Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Alexander McQueen (April 2004)

Joyce McQueen: I would have liked to have invited the late Peter Ustinov for dinner, for his wit and conversation. Who would you like as a dinner guest and why?
Alexander McQueen: What, if I could choose anyone?
JM: Anyone in the world.
AM: Elizabeth I ...
JM: Why would you want Elizabeth I? The history maybe?
AM: 'Cause she's an anarchist.
JM: She's an anarchist?
AM: She was an anarchist, yeah. Do you want to have a bit of debate on this?
JM: Well, not at the moment, no.
AM: Because, y'know, she kind of founded the Church of England under her father, with all the upheaval from the French and the Scottish ...
JM: Who are your other ones?
AM: Jesus of Nazareth, to check if he really exists, and it's not just we've been reading some Peter Pan book for the past 2,000 years. Or Mel Gibson, to be there if Jesus wasn't true.

JM: If you could live and work as a designer in any era, which one would it be?
AM: Any time? Future as well?
JM: Future as well. But particularly the past.
AM: Let's stick to the past then. I'm thinking cavemen and loincloths.
JM: What about Tudors and Stuarts?
AM: Er ... I'm answering the questions! Most probably ...
JM: What about -
AM: I'm thinking ! Fifteenth-century Flemish, Netherlands. My favourite part of art. Because of the colours, because of the sympathetic way they approached life.
JM: Simplicity, you mean.
AM: I'm not going to get into a big art debate with you.
JM: No, I'm trying to get to the bottom of why you like that.
AM: 'Cause I think they were very modern for their times, in that period and in that part of the world.
JM: You spend as much time as possible in your beautiful cottage in the country. Do you find that the inspiration you get down there features in your work?
AM: I don't find inspiration there - it gives me a peace of mind, Mum. Solitude, and a blank canvas to work from, instead of the distractions of the concrete jungle.
JM: Right. So it does inspire you in some ways then.
AM: Not technically. Not country life or bobbing rabbits. It's the peace and quiet.

JM: As you know, I'm a Simply Red and Elton John fan. Who are your favourite artists?
AM: As in singers?
JM: Yeah, well, y'know, groups, whatever. Because at one time, you were very much into classical music.
AM: Beyoncé. No, I'm only joking.
JM: He was about, what, 15. I know because I've still got them at home.
AM: I think composers. People like Michael Nyman, who compose an original piece of music - believe it or not, the artists today are inspired by people like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, who come up with unusual sounds.
JM: I know, I know, that's where pop music comes from ...
AM: Nah, it's like the architect who designed the Gherkin [Norman Foster and his Swiss Re tower in London] inspires people, or Alexander McQueen does a collection that inspires other people to do different things and move things forward. Rap music's been around for too long now to be inspirational. The words are, but the music isn't.
JM: You haven't given me an answer there. You haven't come out with a group.
AM: I have - Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.

JM: All right, then. I'll ask another question. You have travelled extensively around the world but still have not been to the Isle of Skye, which is the root of your McQueen history. Will you ever visit that area?
AM: Mmm ... yes.
JM: In the near future?
AM: Yes.
JM: Right. And that follows on to my next question: what do your Scottish roots mean to you?
AM: Everything.
JM: Well, where do I come in?
AM: [laughs] Oh you're from the Forest of Dean, yeah. What do you mean, where do you come in?
JM: Well, your Scottish roots mean a lot to you. So where does your mother's side come in?
AM: What does my mother's side, the Welsh side, mean to me?
JM: I'm not Welsh! I'm Norman!
AM: All right, Norman! Where does this Norman come from?
JM: Well they come from Viking stock.
AM: That answers a lot for an awful lot of people, I think. I feel more Scottish than Norman.

JM: You recently got your deep-sea diving certificate, didn't you?
AM: Yeah, underwater diving.
JM: Well, two of my family discovered the wreck of the Marie Rose, deep-sea divers. Just explains that you've taken up deep-sea diving as well. It's a follow-on really, isn't it?
AM: So from the McQueen side I've got anarchy, and my mum's side, underwater diving.
JM: The calm part. You are often described as an architect of clothing, and I know that you have a keen interest in architecture. What is the most breathtaking building you've ever seen?
AM: Ronchamps, by Corbusier.
JM: What do you think of the modern buildings in London?
AM: I love the Gherkin.
JM: You do?
AM: I think it's fantastic.
JM: But you don't like any of the old architecture in London?
AM: Well, yeah, but it's not as nice as it is in Italy or Paris.

JM: If you hadn't trained on Savile Row, how would you have entered the fashion industry?
AM: I'd have slept my way there.
JM: Or, I don't know ...
AM: Other ways. I'd have found other ways of getting into it.
JM: Do you look at something else and say, "I could have done that as well"?
AM: Photo-journalism. It's art for the modern times. I think it captures a moment in time that is spontaneous and that reflects where we are. The one I couldn't have done is be an architect, because I don't have the brain capacity or the patience.
JM: No, you haven't got the patience, have you? You mix with VIPs, celebrities, aristocracy ... How does coming home and being the baby of the family make you feel?
AM: I'm never fazed by it, because whenever I get home, Dad will always ask me to make him a cup of tea. So it's just normal.

JM: If you were prime minister or in government, what policies would you implement to make the UK a better place to live?
AM: More politically correct police officers on the streets. And more focus on the north of England instead of just the south, on not so developed parts of the country.
JM: What do you mean, "politically correct police"?
AM: Well, not homophobic police, not racist police, you know? The police need to come down to street level.
JM: Success has brought you financial security. But if you lost it all tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?
AM: Sleep. I'd be pleased.
JM: I said you'd go on holiday.
AM: What with? I'd lost it all!

JM: When you received your CBE last October, you told me and Dad that you locked eyes with the Queen and it was like falling in love. What was it about her presence that captivated you?
AM: I made a pact with myself that I wasn't going to look into her eyes.
JM: But you did.
AM: I did. There was a simultaneous lock, and she started laughing, and I started laughing ...
JM: It was a nice moment, wasn't it?
AM: It was. We caught it on camera where we're both laughing at each other. She asked a question, "How long have you been a fashion designer?" and I said, "A few years, m'lady." I wasn't thinking straight - because I'd hardly had any sleep.
JM: You were nervous.
AM: I was really tired. And I looked into her eyes, it was like when you see someone across the room on a dancefloor and you think, "Whoa!" It was like when I looked into her eyes, it was obvious that she had her fair share of shit going on. I felt sorry for her. I've said a lot of stuff about the Queen in the past - she sits on her arse and she gets paid an awful lot of money for it - but for that instant I had a bit of compassion for her. So I came away feeling humbled by the situation, when I wouldn't have even been in the situation if it wasn't for you.
JM: I thought it was a great honour.
AM: I didn't want to do it.
JM: It was an honour for you ...
AM: Yeah, but I had my views on what it stands for.

JM: What is your most terrifying fear?
AM: Dying before you.
JM: Thank you, son. What makes you proud?
AM: You.
JM: Why?
AM: No, no, ask the next one: "What makes you furious?" You! [laughs]
JM: No, go on, what makes you proud?
AM: When things go right, when the collection goes right, when everyone else in the company's proud.
JM: What makes you furious?
AM: Bigotry.
JM: What makes your heart miss a beat?
AM: Love.
JM: Love for children? Love for adults? Love for animals?
AM: Falling in love.

Dries Van Noten (Feb 2005)

Very few of the many women who wear and love Dries Van Noten's clothes would recognise the man himself if he sat next to them on the bus. He does not go in for paparazzi-friendly celebrity friendships (Donatella, Stella) or spotlit and styled star turns on the catwalk (Ford, Galliano).

He makes beautiful clothes and stages unforgettable fashion shows, and then he pops his head out from backstage for the quickest of blink-and-you'll-miss-it nods to the audience.

This is not because Van Noten is particularly shy. Nor is it because he is unphotogenic - on the contrary, he bears a passing resemblance to George Clooney. It may be because he is Belgian. Belgian fashion designers - compatriots include Ann Demeulemeester and Veronique Branquinho - are united in a reluctance to use personality and lifestyle as leverage for the brand.

Van Noten has been showing in Paris for 24 years but remains, in manner, closer to the dry reserve of Arsène Wenger than to most designers on the Paris catwalk schedule.

In fact, he is about as far from the Ab Fab image of a fashion designer as it is possible to get. Over lunch in his local Antwerp restaurant, he dissects his sole with military precision and drinks sparkling mineral water, raising his eyebrows at the table next to us who are tucking into the chablis.

The only hint as to his profession, as he expounds on his favourite subject - holidays spent visiting England's National Trust gardens - is the tiny wisp of red silk that has attached itself to his sweater during a morning spent choosing bolts of fabric. One espresso later and he is bounding along the cobbled dockside back to his HQ, a converted 1904 liquor warehouse.

Antwerp is the epicentre of Van Noten's life and work. "Living here, you can't live in a fashion bubble," he explains. "You have to speak languages, otherwise you get nowhere. And we don't have much Belgian press, so we buy magazines from all over the world. So we are open to the world, and well-informed, and this impacts on the clothes."

He lives with his partner in an 1840 house outside the city, where his pride and joy is an English-style landscape garden, complete with follies. "Gardening is an aesthetic pleasure, but it also keeps your feet on the ground. You can't ever completely control or predict your garden. You depend on the weather. And you have to think of the long-term future. I think these things are healthy."

