrances the way I do women's. An elegant man doesn't behave like an elegant woman.
What's the difference?
The codes of elegance are completely different.
What's an elegant man for you?
For me, elegance is about carriage, and also a state of mind. It's not about being well-dressed. Some people are well-dressed but extremely vulgar. Elegance has nothing to do with something material.
Are there celebrities you find particularly elegant today?
Well, elegance is pretty rare these days. I have elegant people around me who are not famous at all. And I don't like celebrities; I'm not interested in them. I don't read about them in magazines.
You don't like gossip?
Not really. I listen to them with a very distant ear. Plus, you need time, and an available brain. Of course I know what's going on around me. But knowing when Jacobs will leave Vuitton is not something I'm interested in.
And yet you are a big fashion fan.
I like couture, the item of clothing. I like style. For me, fashion is the perverted side of what I call couture. I like the craftsmanship of it. I'd rather spend a lot of time in an atelier watching people work than with people who gravitate around the designer, saying things like “I love you, darling.”
Did you see the current exhibition of male nudes at the Musée d’Orsay?
I liked the fact it was thematic, not chronological. I discovered artists I didn't know. I should go back, because I attended the opening. I'm actually surprised the theme wasn't tackled before. I like the way masculine nudes became indecent. History repeats itself. We just recreate things. It's like in the fragrance business. It is very strange. I don't think we invent things.
If you had to create a perfume for the exhibit, how would it smell?
The nice smell of sweat.
Sweat is your favorite?
When it is good, yes. There is nothing more beautiful than that.
A load of exhibits are in the works that showcase the midcentury homoerotic photographs of Bob Mizer and, perhaps more notoriously, the drawings of Tom of Finland (aka Touko Laaksonen), he of exaggerated bulges, lurid male-on-male gazes, leather scenes, and occupational fetishes. The largest of these exhibits, "Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland," has just opened at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, the first museum to examine the daring work of the two artists, who were often at odds with the law. It spans five decades and runs the gamut from tame to lewd, humorous to subversive.
We asked filmmaker-archivist and Bob Mizer Foundation president Dennis Bell and artist-curator and BMF vice-president Billy Miller (also editor of the infamous gay fanzine Straight to Hell) to bring us up to speed on the changing landscape of homoeroticism in the art world.
As custodians of the Bob Mizer Foundation, can you tell us how long you’ve been working on this exhibition and how the idea started?
Billy Miller: There are a few major exhibitions happening in the next several months highlighting different aspects of Bob’s art and times. “Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland” at L.A. MOCA, curated by Bennett Simpson and Richard Hawkins, explores the art and connections between those two figures. The Mizer materials are specific examples of catalog boards used in the production of his groundbreaking publication Physique Pictorial. “DEVOTION: Excavating Bob Mizer," opening November 23rd at 80WSE gallery NYC, combines a few ideas the Bob Mizer Foundation has had in mind for the past couple years. Curator Jonathan Berger added a performative aspect, so now New York University students from different departments will be working on discovery, archiving and restoration projects in the middle of the gallery for the entire run of the show. We're excited to show the public a peek into the material and how much work is involved. There are around a million and half negatives, thousands of films and videotapes, costumes and other archival materials in the collection, and a very sizable chunk of it is being shipped to New York. Considering that much of the material will be unseen, since Mizer himself placed it in those boxes, everyone who visits the gallery will be a part of the process. SALVOR Projects has created a related installation utilizing Mizer imagery at NYU's "Broadway Windows,” on view 24/7. “Art & Physique Circa Bob & Tom,” curated by David Frantz, opens November 9th at the ONE Institute, while L.A. Invisible Exports NYC is featuring Bob’s art at this year’s Miami Art Basel fair. Bob’s work is additionally featured currently in a large show at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris titled "Masculin / Masculin." And, there’s a solo show happening this spring at EXILE Berlin, which we’re looking forward to. Different ways of looking at Bob Mizer are beginning to unfold.