Van Noten is steeped in the clothes heritage of this city. His grandfather and father ran boutiques here; his mother collected lace. He rebelled, just a little, by becoming a designer rather than a retailer, but still enjoys the business element. "I like to have a store, and to see what is selling and not selling."

Van Noten came to international notice as part of the Antwerp Six, a group of prodigiously talented Belgians making moody, clever clothes. He has a lighter, less severe aesthetic than most of the other designers with whom he is grouped, but he acknowledges that there is still, decades after graduation, a link between them. "It's a way of looking at clothes, of designing piece by piece, rather than for catwalk effect, so each piece has its own value and can be worn how you want it."

The Antwerp Six were, for a while, the height of chic. But their understated approach drifted out of fashion until it was dangerously at odds with an industry obsessed with glamour and branding. "There was a time, around 1997 and 1998, that was scary for me as a designer and for us as a company. Suddenly, the big luxury groups had all the power, and I was just this guy doing ethnic collections. I did wonder about selling the company, at that stage."

Things changed after the September 11 attacks. "Suddenly, people wanted something they could feel attached to. I wanted the clothes to feel like something that had been inherited from a grandparent. We had a huge response. People came round to our way of thinking."

Now, the pressure on Van Noten comes less from the supergroups than from the high street. "People like H&M and Zara are pushing us very hard. People start to think those prices are normal, that you should be able to buy a man's shirt for £20. But you can't even buy the fabric for one of our shirts for £20, let alone make the shirt or live off the profits."

While Van Noten's clothes are subtle, his shows are occasions of grandeur and emotion ("I put my soul into the shows"). This was never more evident than on the evening that his 50th collection, the women's range currently in store, was unveiled.

An empty warehouse in the Paris suburbs was the setting for a surprise dinner for 400 guests who had arrived expecting a catwalk show. A refectory table, laid with white linen, stretched as far as the eye could see. As dinner ended, the chandeliers were raised and the table became a catwalk. "For me, it was a metaphor for having fun, for getting up and dancing on the table after a dinner party," says Van Noten. "The collection was based on Romanian and Hungarian folklore, but the ideas for the show and for the collection grew together, a kind of cross-fertilisation. I wanted the white embroidery to look as if the chandeliers had dripped on to the table."

It was, as fashion people say, a moment. None the less, that is not what Van Noten's clothes are really about. Recently, he held a party in New York. "I was so proud, because there were lots of people in my clothes, but none from this season. To me that's the ultimate compliment, if someone is still wearing something years later."

Raf Simons (2004)

Raf Simons didn't enter fashion via the typical route, but then Raf Simons is not a typical fashion designer. Perhaps more than any label today, his maintains a commitment to repressed youth -- not the youthful vigor fetishized by biceps-and-pectorals labels like Gucci or Versace, but real youth, in all its awkward menace. Simons' clothes contain the psychic spark of the ignored, the revolutionary potential that builds up during the isolation of adolescence. While other designers do little more than plunder a tired series of late 20th-century youth fads, Simons alone has stayed true to his roots. True enough so that each new collection can still register revolutions in contemporary youth culture -- as well as inspire new ones.

Craig Garrett: Did you go to the fashion academy here in Antwerp?

Raf Simons: No. I studied industrial design. Can you believe that? I don't have a fashion background at all. Sometimes I hear stories like, "I was playing with my mother's dresses and blah blah blah."
I come from a white trash family. My mom went out for work when she was 15. My dad went into the army when he was 17. I was playing on a farm with cows and sheep and chickens and a lot of children, and that's it. I was in college when I was young because my mom and dad really wanted me to do something with my education, and it was Latin, Greek, mathematics -- theoretical stuff. When I was 16 or 17 I felt like I really wanted to concentrate on something more creative. But I wasn't aware that an art academy or a fashion academy existed. I was in a stupid little village. There was no culture. There was nothing.
That's why the focus for everything I do -- still -- is so much on music. Music was the only escape. You could buy it in the local record store. We had this youth club with this bus that always took us to concerts. But galleries? Never heard of them. Art institutions or art schools? Never heard of them.
I found a book in school about architecture with information about what kind of studies you can do, and in the back there was information about industrial design. At the time there were only two schools in all Belgium where you could get that education.
I visited that school and I just immediately decided, "Yes, that's what I'm going to do." It's a five-year education. In the first year you start to experiment a lot with nature and natural forms, and then it starts to develop into ergonomic things, like a handle that has to be good for your hands. And it goes further, like a radio or a car dashboard. Then at the end of the fourth and fifth years you can choose the direction you want to go. At the end I only did furniture.
In the fourth year you had to do an internship for half a year in two different places. One you could choose, which was supposed to be a design school, and the other was a hardcore industrial design place. I didn't want to go into a designer's studio actually. I really wanted to go to Walter Van Beirendonck, who was one of the Belgian designers from the first generation, you know, the "Antwerp six" (Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, and Martin Margiela). They'd just started becoming well known for what they were doing in the period I was having my education as an industrial designer. And I was really fascinated because yes, he was doing collections, but next to that he had such a strong visual appearance as a fashion designer, which was very different from anything I'd ever seen in fashion. He did a lot of things with furniture or masks -- things you cannot use -- just for the idea. I wrote to him because I wanted to do an internship in his place, but I was really scared because I wasn't coming from a fashion school. So I faked this whole portfolio, making, for example, a cover from The Face or a cover from i-D magazine, saying to Walter that this was what we had to do in school. But it was just what I did for getting into that office, fake fashion things that were very bad, I know. Then at the back I had maybe five or six projects from school, but the stupidest things, like an egg holder or something. And he was [pretends to flip quickly through pages] really not interested, and then the egg holder came [stops]. He was fascinated with the industrial design stuff.

CG: Wow. So did he take you?

RS: Yes, I had an internship with him. In the first period he made a collection named "Fashion is Dead." I'll never forget it. He made a newspaper, which was also fake: a front page with big headlines, a horoscope, perfume ads. But all this stuff had to be made, so I had to make him a perfume bottle. He was making a portrait with a mask, so I had to make the mask. We got along really well, and so after a couple months I could kind of work with him in the collection. Even if he was another generation from me, we had a really strong creative click at that time. And he took me to Paris. He had a presentation of clothes where the furniture and everything was specially done, and that's what I did. And that was also the period that some of the Antwerp scene designers, the six from Antwerp, started showing. Martin Margiela, for example, had his first and his second show there. And I saw that, and that's where the click came. Because I remember, when I saw Martin Margiela's show I was already like, "I'm wrong. I don't want to do industrial design." I suddenly started to feel that it was very isolated, industrial design. In school they were really mad with me because you were supposed to be in an industrial designer's studio. So a fashion designer? It was out of the question. They hated me for that. It was only after -- years after -- that they showed respect for it, because at that time it was like fashion [holds up right hand] and industrial design [holds up left hand]. Now we have all these crossovers suddenly. It's so much crossover it makes you sick.
Because I was choosing the Walter thing, of course they pushed me into an industrial factory. Really hardcore. I remember very well -- it was a producer of these carriers to hold 24 beers. We had to make it more ergonomic, but it was not at all about the form. It was just about the plastic, and they have to inject it into a mould. After weeks and weeks and weeks I realized, "This is not going to be the rest of my life. I don't want to do it. It's so isolated -- you just sit in front of your computer screen." I said in school that I was going there, but I wasn't going there. Every day I was taking the train to Walter's studio in Antwerp. That was like another world. It was wild. Walter's assistants were a group of five or six people my age, and he took us to the Paris or to the Venice Biennale or to Florence. Sometimes there was a presentation or a photo shoot. It was very social, which is weird because I'm not that social a person. I never go on stage, for example. I really don't like that aspect of the whole thing. I don't like public speaking. But I like social contact. I like it very much if it's more in a private situation.
And usually something clicks with the people you like. Like Larry [Clark]. He's such a normal human being. He's such a nice person. Just a very relaxed, nice person. Beecroft is maybe different [laughs]. But then in a way also not. She's an extreme personality, I find. Ten years ago I was already very interested in looks and people and fashion, and sometimes if I see someone, I'm like, "Whoah." You don't know the person, just from the look. But the first time I saw Beecroft in New York, I was nailed to the ground. She was sitting there in this fashion dress, this Comme des Garçons dress or I don't know, but sleeveless. And she has all these tattoos on the inside of her arms, these pin-ups. And I found it so strange on a person like her. To see that? It's like a trucker or something.

CG: They look like she got them in prison.

RS: And she saw that I saw them, although I didn't say anything about them. And she said something immediately like, "I was so drunk that night. And in the morning I woke up with all these trucker tattoos." [laughs]

CG: Have you ever collaborated with an artist?