Dennis Bell: The exhibition at NYU is in a sense a progress report of the archiving effort we’ve been undertaking at the the Foundation for the past several years. It’s not the pinnacle, as there is still a very long ways to go, but this is the first time we have the opportunity to show off the physical work and workflows of cataloging Mizer’s work. A couple of years ago, we had a successful kickstarter.com fundraiser, which allowed us to purchase a large amount of archival materials to re-house Mizer’s negatives. We have volunteers at the Foundation who donate their time towards this effort. Carrying this archiving process to other institutions as an installation piece was Jonathan Berger’s idea, and we’ll see how it works. We are only about 20% of the way through Mizer’s vast output, and this exhibition is a way to show off not only Mizer’s physical negatives, but also some of the amazing unseen images we have discovered along the way.
Did you know Bob Mizer before he died in 1992? What would he have thought about being the center of attention at MOCA, etc.?
Billy Miller: I met Bob towards the end of his life in conjunction with the publication I edit called Straight To Hell. It's difficult to say how he would have reacted to a wider acceptance of his art, but I suspect he would have adapted to it as he did with other changes in his life.
The work of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland intersected in the early issues of Physique Pictorial. How well did they know each other?
Dennis Bell: Mizer and Laaksonen didn’t actually meet for about 20 years after Mizer first began showing his work in Physique Pictorial in 1957. There is a lot of discussion about who first influenced who, and that will always be debatable. All I can say is I’ve seen plenty of Mizer photographs of shirtless sailors alone in the forest being watched by other uniformed men that date back to at least 1951.
How has acceptance of male erotica changed since Bob Mizer and do you think gay rights are going in the right direction now?
Dennis Bell: Perhaps one of the most important ideas the work of these artists shows is what obstacles our predecessors had to cross just to see some skin 50 years ago. It’s interesting today to watch a younger generation try to figure out all these “types,” “fetishes” and “niches.” Today, young gay couples just want to get married, have kids and live in the suburbs. We’re approaching a new era.
Straight to Hell magazine is infamous and very different from Bob Mizer’s polite portrayals of men. Where does polite end and explicit begin?
Billy Miller: The first thing that comes to mind is Bob’s big-dicked Jesus on the cross, a Nazi bent over and spreading his ass in an occult ritual, Tico Patterson’s huge erection poking out of a burial casket, and thousands upon thousands of spread asses, macro shots of raging boners, blowjobs, fucking, hanging bondage, cum-covered faces, and synchronized asshole puckering that went on in his later films and photos.
Dennis Bell: Bob Mizer’s images cannot be fairly called “polite.” He went to prison and had years of legal troubles simply for creating images that, in their own time, were as subversive and controversial as any image you see today in Straight to Hell. You have put it in context. In the 1950s, naked male bodies with only an outline of a cock seen through a posing strap were just as explicit…probably more so.
Considering he's been a reigning figure in fashion for 35 years, it's pretty shocking to think there had never been a major exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier's work until two years ago. (Not counting Bravehearts: Men in Skirts at the Costume Institute in 2003). In 2011, after years of research, first-time curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot launched The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. An instant hit, the don't-call-it-a-retrospective has traveled the world over and now calls the Brooklyn Museum home.
The show, which opened last week with a muse-studded dinner, goes a long way in capturing the autodidactic couturier's dual playfulness and profundity. Perhaps no other contemporary designer has upended traditional dress as cleverly, as skillfully, as humorously as Gaultier. His contributions to fashion, particularly during the 80s and 90s, have been nothing short of revolutionary. So while the exhibition doesn't attempt to place Gaultier in a hierarchical constellation with other star designers, it does shed light on the singular impact he's had. His radical riffs on gender codes, his embrace of misfits, his elevation of street style into the realm of haute couture, and his close friendships with strong women ranging from Madonna to Beth Ditto only begin to tell his story.
A key feature of the exhibition are the mannequins, many of which have plaster-cast heads with moving faces projected onto them. When they look squarely at you, as they do on occasion, it's very eerie, and gives the sense that these clothes have lived in the real world and have real stories to tell. Fortunately, Thierry-Maxime Loriot — a former model for the likes of Giorgio Armani and Lanvin (but not Gaultier) — was on hand to walk us through it...
On those eerie mannequins...
"It was important to Mr. Gaultier to make the show alive. There's a movie by Jacques Becker from the 1940s. It's about a Paris fashion designer who falls in love with a fashion model and so he makes a mannequin made of her. At the end of the movie he puts a wedding dress on the mannequin and she comes alive. So Jean Paul wanted to have live mannequins. Also, in 2007 he saw a play at the Montreal Theater Company. There were no actors, only projections of faces with clothes. So we approached the theater company to develop these faces. Luckily I was the prototype for it, so what we had to do was cast the heads of his muses. We all went through the same process of having our heads cast in plaster. It’s horrible because you cannot breathe. After that they project a film in 3D onto the mannequin version of your face so all the features fit perfectly. We have 32 in total.