RS: I did, years ago, maybe five or six years ago, one series of photographs called "Isolated Heroes" with David Sims. Actually, it's because of David Sims that I started to do my collection. I think David's photos were something totally deep. He brings in people who are not noticed by the world. For me it's a very historical approach, what he is doing. David is not thinking about which pants someone should wear to look good.
We became friends. We were speaking a lot. And what he was saying was what I was thinking, and what I was saying, he was thinking. At a certain point we made a book, although it was never published. It was never intended to do something other than just please ourselves and the people we worked with. It was also very related to an attitude -- at that time very new for the fashion world -- that had nothing to do with models. I still never work with professional models, because there is a very strong social/psychological aspect to the whole thing. I'm more interested in the language that comes out with the things I'm doing than making clothes for a hanger in the shop. I don't give a fuck actually. If it would be about that I would already have stopped seven years ago. So I started asking people I saw in the street or people I knew already who I thought had an interesting attitude to connect with what I was doing and thinking.
And that was also David's attitude actually. For him it was more about that certain person he saw in the street, to bring that person into the area of fashion or culture magazines, more than choosing a perfect model and then putting the stuff on it, the Comme des Garçons shirt with the Yohji Yamamoto pants. When I started doing this project with him, I already had a relationship with the people we were working with for so many years. For example, there was sometimes a person we'd see in the street we'd never seen before, and we'd just ask if they would be interested to relate to what we are doing. We'd send information. They'd get in touch with us. And then we got to know each other. Usually it's a process of half a year before we really do something with them. Then, for example, they can show in Paris, but sometimes they also get involved with what we do. Like Robbie for example here? He was just a guy in the street, and we started to get in touch. And then he did a show, and then did some photos together. And now he's my manager, actually. I couldn't work without him. That process for me is the most important.
I started my thing not because I wanted to be a designer who was going to sell all over the world in the fashion stores. I just wanted to bring out some kind of language which was meant for me and my environment who didn't feel comfortable with the kind of look that we got presented. And we were interested in fashion -- we were following it -- but there was something that was missing. And that's how I started doing it. I think that's also why I started focusing on Larry [Clark]'s work so much. It's not so staged. It's real. I was in New York in February, and I rang Larry's bell. And I went up to his space, and there were seven kids. They were just sitting there and helping him. It's bringing you back to where you come from and how you were yourself. And it's probably also related to not wanting to age. But it's still also an investigation into what it is and how it is.

CG: Do you think your involvement in contemporary art has had an influence on how you design your label?

RS: I just want to keep it away from this typical structured fashion world, which is very defined. In the early beginning I booked some models once, and after the show they were saying things to me, and it was like they were aliens. They loved it! They were all slimy, you know? It's very good for your ego, if you're looking for that. I work with guys from the street, and their approach to what we are doing is so different -- but for me very interesting. Because at the end I am also concentrating on a language that is meant for a certain generation, and their response gives you a lot of energy. So the whole thing is structured very differently. I take a pair of pants and they just give me a critique on the pants. Sometimes they love it, but sometimes it's like, "Ha, I'm not going to wear that!" And I don't make them wear it, because it makes no sense to me, because they're not at all going to represent an attitude that I want. It's also very fascinating for me to find out why yes or why not, and how they feel about it. It's something I could talk for hours about.
Some guys we cast already five or six years ago, when they were only fifteen. The way they looked was street and baggy, and that's what they wanted to represent. Now years later, when they've had an education and they've started to have jobs, suddenly they start thinking over their whole look and their what they want to represent. So they start thinking over things that they used to critique when they came here in the beginning. Like a suit, for example. Now they call me and say and say, "Do you maybe have a suit that's small in the shoulder?" And that's really interesting for me. That makes it worth doing the things.
For Paris we are very structured like that. We have our own cast, and we bring them over by buses. It's a very social thing also because we don't just pick up a guy from fifteen on the street and say, "Come, let's do a video." It doesn't work like that -- definitely in Belgium that's a very scary thing. So we get in touch with people, and we give them a card, and then they get in touch. And then we send a bunch of materials about what we are doing, and if they are attracted they come here. Their parents come here and their sisters and their brothers come here. Sometimes we have all a whole bus that goes to Paris with one guy and like five family members with him. People sometimes say, "You're crazy to do this. It's more work actually." With a model agency one week before the show you just call them with these stupid fiches.

Undercover (2006)

Jun Takahashi is the essence of Japanese cool, from his hanging curtain of hair to his black boots with tiny silver spoons tied to the laces.

"I found them in Clignancourt," says Takahashi, referring to mustard spoons winkled out of the Paris flea market, from where many weird and wonderful objects have been brought to his Tokyo studio.
The big square space, with the designer's spindly black-and-white painted images on the walls and only a single strip of daylight from a window high above his head, is filled with oddities: a kitschy, big-breasted nude statue; a giant, vomit-green alien toy; a wooden shrine stuffed with flowers; a bust of Lenin; cases of butterflies; and walls of the stuffed animals that he makes obsessively, even the night before his latest Undercover collection was shown in Paris in March.
That show was striking, even shocking, as Takahashi covered every piece of the models' bodies from head to toe, including complex, mummified masking of the faces.
"Why did I cover everything up?" the designer asks. "There was no reason, except to efface all feeling, like a destroyed doll. It was not about bird flu or some deep meaning. It was something aesthetic - I wanted to envelope them."
Takahashi, 37, with his label Undercover, is a powerful new fashion force whose disturbing romanticism and eerie poetry have earned him plaudits and become the foundation of a growing business. In May, the latest store will open in Taiwan, following Hong Kong in January and the Tokyo shop established in Aoyama in 2002.
You recognize an Undercover store because it is just that: an enclosed space. The windows in Aoyama are blanked out with the shop's neatly folded stock. In the Hong Kong store, artificial flowers fill the window space and broken bed springs serve as a backdrop. Undercover designs can also be found in fashion stores such as L'Éclaireur in Paris or London's Dover Street Market, owned by Comme des Garçons.
What about the clothes? They are beautifully crafted and pretty in a weird way. The spring collection, shown at the crumbling Bouffes du Nord theater in Paris, had layers of tablecloth lightness, with insides spilling out as if from a doll's stomach. Another show had feathers intricately cut out in felt. For winter the wrappings included a white jacket bandaged with ties, the headpiece decorated with rings and chains where eyes and nose should be.
The mood of Undercover is expressed in two words that are part of the identifying label: "But beautiful."
"In my head, there is always something beautiful and something ugly, which are equal," Takahashi says. "Simple beauty does not interest me. But just ugly does not interest me either."
Takahashi graduated from Tokyo's Bunka college in 1991 and set up his business two years later. His first retail step in 1993 was in a shop called Nowhere, where the space was divided between him and Nigo, the designer who went on to create Tokyo's hypercool A Bathing Ape store.
In 1994 the first Undercover collection was shown in Tokyo, with a Paris debut following nearly a decade later in 2002. Takahashi says that his beginning styles were street and punk and that his current style just evolved.
"There is no reason to think about it - it comes naturally," he says. Ask Takahashi if these layers of intense decoration make him a maximalist and he says that he tries to be a minimalist.
"It is not a question of appearances - it is more about a feeling," he explains.
His notebooks for each collection are fantastical collages juxtaposing flower bouquets with an image from Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" or wallpaper designs with spotted toadstools and manga images. They suggest a creative artist at work.
And the works on the walls prove that Takahashi is just that. He shows the tiny paintbrush with which he and his fellow Japanese artist Madsaki created the surreal scenarios, like disturbing fairy tales. They were shown last year in art galleries in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
"Perhaps in five years I would like to be just a painter," Takahashi joshes.
Right now he has been elected as fashion's new king of cool. Last year, he was tapped by Canon to create an Undercover limited-edition digital camera case. He is guest editor of Antwerp's hip A magazine, published in June.
After 12 years in business, his fashion dreams are modest: to open a store in Paris - or at least to be able to afford to put his team for the Paris show in a hotel with a bath.
"And I would really like to make everything by hand," he says. He has crafted objects since he was a small child - long before he made strange soft toys for his daughter Lala or used them to decorate the stores. Some of the creations are scary: stuffed animal heads mounted on the wall like hunting trophies, their heads reduced to half-bared skeletons.
The designer describes the Undercoverlab, designed by the Klein Dytham architectural group in 2001, as "chaos." But like the apparently chaotic shows, you know that the studio reflects a creative world.
"You enter into the universe of the interior - I am surrounded by objects - and I don't go out a lot," he says.

Alber Elbaz (Sept 2005)

This past June in New York, in the days before he was presented with the award for international designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (C.F.D.A.), the fashion world's equivalent of an Oscar for Best Picture, Alber Elbaz was not rejoicing. The award was a validation of sorts, a long-overdue acknowledgment of his talent and the work he had done since 2002 at Lanvin, the long-moribund French couture house that he has rejuvenated. But the attention and accolades, though welcome, made Elbaz both giddy and anxious. The giddiness was largely for show, a part of the cuddly, jovial image that Elbaz puts forth, especially in social situations. He is a small, round man, and he nearly always wears a black suit with trousers that are much too short, a silk bow tie knotted loosely at his throat and black rectangular glasses that set off the softness of his face. Elbaz understands the power of fashion, how clothes can create a personality, real or otherwise. This gift for artifice extends to his own sartorial choices. While he appears to be playful and a bit theatrical (and he can be), Elbaz is mostly thoughtful and distinctly aware of the vagaries of his chosen business. Now 44, he has worked in fashion for nearly 20 years, including, for 2 of them, as the chief designer of women's wear at Yves St. Laurent, and he knows that being chosen by a group like the C.F.D.A. means that you will, inevitably, be discarded in favor of another. "Being a designer is not about being a star - I didn't work for the eight seconds when you get a prize," Elbaz told me over lunch at Chanterelle in TriBeCa the day before the awards ceremony. "For me, there is nothing scarier than being of the moment. Because the moment ends."

Elbaz's fashion philosophy - that clothes should be timeless, that the elegant simplicity of a Lanvin dress or skirt or sweater should endure for many seasons - represents a departure from the luxury-addicted, logo-crazed fashion world of the 1990's. That time was personified by Tom Ford, the designer of Gucci (and later, Yves St. Laurent, where he succeeded Elbaz). Quite simply, Ford sold sex - specifically, high-gloss, international jet-set sex. All his clothes and accessories were created with an eye toward the kind of seduction that is best accomplished through an overt display of the goods. Through Gucci, Ford created the global fashion business - a woman in Japan was carrying the same interlocking-G hobo bag as a woman in Kalamazoo - and he also expertly marketed himself: Ford's carefully maintained stubble, nut-brown tan and half-open white shirt made him a symbol of the times.

But, as it always does, the fashion mood shifted. Even before Ford quit designing for Gucci in 2004, he realized that the luxury market was changing. Sept. 11th had altered the outlook even of the fashion-conscious, and although women still wanted something sexy, their sense of what that might be was less obvious. "It's a hard time for women today," Elbaz said as he ate a cheese puff at lunch. "Women today are not allowed to have age. They have to be not young and not old. As a designer, I have to understand that and also what a woman goes through in the course of a day. Women have to be perfect at home, perfect at work, perfect lover, perfect mother, perfect daughter. And they have no age! That's something to understand, and then, I ask myself, given all that, what is it women want in their wardrobe? What is worth them spending 1,000 Euros rather than 1,000 pennies?"

When Ford sat down to conjure up a dress, he usually began by thinking about a woman's backside. "I concentrate on the butt," he once told me. "If that looks good, everything looks good." Elbaz begins designing with the waist, quite a different erogenous zone. "The waist is the most important part of a woman's body," he explained. On first glance, Elbaz's clothes for Lanvin can look simple, but then you notice the care that has been taken with these classic shapes: the washed silk faille has been cut so that the pleats of a skirt fall like a tulip, skimming the hips; a waist-length jacket has been shaped so that the linen moves in sync with the body; a simple trench coat in artfully rumpled gold silk fits like a long-beloved garment. Elbaz's embellishments are unique - tarnished metal paillettes adorn the grosgrain-ribbon waistband of a fuchsia silk sheath; ornate gold beading decorates the arms of a humble white cotton peasant blouse; and pearls, an Elbaz trademark, are entwined with tulle for long necklaces or sewn onto silk taffeta and then tied around the neck like a beautiful, ornamental bib.

All of Elbaz's clothes combine the hard and the soft: he is an expert tailor who leaves seams unfinished; he will sew a garment so exquisitely that it could be worn inside out, but he will intentionally leave the collar frayed. "I don't relate to perfection," Elbaz said. "And neither do the women who buy my clothes. I cannot bake, but I can cook a wonderful meal because I can improvise. But I could never make a cake because they tell you 10 grams of this and 10 minutes here, and I cannot follow. So, no cake, no perfection."

Elbaz - who was born in Casablanca, reared in Israel and then moved to New York in 1984 and now lives in Paris - may represent a new kind of global perspective. Mostly, his clothes evoke classic French style, with their feminine sophistication and refinement, but they are also, like American sportswear, conceived with an eye toward a woman's active life. And the signature Elbaz accents - the pearls and the coins he uses like jewels - seem to have been purchased at a Middle Eastern bazaar. This multicultural formula has been a financial success at Lanvin. In the last three years, sales have reportedly risen to about $100 million a year, 10 times what they were when Elbaz took over the collection in 2002. During a personal appearance at Barneys in New York last winter, Elbaz sold $1 million worth of clothes in one day. "Fashion is important all over the world," Elbaz said. "And we have to bring beauty back to fashion. But sexy . . . that's a word I cannot hear anymore."

This may be a veiled reference to Tom Ford, who was the darling of the fashion world for almost a decade. Elbaz has said that he believes his ascent would have been speedier if he was conventionally handsome like Ford. "I sometimes think that if I was thinner and more photogenic, my career might be different," he repeated as he sampled a goat-cheese ravioli. "But I'm also afraid to lose weight because my design sense might disappear." The fact that Elbaz looks different from most of the fashion flock may allow him some philosophical separation, too. His image may not be Ford's superslick, after-dark image, but Elbaz has his own carefully honed persona, one that, perhaps, more aptly fits these uncertain times. Some of his gowns are extravagant, but for the most part, they are classic pieces with a twist and a perfect fit. Even well-heeled customers desire that mix: pieces that seem one of a kind but are also practical. In this climate, Elbaz has emerged as the favorite outsider for fashion world insiders.

"We love an outsider, especially if they are supertalented like Alber," says Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, who worked with Lanvin to create its recent advertising campaign and who has been wearing Elbaz's clothes for years. "But nobody chooses that role for themselves, because if you're really the outsider - and Alber has been - it's a much harder life. In our business, there's the tortoise and the hare. Being the tortoise has been important for Alber - his experiences have made him who he is. And now that he's crossed the finish line, everyone wants to invite the tortoise in."

t around 3 p.m. on a Wednesday in early July, Elbaz was in his fifth-floor atelier off the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré in Paris. It is a long, loftlike room, curtained off into sections, which are divided into workstations. In the carpeted middle section on the left side of the atelier, Elbaz, who was wearing his usual black suit with a bright green scarf worn like an ascot, had assembled his design team to work on the spring collection for 2006, which is scheduled to be shown in Paris on Oct. 9. Elbaz and three assistants - two women and a man - were sitting on plush brown velvet chairs around a repurposed dining-room table. To Elbaz's left were three bulletin boards displaying pictures of Japanese women, including geisha, drawn from books and magazines; photos of various kinds of floppy hats; and lots of drawings of high-heeled shoes.

"Spring will be the obi collection," Elbaz had told me in New York. Obis are the sashes that geisha wear to secure their kimonos. "I will start working on whatever that represents," Elbaz explained. "That's the starting point. The beauty for me is that you move on and go upside down, but you have a starting point." A year before, when he was planning spring 2005, in what was his breakthrough collection, Elbaz began with the idea of Fortuny, who in the early 20th century revolutionized evening wear with his intricately pleated, loose-fitting floor-length gowns. Elbaz then married that sensibility to Madame Grès, who was known for her Grecian-like draping. Somehow this connected to the Silk Road and women's progress, and that led him to the idea of jackets and the removal of shoulder pads to create a more refined and modern silhouette.

"It's never about going to India and saying the collection will be maharajah," Elbaz said. "And I don't have one muse, where I'm looking at her and getting high from the way she sits. I'm inspired by many women. It's about getting interested in a story. When I get the starting point for a collection, I go down to my living room in my pajamas, and I start sketching. Or I'm in a hotel room, talking on the phone or listening to CNN, and I'm sketching. I'm a lucky man - by the end of a week, I'll have 400 women in my sketchbook. "

In July, the spring collection was in its earliest stages. "Geisha are perfect," Elbaz said, now at work in his atelier, "and perfection is never interesting to me, but the search for perfection, which all women feel, is interesting. That's a timeless struggle, so why not provide women with a solution? For years, men have had uniforms, and a dress works like a uniform. You don't have to think - you zip in and zip out. And then clothes become about simplicity and form and function."

Elbaz sketched as he spoke, drawing skirts and shoes, and then, a dress with an exaggerated lower half. "This looks like a balloon with no air," he said, staring at his sketch.

"Maybe we can open the back and shape around it," an assistant said.

"As long as it doesn't look too fattening," Elbaz replied, still sketching.

"Do we want to introduce embroidery if it's in wool?" another assistant asked.

"I like the embroidery that's broken up," Elbaz said. "It should look washed and faded."

Hania Destelle, Lanvin's director of communications and one of Elbaz's closest associates, interrupted the meeting. With her was a tall blond woman. Destelle is his prototypical customer: an attractive mother of two who works. "Excuse me, Alber," she said in French. "Here is the model." In two days, Elbaz would be having seven small presentations of his precollection for spring. These would be intimate gatherings for 12 fashion editors or buyers at a time, held at the Hôtel de Crillon, with Elbaz explaining his collection and showing the clothes on four models. "What is your name," Elbaz asked the tall blond girl. "Can you walk for us?"

As she walked up and down in a brown chiffon Lanvin halter dress from two years ago, it was hard not to notice that the dress had an obi-like sash at the waist. When I mentioned this to Elbaz, he said: "Lots of elements repeat in my clothes. Art is a monologue; design is a dialogue - I look at what worked in the past, but even if a certain element remains, it always changes." Elbaz considered a shoe, which had a skyscraper-high heel. "For this collection, I want shoes and hats that look like cars," he said rather inexplicably. "I want crazy accessories, but not crazy clothes."

The meeting ended, and the design team dispersed. Elbaz picked up the shoe again. It was a jazzed-up version of a platform pump that he has made in the past. "I'm not sure if I love it or hate it," he said. "But sometimes if you love someone or hate them, it's often the same thing." Elbaz paused. It was just a shoe, but Elbaz seemed to be contemplating something other than fashion.