Mario Testino's particular brand of feel-good photography — Princess Diana smiling sweetly, a scantily-clad yet wholesome Gisele Bundchen, bronze-skinned boys cavorting on a beach in Rio — might lead some to think he's been seduced by his own high production values and celebrity focus. But that wouldn't be the complete picture.
What Mario seeks in his photos is a natural effervescence, because to him happiness equals freedom. The search for this freedom started early, propelling him toward the twinkling lights of London in the 1970s, far removed from his native Peru. It's also the impetus that drove him back to Lima last year to open MATE gallery. "[MATE] is something I have worked on for many years," he tells me. "I have long had a desire to give back to my home country and I feel the best way I can do that is through the arts."
Opening tonight at MATE is a very personal giving back. The exhibit Somos Libres ("We are free", the beginning of the Peruvian national anthem, written upon winning independence from Spain) showcases works by established artists — Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Paul McCarthy — alongside emerging artists. "For me, this exhibition is about the freedom and inspiration I have found in contemporary art over the past 30 years. I wanted to show a selection of works that have had a particular significance to me in both my professional and personal life. I also wanted to show that contemporary art has no limits — it's this freedom of expression that excites me."
More than an acronym of his name, MATE is suggestive of other important properties of Mario's arc, namely friendship, camaraderie, and the collaborative spirit. "In my work I have collaborated with artists like Vik Muniz, John Currin, Beatriz Milhazes, Keith Haring and George Condo. The process of collaboration is definitely something I want to continue."
Of course art, with its vast expanse and unknowable forces at work, is not a realm one ventures into alone. As such, Mario began his collecting under the auspices of London gallerist Sadie Coles. "[She] encouraged me and helped guide me through other forms of art I was less familiar with. I was immediately drawn to contemporary art and what I found young artists to be saying about our society — that really struck a chord with me."
How exactly does being struck happen, I wondered? "I think it's different every time. I try and look beyond what I am familiar with or perhaps what instantly appeals to me because that would be based on what I already know. I like to try and discover something new." Not that Mario is done with photography. "Would I see myself becoming exclusively a fine artist? Maybe not."
Somos Libres, October 15, 2013 – April 6, 2014, MATE Asociación Mario Testino, 409 Pedro de Osma Avenue, Barranco, Lima 4, Peru
In a tête-à-tête with Carine Roitfeld, it's clear right away that the enigmatic former French Vogue editor-in-chief has a heightened sense of awareness — fitting for one of the most astute and influential figures in fashion. While I've interviewed her before, I am still amazed. She scans the room, picks up on visual cues and uncannily knows where the conversation is going, partly because she takes it there. She’ll speak at length and doesn’t slow down, not for a second, and all of it in non-native English.
The topic of this interview is the new documentary about her. Fascinating and revelatory, Mademoiselle C was conceived and directed by Fabien Constant, who spent four months trailing Roitfeld. It takes place in early 2012, the year she relocated from Paris to New York, post-French Vogue, to produce and launch her self-titled biannual, CR Fashion Book.
“I immediately said yes to Fabien because I am very spontaneous,” she says, in characteristic rapid-fire speech while cradling a cup of hot tea, her only demand wherever she goes. “It was a documentary about the new magazine, something for people to talk about. You need buzz. And now, when I see it, I think it’s very personal! But I told Fabien, ‘This is your film, you can do what you want. I open the door for you.’ He did everything. He chose the poster, he chose the name, the music, everything. He calls it Portrait of a Lady, not that I’m a lady.” The thought sends her into demure giggles.
The film chronicles the making of the debut issue and delves deep into her fabulous life. We see her coddling Kate Upton on a location shoots; hotly debating budgets and contracts back at the office (Condé Nast reportedly refused to let its contracted photographers work for CR Fashion Book); organizing a star-studded charity catwalk in Cannes; cavorting with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace; and hanging out with Beyoncé at the Met Ball. “We talked about babies,” she recalls of that night. “She showed me pictures of her baby, Blue Ivy, and I showed her pics of my granddaughter. There I was, sitting next to the biggest star in the world and we talked about babies.”