A few moments later, Destelle rushed back in to say that the designer Vera Wang was in the Lanvin store, which is directly across the street from the atelier. "One of the problems and joys of having the store so close by is that I'm constantly being interrupted," Elbaz said as he dashed down the elevator and through the Lanvin men's store (he does not design the men's-wear line) and through the doors of his shop, which, in some ways, is also his research center. The Paris boutique is a mecca for celebrities like Kate Moss, Sofia Coppola and Nicole Kidman as well as regular customers - all of whom Elbaz has been known to ply with macaroons from Ladurée as, say, he pins up a hem on one of his dresses.

"The coolest thing about Alber was that he wasn't pushing anything," says Natalie Portman, who wore a gorgeous pleated silk Lanvin creation to the Academy Awards last year. "I first went to him for a dress for the Golden Globes, which is a month earlier than the Oscars," she recalled recently, on the phone from Madrid. "We're both from Israel, and we were speaking in Hebrew. Most designers would have come up with a dress for me immediately, but he said he needed to think about it. And then weeks later, he sent me the Oscar dress. The dress was sexy in the way that a confident woman is sexy - it was understated, but still alluring."

Elbaz stopped for a moment outside the shop. He not only creates the clothes; he also designs the store windows. In July, a mannequin in a black flapper dress made of strips of silk that have been sewn into fringe was hanging upside down, like a circus performer. In the past, Elbaz has had his mannequins riding a carousel, taking a dip in the sea or walking a pack of red plastic dinosaurs. The results have been both whimsical and dramatic - the elegance of the clothes humanized by their often goofy surroundings.

"It looks good," Elbaz said as he quickly moved a vase of pink roses to the center of a table in the store's entry. He rushed upstairs, where Wang and her two daughters were perusing the sale items. It is unusual to see a designer purchasing clothes by someone else, and Wang had her arms full of garments. "I bought three of your silk dresses," Wang said enthusiastically. Elbaz stared. He does not take compliments well and tends to rearrange the dynamic of the moment by complimenting back. "I love your watch," he told Wang. He rifled through the racks, pulling out a long silk charmeuse gown in gray. "This would look beautiful on you," he said.

As Wang went off to the dressing room, a woman from Michigan, assuming he was a salesman, asked him for help: she wanted a pantsuit. In another stand against mass acceptance, Elbaz makes very few pants. "I don't think women have to wear pants to be strong," he told me once. "And if you're going to buy expensive designer clothes, why buy pants when so many designers do them much less expensively?" Elbaz sighed. "I don't gauge success by what sells. When I first got to Lanvin, they said: 'You have to do evening shirts - it's a very important item right now. Like a pirate top.' And I didn't want to have pirate tops. I wanted to have a dress."

early every day when he is in Paris, Elbaz has lunch at the restaurant bar at the Hôtel de Crillon. "I never skip lunch," he joked as he settled into his usual corner table. Elbaz, who moves comfortably between English and French (although he says he dreams in his native language, Hebrew), ordered a ham-and-cheese omelet with fries. "You know," he said, looking around the restaurant, "if you changed the color of this room, it would change everything about it. With red walls, you'd have a different clientele. It's the same with clothes. When you change a coat from black to orange to blue, you have to change the proportions. Colors seem to be the easiest thing to do, but they are the most difficult."

Elbaz's father was a hair colorist - he worked in a salon in Tel Aviv. Alber, who was then Albert, was the youngest of four and began sketching dresses when he was 7. He was always encouraged, although his mother, who does not like to travel, has seen only one of her son's shows. "I had to escape my family," Elbaz said, "and when I left Israel, I dropped the "t" from my first name. In Judaism, if you change your name, you change your destiny."

He flew to New York with $800 given to him by his mother and found a job with Geoffrey Beene, the brilliant, innovative American designer who conjured designs that challenged conventional ideas about how clothes should look and still managed to build an empire. Elbaz worked for Beene for seven years. "I thought I would die as an assistant," he told me. Although Elbaz respected Beene, who died last year, their sensibilities were very different. Beene was intrigued by modern, nontraditional fabrics and dresses constructed with only one seam. Elbaz was more intrigued by the idea of taking classic forms and subverting them. He learned a great deal from Beene but was eager to be in charge. In 1996, he moved to Paris and soon became the creative director of Guy Laroche. After only four shows, where he showed smart tweed suits and mohair coats, Elbaz was offered the job of a lifetime, succeeding the legendary Yves St. Laurent as designer of the house's ready-to-wear for women. The Laroche shows had created a sensation in Paris, and Pierre Bergé, who ran the business side of YSL, said he felt that Elbaz would fit in well with YSL's fashion sensibility, which is all about having what might best be described as a French point of view. "It was Alber's dream to work at St. Laurent," says Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys. "And the gods heard him."

Unlike Guy Laroche (or Lanvin), YSL was steeped in tradition, and the man responsible for that tradition was still designing haute couture. Part of the reason Elbaz may have appealed to Bergé was that he would not overshadow St. Laurent: Elbaz was talented but sage. "At YSL, there are certain rules," Elbaz recalled. "There's what is and what is not St. Laurent. When I got there, it was the time of grunge. Everyone was wearing gray. They asked me to do a French Prada. I said, 'What about a new Yves St. Laurent for our generation?' " Elbaz paused. "I loved St. Laurent. He was so fragile and emotional. But I was afraid of the secretaries there. They were these perfect Hitchcock women. Everyone was so glamorous, and I felt very different from them."

Elbaz became a student of the YSL archives. "I saw all this color," Elbaz said. "I was almost paralyzed by the experience. I knew that Mr. Saint Laurent was all about Marrakesh, and that was my starting point. So, I thought, how would a blond lady feel in Marrakesh? How would she feel at night in high heels in a dark street with young boys looking at her? That was my first show. By my second show, I'd started to read that my days were numbered. It was like having a slow-moving disease that will eventually kill you."

For his second collection, which was based on colors like turquoise and purple from flowers that produce poison, Elbaz's narrative inspiration took a dark turn. The theme of the collection was waterproof clothes - frocks for a world in which malice lurked around every corner. Elbaz was feeling understandably vulnerable. The Gucci Group, led by Tom Ford and his business partner, Domenico De Sole, was negotiating to buy YSL, and it was clear that Ford would want to replace Elbaz with himself. "Tom Ford is not my enemy," he said now. "Well, at least, he isn't my enemy anymore. But then it was terrible. I was Lot's wife - I packed everything from the office at St. Laurent in two suitcases, and I did not look back."

He took two years off and traveled throughout India and the Far East. He thought about becoming a doctor but decided, instead, to return to designing. Elbaz heard that Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese publishing magnate, was purchasing Lanvin. He contacted Mrs. Wang (he always refers to her as Mrs. Wang) and said, "Please wake up the sleeping beauty." Although he was referring to Lanvin, which is the oldest couture house in Paris, he could also have been referring to himself. Last year, when LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the conglomerate that owns Christian Dior and other design houses, tried to woo Elbaz to Givenchy, he refused their offer. "Mrs. Wang is all about honor and respect, and she took a chance on me when others wouldn't. The fashion world is fickle, which doesn't mean I have to be."

wo days after our lunch at the Crillon, Elbaz was back at the hotel, upstairs in the Salon des Batailles, a reception room that was used by German generals during World War II and is decorated with a large crystal chandelier. "I'm obsessed with chandeliers," he told me earlier. The sparkly crystals and the narrow-to-big shape of chandeliers are repeated again and again in Elbaz's clothes. Elbaz has other leitmotifs - ribbons, raw edges, ballet flats, flowers in bloom, tulle and natural fabrics that have been washed and left wrinkled. "I am interested in easiness," Elbaz said as he arranged a dozen chairs in a semicircle. Facing them was a black curtain, which shielded a rack of clothes. Seven times that day, Elbaz would be presenting a small 14-piece cruise collection that would foreshadow what he planned to show for spring in October.

"I heard about a Japanese woman who put 10 kimonos in a bag, and I thought, How modern," Elbaz began, addressing his second small group of editors and buyers. "There's something about this basicness that I'm attracted to these days." The first outfit was a black linen skirt with an oversize T-shirt and a wonderful floppy straw hat that shaded the model's eyes. The hat was perhaps meant to evoke a geisha's chignon, but it more closely resembled a marriage between YSL's famous felt hats (think Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris") and a Dutch bonnet without starch. Elbaz's hats accented every look from a black seamless dress that fit almost like a wrapped towel to a white poplin trench coat to what Elbaz called "a summer fur - cotton mixed with metal creates a fabric that resembles astrakhan." The final look was a lightweight gazar coat with wonderfully round sleeves. The lightness and the pouf of those sleeves were a feat of engineering, the kind of effortless detail that sets Elbaz apart as a designer. It was the sleeve as soufflé, a unique way to subvert the classic lines of a spring coat.

The presentation lasted 20 minutes, but the guests lingered. Some editors placed personal orders for the clothes, and others just studied the garments, as if they were mysterious artifacts. "I am talking to people from the world of words, and I want to explain why the shoulder pads didn't work and why I put the bird on the top of the plissé dress," Elbaz said, explaining his need to moderate his presentations. "There is always a reason why, and I need to tell the stories."

The small presentations also played to Elbaz's strengths. He is a natural showman, and he thrives on affirmation. After he showed each look, he said, "You like it?" which usually elicited a chorus of oohs and ahhs. This showmanship extends to his desire to provide a narrative for his designs. Most designers haven't delved into the novelization of their collections. This is another reason that Elbaz may have taken longer to become a fashion-world darling. He is not prescriptive in the style of Tom Ford, who basically said, Wear this and you will be a sex goddess from the 70's. Elbaz is offering a more complicated scenario: these clothes may have an intricate back story, but in the end, they will not turn you into anything. That part of the equation is up to the wearer.

After the presentation, Elbaz went back to his apartment in the Second Arrondissement and sketched to the news. He sketches all the time. "I also read, and books inspire me more than anything else," he said four days later at Ladurée, the patisserie around the corner from his studio. "When you see a painting, you see the red, you see the blue, and there is always a frame. There are never frames around words, which is why the power of the word is, for me, stronger than the visual. I also can't sketch to music." He was eating with Hania Destelle, who was, as usual, wearing Lanvin, a linen jacket that tied closed. As the coffee arrived, Elbaz produced his new sketches, which were row after row of stick figures with different outfits. One was wearing a dress with a flower pattern ("They are like Matisse," Elbaz explained, "and they may be embroidered") and one had a shawl-like top section ("That's my summer fur again," he said). "I was not so emotionally spent after the presentations last week," Elbaz said, putting his sketches away. "But after the big shows, I'm usually depressed. I get in my pajamas, and they show me the unedited video of the show at 10 or 11 p.m. the same day, and all I see are the mistakes. I'm so tired, but I can't sleep. It's like a coma. I'm not here, but I'm not awake either."

Actually, Elbaz thrives on this sort of elation-and-malaise seesaw. After becoming upset about all the supposed problems in his last show, he fretted for two days and then went back to sketching. "My life now is a marathon, and I'm such not an athlete," he said. "Sketching reminds me of why I became a designer in the first place. It presents the same excitement that it did when I was a child. It's a world of my own creation."

In the months to come, Elbaz would be taking a vacation in Thailand with friends, returning to Paris in early September, and then leaving for China to present a fashion show. He would then fly back to Paris, where he would complete and show the spring 2006 collection. "I love intense," he said. "There's nothing I fear more than vacancies. I need to jump from one project to another. But I also need time to dream, and dreams come when you are a little bit bored, when you are a little less wired. You need sometimes to take a three-hour lunch and think about things upside down. When you don't have time, you put the first skirt you think of onstage."

Elbaz told me that he plans to retire from fashion in six years. This is hard to imagine. He seems too attached to what he does to leave it behind, and despite his reluctance, he also enjoys the attention. "It took me a long time," Elbaz said. "Do you know many girls today who want to be seamstresses? I don't. They want to be designers and rich and famous and very, very, very fast. There's no patience. That was not my goal. I was interested in -- "

Elbaz interrupted himself and nudged Destelle. "Look," he said, "she has a bag from the shop." An attractive woman had balanced a large Lanvin bag against her table leg. "What do you think she bought?" he asked. "I can tell you what she should have bought." He stared for a second. "Maybe I should introduce myself," he said. "I like to say goodbye to the children before they leave home."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sonia Rykiel (Oct 2001)


SONIA RYKIEL: Oui. Bonjour Ingrid.

IS: Hello. Tell me about Paris and fashion.

SR: You can create fashion everywhere in the world, but the place where you are crowned is Paris. It's where you are the queen, or the king. For me, though, I have to say that the identity of a fashion designer is international today.

IS: Sonia, when you were very young did you want to be a fashion designer?

SR: Never--my only ambition was to have 10 children. I knew nothing about fashion, it was an accident. I married a man who was in fashion. I began to work when my daughter Nathalie was about eight or 10 years old. Then one day I began to make a sweater, and eventually the sweater was on the front page of Elle magazine. And the day after I was the queen of knit in America.

IS: [laughs] When exactly did you begin?

SR: In 1968. I opened the shop on rue de Grenelle in May 1968.

IS: Which came first, your shop or the riots?

SR: My shop opened and 15 days later I closed it.

IS: Because of the riots?

SR: Yes. For my own part, I was influenced by the hippie movement in San Francisco and by the feminist movement, which had arrived in Paris.

IS: All your career you have remained close to writers and people in the arts, correct?

SR: Oh, yes. I can't go any place without going to museums. It's very important for me. When I miss one, I say to myself, "You are a bad girl."

IS: [laughs] Sonia? If I was to come to Paris tomorrow, and said I'd like you to take me to places so I could understand the essence of Paris over different decades, where would you take me? Let's start with the '60s.

SR: Well...Crazy Horse Saloon, for the '60s. You will see that and die, because it's fantastic.

IS: I'm sure. And the '70s; would that also be the Crazy Horse Saloon?

SR: Why not? Yes.

IS: For the '80s, where would we go?

SR: A cemetery. Le Cimetiere Montparnasse or Le Pere Lachaise. You can see all the young people going around the tombs of Baudelaire, Maupassant, Man Ray, De Musset. It is absolutely fantastic.

IS: How about the '90s?

SR: I don't know if you like Proust...

IS: Who doesn't?

SR: You know, the more grown-up you are, the more you like Proust. And there is a place in Paris. It's on Boulevard Haussmann. It's open only on Thursdays. It's in the middle of a bank, on the second floor. In this bank, there is the bedroom of Marcel Proust, where he wrote most of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.

IS: Wow.

SR: What do you want to know next?

IS: For you, what place captures the essence of Paris right now?

SR: I would take you to the Musee Picasso, and to La Pagode, a movie theater that only shows independent movies. And there is also a bar in Paris that I love. It's the bar de la Closerie des Lilas, in Montparnasse, a place where you can redo the world.

Sonia Rykiel is Designer and President of Sonia Rykiel.

Emanuel Ungaro (Oct,2001)

INGRID SISCHY: When you were growing up--EMANUEL UNGARO: --many years ago--

IS: --last year. [both laugh] When you were growing up, did you think of Paris in terms of fashion?

EU: Inevitably. You know, I'm not Parisian; I was born in the south of France and, for me, Paris was a dream. I remember when I was 15 years old I saw the photos of Monsieur Christian Dior covering a model with a white sheet so people could not see what she was wearing underneath. And I remember telling myself, "I have to know what's happening there." And it's why I did anything I could do to come to Paris. I left everybody, my family, Provence, which I love so much. I left with two shirts and one pair of pants, and not one cent.

IS: And when you first got to Paris, you worked with [Cristobal] Balenciaga.

EU: I could say, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Papa Hemingway, that it was "a feast." I did not spend my time in the Ritz Hotel. I spent it in the university restaurants. At that time, in the mid-'50s, I was living in Montparnasse, and there were so many artists working and living around there then. It was like a village. Do you remember Yves Klein? I was one of the first people to see his famous blue paintings.

IS: Whoa! Do I have a surprise for you. In this same issue we have an entire Yves Klein blue fashion story. And it's in your dress that the model takes the famous "leap".

EU: Wow, I'm so happy. I have a story for you about him. When he was little-known, he was showing at a gallery on the rue des Beaux Arts. The gallery was covered with paper, the windows, too. Yves was in the street receiving people, saying, "Wait a minute, the piece is not finished." When we got into the gallery, do you know what was inside? Nothing. White walls. And at the time there were maybe a thousand people in the street. Someone called the firemen! Can you imagine? It's why Paris was a feast. We were all living together, and that was fantastic. We tried to invent a certain way of life.

IS: That's what this issue is all about. Today it feels like Paris has come alive again.

EU: Yes, I do agree with you. It's why Paris is attracting a lot of people again. In Paris we feel as designers that we cannot do the same thing in other parts of the world.

IS: And do you think the Paris of today has a fashion community?
EU: In art, we once had everybody living here: Duchamp, Picabia, Picasso, Miro, Brancusi, Giacometti ... all together, and they fed off each other. At one point, Picasso and Braque worked in the same atelier. Remember what Picasso said--"Braque is my wife!" [laughs] Fantastic, no? Unfortunately, that does not exist today. But I hope that with the new sense of life in Paris that might change. The danger is that the French are arrogant. The moment they think the city is alive again, they might lose it. [laughs] To maintain this sense of life we must be very lucide. But remember, "Lucidity is the wound that most resembles the sun." That's Rene Char, the poet.

IS: Oh, what a great quote.

EU: I will now say it in French: "La Iucidite est la blessure la plus rapprochee du solell."

Emanuel Ungaro is the Head Designer and couturier of Emanuel Ungaro.

Narciso Rodriguez (Dec 1998)

Narciso Rodriguez

KARL PLEWKA: What was the first piece of clothing you made?

NARCISO RODRIGUEZ: I was about fourteen and I wanted a black vest, so I took a piece of black felt and cut holes in it.

KP: Did you surprise yourself?

NR: I surprised my mother, poor thing. She was like, "What are you doing?"

KP: Did you ever make clothes for her?

NR: Yes, later on, when my parents were a bit more comfortable with the fact that this is what I do.

KP: You've worked for Calvin Klein, Donna Karen at Anne Klein, and more recently, Carruti in Paris.