Asked to pick out a favorite moment from the film, she doesn’t hesitate. “The part in the film where Karl [Lagerfeld] is pushing the stroller [with her granddaughter]. Karl is very nice with children. I think that’s going to be an iconic moment.”
There is another memorable scene, in which she’s practicing ballet in her home with a trainer. She’s attempting the splits, which she finally achieves as the camera captures her agony. It provides a tidy analogy for her work ethic. “I was working on the theme of ballet for my second issue,” she explains. “It was my new obsession. I learned everything there is to know about ballet. Maybe people think I was being ridiculous in the film, but I don’t care. Ballerines work, work, work, and they have maybe half an hour on the stage. I think this is a bit the way I work, too. I like to push hard for a single moment.”
For her latest issue of CR Fashion Book — the third, hitting newsstands now — she has found a new new obsession: “Caravaggio, the Renaissance painter! I’m obsessed with the way he reinvented painting. He did things like street-casting and showing dirty feet. It was very real and raw. And I was thinking there is a lot of Caravaggio all around us everyday. The world is full of people who try to do things differently and find a new way of beauty. Otherwise things would look boring and there would be too much political correctness.”
Vogue Memos, a Rizzoli tome out next month, has quite a ring to it. One imagines it to crackle with all the scandal and intrigue of, say, the Pentagon Papers — as if some dark fashion-world secret lurks between its pages. But actually, given its long title, Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years promises less in the way of scandal, but all the intrigue one could hope for.
It's a fascinating compilation of the memos — reprinted in their original form — that Diana Vreeland, Vogue's editor-in-chief in the 1960s, sent to her staff and photographers, some of them giants in the field like Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, and Richard Avedon. Usually dictated by phone each morning from her Park Avenue apartment (she was rarely in the office before noon, and didn't like formal meetings anyway), the memos were typed up by a secretary, annotated further by Vreeland's hand, and dispatched by post and courier wherever her team may be.
The book has been lovingly edited by her grandson and president of her estate, Alexander Vreeland. (His wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, created the definitive documentary on Diana Vreeland, The Eye Has to Travel.) He presents a novel, riveting means of understanding one of the most outlandish cultural icons of the 20th century. As he explains here, surprises and maybe a few guffaws await even the most knowledgeable Vreeland-phile...Read More
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is best-known for his confrontational approach to fashion. His outfits have graced everybody from Andy Warhol to Lady Gaga, and over the years he has often been the designer of choice for the most creative, and by proxy the most rebellious.
What you may not know is that he is also an accomplished painter and live artist, with a furiously productive output. He tours with the French group Mr No, painting live and performing onstage. And you can always tell where he's been in Paris, and indeed the world, by the faded chalk drawings of angels and friends that he leaves on building walls — like friendly graffiti.
De Castelbajac's latest exhibition, The Phantoms of Eden, opened this month in the luxury resort of Eden Rock in Saint Barths. We caught up with him at his French home to speak about the show and much more.
How did the collaboration with Eden Rock come about?
I always wanted to go to Saint Barths. It’s a place where the past encounters the modern and the Caribbean. This meeting, and in fact the collaboration with Eden Rock, came about through my Parisian gallery, Nuke. For me the idea of evoking ghosts in Eden was a perfect situation.
The exhibition is beautiful. Can you tell us a little about the act of making it?
The process of this exhibition has been quite long. I started to paint four months ago in small format. The link between it all was the evocation of ghosts: the ghosts of my innocence, the ghosts of my childhood, and the ghosts of the friends I’ve lost. All of this brought me to a land I’ve never known, closer to the invisible. When I arrived in Saint Barths, I started to paint a big fresco, in conjunction with my paintings. It’s all about accident, and the evocation of lost innocence.
Ever since I’ve known you, I’ve seen you draw on walls with chalk. Can you remember the moment this materialized?
The first time I remember drawing with a chalk on a wall was in Casablanca when I was six years old. So, a very little boy! After that, I was totally fascinated by the work of Keith Haring in the subways of New York. Around 1992 or '93, I started to draw angels on the walls of Paris. Now, I always have a chalk in my pocket! It’s a form of prayer I suppose, a poetic gesture, and I love the idea of ephemera.