NR: I was so inspired by Paris. Everything from the culture to the architecture. Actually, I started out with the idea of being an architect and then moved on to fashion illustration because I loved Antonio Lopez's work; it was so full of energy. That was a huge influence on my career. I really wanted to study fashion illustration, so in high school I did half a day of regular classes and half a day of commercial-art classes.

KP: Many designers begin with architecture and move on to fashion.
Continue article

NR: I think it's all about structure and form. Certainly by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I knew about shape and form, and how to create shape and form around a woman's body. I did my art classes, I did my schooling, and then I practiced as a tailor in the evenings and took classes at Parsons on Saturdays. When I was nineteen I went directly from high school to Parsons. I did freelance work for a while, then joined the design studio at Anne Klein for about six years; I worked under Donna Karan, who was the designer at the time. Donna taught us to design always with a look down from the hair to the shoe. She threw it on, wrapped it and draped it and cut it and moved it. She's brilliant like that. I remember being at Parsons and watching Donna come in with thousands of yards of suede and cashmere all over the place, then grab some fabric, put in on the model, and make it sit perfectly.

KP: And after that . . .

NR: After that I went directly to Calvin Klein. That was an interesting experience because I got to work with brilliant people. I always think of my years at Calvin as finishing school.

KP: Your life must have changed greatly, particularly in the last year. Aeffe agreed to produce your own label - which is shown in Milan - and the collection has been very well received. How have you been dealing with designing that and now a collection for Loewe also, which you show in Paris?

R: I'd be lying if I said it was just fabulous. I am a sentimentalist, and I feel blessed because of all this, but there have been tough periods. The travel is physically draining sometimes. The amount of time you get to spend with your family and friends is limited. Relationships change because of distance. You feel like you are constantly pushed. The upshot of that, though, is you are the president of your own company. That's brilliant. I also get to work in Madrid for Loewe and learn about a new culture.

KP: In Madrid, does it feel like you're going back to your roots?

NR: A little bit. Spanish people are so refined. They're very sophisticated but in a very natural way. They have an incredible sense of etiquette and manners, then they see some bulldozer like me from New York and they are like, "Huh?" But they respect what I do. It's been an incredible experience - just as Paris has opened up a very creative, feminine part of my work, Madrid has inspired something happy, something bold, something brave - what do you call that?

KP: Nobility?

NR: Yes.

Nick Knight (May 2006)

Penny Martin, SHOWstudio: In the voiceover to his film "Chop Suey", Bruce Weber says that photographers "photograph things they can never be". Over you past twenty seven or so years photographing, what do you think it has allowed you access to that you could never have been?

Nick Knight: Most things probably. It is a way of living out desires. I could never have been most of the things I've photographed. Part of the reason to do it is to experience them. Photographing Skinhead was part of a way to experience it. I wouldn't have done it without a camera. The whole notion of photography is that it takes you places you couldn't access otherwise. That's the way it started: as an impartial witness to the events that people couldn't see or experience. That's also its inherent problem: its Achilles heel. People therefore expect it to be truthful, which is a tricky way of understanding photography.

Pablo Gimenez Zapiola, Texas, USA: When did you decide to be a photographer and what defined your thinking at that precise moment?

Nick Knight: I decided to take photographs when it was a way of having some sort of social purpose. It was a way of chatting up girls. But I took it up as a career because I was doing something I hated (human biology) that I thought I had to do on my way towards medicine. Photography was a hobby, a pleasure and it was the only thing in my education that I shone at, had any skill at. When people praise you for doing something, it's very pleasurable. More than being a mediocre science student.

Emily, Derby // Andre Penteado, London: What do you feel in the split second you decide to snap the photo?

Nick Knight: There is an enormous rush of energy. It's some sort of transfer. A peaking of energy.

James Tregaskes, London: What part of your career do you treasure and why hasn't more of your work been shown in public spaces?

Nick Knight: The part I treasure most is always the next bit. I am much more excited about something that I haven't done yet. I don't have any emotional investiture in something I've done in the past because it's a memory. Memories are sort of safe: moments of reflection aren't as crucial or invigorating as something you're thinking of doing. I certainly don't have the same emotional commitment to the past as I do to the future. That's why I've done very few exhibitions, because I'm much more excited about doing new work than I am in the old. I don't regard my work as trophies: I see it as conversation. And I don't think photographs are best displayed in galleries. I really don't enjoy the experience of seeing them there. The most exciting way to see a photograph is passing a billboard in a car, flicking past it in a magazine or seeing it out the window of a tube. That's how it delivers its power: when it becomes part of the vernacular of everyday life.

Naomi Sekandi, London // Fudge Haldane, London: Have you ever had doubts about your career choice?

Nick Knight: Yes. The recurring doubt I have is whether it's socially worthwhile or whether medicine would have been a better choice. That's a frustration in my work.

Kate Moss, London: Are you going to do another book and if so what will it be about?

Nick Knight: Hi Kate! There are two or three books in the pipeline. The problem with doing one is that it's a long process. What would you like me to do one on? You tell me and I'll do one! I tend not to see images as one-offs: I often see them in my head as projects. Often one thing 'that would make a really great book'. The problem is that they take ages and they are around for a really long time and a lot of trees are felled to make one, so you've got to get it right. There is a seriousness to doing a book. At the moment, there is a retrospective planned that Peter (Saville) is designing. There is also a finished book that goes with the exhibition that I did called PlantPower at the Natural History Museum. Doing one is like 'mental filing': that structural order is a good feeling. The side I like less about them is similar to how I feel about exhibitions. You need to return to past work. Books tend to be about the past. I'd like to do a book about the Dior campaigns or maybe one about landscape. But I'd rather do a film is the truth of it! See you next week, Kate!

Jakob Marum, Copenhagen, Denmark: What is the typical process on an advertising campaign together with John Galliano?

Nick Knight: John invites me to Paris before the fashion show where he explains the desires behind his collection: what he's trying to articulate. Then I see the live event in Paris and then I make proposals to him on how I might interpret those desires. It's a two-way conversation. Over the past eight and a half years, we've built up a visual language for Dior as well as adding new elements to that, we re-mix things from the past. For instance, the use of lens. There is a 'Dior lens' we use that gives a signature element to the images: the way it distorts the models' bodies. Also, John will remix his own collection, so there is a remixing of references, things we have established, as well as adding new bits. I try and make the images as an intense a communication across the magazine as possible. There is a five-seven day shoot in Paris. John and I continue to work together on the shoot itself and then in the same way that some American R&B music is heavily produced, the Dior campaigns are very heavily post-produced. So there is about 6-8 weeks post production on each of the images to make them as intense a communication as is possible. Then they go to Paris for an approval meeting with Mr Arnault and Mr Toledano and John himself.

Panagiotis Kostouros, Athens Greece; Chan Hoi Wa, Hong Kong: Do you believe that a new designer should build his image in one's photographer view or he should better exhibit different styles from different photographers? Do you honestly believe that Alexander McQueen could have had such an amazing start without your visual contribution?

Nick Knight: Designers are now at a point with image-making that they could quite easily do it themselves to be honest. They have a very good visual imagination and the technological side to making images is so accessible now. SHOWstudio is a platform that has proven that the balanced of power has changed: designers have now the ability to manage their own visual representation. Traditionally, the photographer spoke for the designer. Hopefully we have empowered the designer. I'm not in any way suggesting that photographers are in any way redundant: it's just that designers have a few more options now, particularly in expressing themselves through film. Alexander McQueen *did* have an amazing start without my visual contribution! Sadly, I didn't work with him until he was a couple of collections down the line.

Martin Parr, Bristol: When you take on a fashion assignment, do you think of it as your own work or the client's work?

Nick Knight: I never make a separation, to be honest. I see it as a communication I'm making on behalf of the 'client', through trying to understand their world. I don't seek to establish ownership. I don't consider the people I work for as 'clients', however: that slants the relationship. I wouldn't call John Galliano, Alexander McQueen or J-Lo 'clients'. Secondly, I see my work as a conversation: it's always a series of conversations from within a series of relationships. Though what I do is largely well funded, what I am seeking through it is some sort of emotional relationship, which is why I tend to work with the same people again and again. Yohji for ten seasons, John for nearly nine years, Lee the same. These are people that I perceive myself to have a relationship with. It is why I work with so few people. In your life, there isn't enough room for that level of emotional connection with more than a few.

Paul Sidharta, Bangkok, Thailand: What's a ballpark figure to get you to shoot our Sunsilk campaign?

Nick Knight: I think you'd have to talk to my agent!

Andrew Elliott, New York // Rich Ly, Montreal // Santiago Forero, Colombia, South America: Do you consider your work to be art?

Nick Knight: It's not a question that I ever pose myself. It's not something that seeking the answer would help me do my next piece of work. It wouldn't help me understand my work any better. I do the work I do because I have to, I want to. I can't not do it. So I would never ask that question of it. With my shoot that I have to do on Thursday, it wouldn't help me if I were to ask that question. Or any other piece of work coming up. The truth of it is that it's irrelevant and I don't care. One would have to search quite hard to find a benefit to attaching a label to my work. I shun classification: I don't think of myself as a fashion photographer, an imagist, a filmmaker or anything else.

Carlo Brandelli, Creative Director, Kilgour, London: Nick, until about the 17th century, art was mainly commissioned for the church for the people to see on mass and that work is very known and defines our history, it is very powerful in many ways, issues of control, access, the church was the 'gallery'. Would you like to work on a religious project, what would you do?

Nick Knight: I find religion a very tricky subject as I am not religious. I think the church has never been part of my life and I have no plans to make it so. That's not to say I don't have any beliefs, I do. Entirely personal. It's just that I don't adhere to any structural or organised system of beliefs. In fact, it's with permanent amazement I find, that one group of people can think they know the answer to a question that can't possibly be answered more than the next group of people. I don't understand how people can be so convinced about something they clearly can't know the answer to. As for persecuting people for having a different answer... Funnily enough, I was asked for the Millenniumn dome to do a commission of images for their religious 'zone'. But the whole thing disintegrated into wrangling over various things and they wanted the ideas to be expressed in a very stereotypical way. Couples outside a church, for example. But that wasn't the church commissioning me, that was the state. One of my last college challenges, set to me by Paul Blatchford - probably the lecturer who was most important to me - to do a series of black and white church interiors, lit only with available light on 35mm. A no tricks approach. It's a project I often think about. He delivered the brief when he handed me my distinction at graduation. So I've already got a religious commission! I will do it at some point. There is such a wealth of human endeavour and passion that has gone into works of religious subject that the remaining legacy is testimony to us as a species.

Antonio, Washington D.C: If you were curating an exhibition, which artists would you select?

Nick Knight: It would depend on what the exhibition was trying to say. Whether it was one of sound work, movement or whatever. For a start, I'd consider the space and the brief. That would determine the artists. There are so many, so unfortunately, I can't give you a succinct answer. The information I would need isn't in your question. I suspect you are asking me for my favourite artists. The answer to that depends entirely on the relevance of an artist to what I am doing at that time. So, Rebecca Horn or Lisa Yuskavage or Paul Wunderlich could be as important to me as Richard Long, Balzac and Moliere, depending on the project I am working on. Funnily enough, those are the artists who I am researching for a project I am working on at the moment.

Lisa Yuskavage, New York: I have been under the impression lately that fashion and commercial photography reflect an awareness of contemporary art to a greater extent than in the past. We take it for granted that artists use and or are influenced by popular and commercial culture. That has been almost the main tradition of 20th and 21st century art. So my question is, was the flow of influence going in the reverse direction as well all these years? Does contemporary art influence your work? How? I look forward to meeting you someday.

Nick Knight: Well, Lisa, I am thrilled that you have asked a question because I am an enormous admirer of your work and for some years now, I have been thinking of purchasing a piece of your work for my wife, Charlotte. I think there is such a widening now of all the boundaries: a fundamental revolution happening in communication just now. Rightly, or wrongly, I seem them all as communication because that's how they affect me. it follows therefore that the influence of one art to another completely overlaps. To be honest, I think in the past that fashion and commercial photographers were aware of contemporary art in the past. If you spoke to Bailey, Mr Penn, the late Avedon, they would almost certainly say that they were enormously influenced by art. Bailey was enormously influenced by Warhol, you can see clear evidence of different art like Marcel Duchamp's ready mades in Penn's early work. His cigarette butts, placed in the reified white space of the printed page make the same point as Duchamp's snow shovel, placed in the gallery. And to some extent in Penn's early portraits, you see a kinship and enormous sharing of values with a lot of the contemporary artists of the 1950s and 60s who sat for him. You perceive the world of Truman Capote through the portraits that Penn did of those people. There is more than an influence: there is a complete spiritual kinship between Penn and the artists he photographed. I do hate to disagree with someone whose work I admire so much, especially as for the past two years I've been thinking of contacting you to invite you to do a project together! So I do look forward to meeting you too, soon I hope.

Sandra Ernst, Germany: How do you finance SHOWstudio?

Nick Knight: I finance it out of the money I earn through doing my work. But I'm having to look for a new way to finance it as it is so clearly bursting to grow and become the fantastic phenomenon that I've always thought that it could be. So, as you will see in the autumn, SHOWstudio will carry its own version of advertising, which I think will be very successful for both our audience and for the advertisers.

Lorraine Cook, Berkshire: In what way is Kate Moss such a good model?

Nick Knight: In nearly every way to be honest. Normally, how I explain what makes a good model is to say that theyn are a cross between an actress and a sportsperson. They have to have the physical stamina to endure literally hours of demanding work and they have to have the intelligence to understand and express the fashion narrative implied by the clothes that they are wearing. I photographed Kate for the cover of Visionaire and it meant that she had to swing on a swing in the studio for five and a half hours non stop. Every time the shutter went off, she had to be aware of her physical position and what she was portraying emotionally. Not only did she do this beautifully, completely professionally, she did it with a personal grace and kindness that is quite rare.

Carlyh, Perth, Western Australia // Weechee, Kuala Lumpur: Who has been the most difficult person to photograph and why?

Nick Knight: Me. It is very hard to come to terms with how you do look as opposed to how you think you look. Any poor photographer that has been given the task has had to suffer my foul moods! If they bring a light near me, I know what it's doing and if they put a lens on the camera, I know the effect it has, which makes me a very bad sitter.

Meccel, Orlando, Florida: What was it like working with Björk?

Nick Knight: Always an inspiration. Both as a person and her music. The picture we did for Homogenic, which Lee McQueen art directed, was the very first shot we took of the day. Lee saw it and went home because he'd decided we already had the shot. Bjork very patiently put up with me spending the next three and a half hours and 300 sheets of 10x8 proving him right! She's one of the people I always look forward to working with.

Stella, Perth, Australia: What is your opinion of the paparazzi? Do you think they are actually photography enthusiasts following their dream to get paid for doing what they are passionate about, or are they just perverts out to ruin so-called celebrities lives?

Nick Knight: The only relationship I have with the Paparazzi is that they always put their cameras down! Last time I went into a big event, I was on the red carpet behind Sienna Miller and I was the only one not being photographed! So I have no relationship with them whatsoever, which suits them and suits me.

Azazel, NYC: Have you ever fallen in love with a person after you photographed them?

Nick Knight: Yes, of course I have, but the only people I have complete love for is Charlotte and my children.

Alexander McQueen, London: When you shot the ‘Skinheads' did you get turned on by them (because I did!)?

Nick Knight: Hi Lee, Nothing like an easy question! On an immediate level, my sexual interest with Skinheads was directed at the girls. That's why I got into it, I liked the way they danced and dressed. In the early 70s, there was a girl who lived next door to me that was three years older than me, and who was a skinhead. I had the typical crush of an eleven year old boy on a fourteen year old girl. it was the experience of that obsession and fascination that fuelled my desire to photograph skinheads. I used to walk her down to the disco and she used to ignore me! But I do also find powerful women very attractive. Charlotte is a very powerful woman.

Virj, Paris: Name a photograph you've seen that made you think ‘I wish I'd done that'.

Nick Knight: I often see my own photographs and wish I could change them to something different, but looking at someone else's work and wishing I'd done it isn't the way I think about something. You could look at Lartigue, for example, and think it was a beautiful photograph, but I wouldn't want to have been Lartigue and that's the only way to have taken that photograph. It's a summation of that person.

Johnny, Mexico // Robin Newman, Los Angeles, USA // Alejandro Ulloa, Seattle // Martin, Hamburg // Cathy, USA // Quique, Lima, Peru // Par Parsson, Stockholm // Ryan Obermeyer // Crystal Wong, Hong Kong // Justine, Hong Kong // Juliet-Carmen, Shropshire // Randi, Melbourne // Ignacio Echeverria, Chile // Nick Lakey, Windsor // Sophie, Cambridge: What inspires you?

Nick Knight: Everything inspires you. It could be the man I see at the bus stop, it could be a late-night tv documentary, it could be a phone conversation, something someone says to you. Those are all inspirations. But I think it's more about desire than inspiration, to be honest. I think inspirations merely fuel your desire. I remember last year when we were working on Bring and Buy and Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down, I can recall feeling so excited to get to work. Although I was physically very tired, I would wake up an hour or so before I had to. The desire to work was so strong. When I am in that state, everything inspired me. In that state, I feel I can't contain my excitement.

Maison Martin Margiela, Paris: If you weren't Nick Knight, what of your work over the years, do you think might inspire you the most?

Nick Knight: That's a tricky one to answer! I guess SHOWstudio would inspire me because that takes in a whole way of communicating, seeing, being.

Martin Cohen, London // Bernd Hussnaetter, Germany: Which photographer has influenced you the most?

Nick Knight: Again, it depend on the work I'm doing at the time. Weegee was enormously influential at some times, Rodchenko at others and then Penn at others. Equally, it could be an unheard of advertising photographer from the 1970s. It really depends on the project you're working on, which other people's work seems relevant. But I will tend for no particular reason to check Irving Penn's work. Periodically, I go back and re-check it, independent of any project. There is a level of refinement and intellect in his work that I find enormously enjoyable. Just for sheer pleasure.

Charlotte Cotton, Art + Commerce, New York // Adil Oliver, Sydenham, London: What do you think drives you to continue to want to experiment with image-making?

Nick Knight: Trying to see things I haven't seen before.

Alain de Botton, London: For thousands of years, Christian religious art was concerned with the representation of tenderness - chiefly, that of Jesus's mother for her child. Does the theme of tenderness interest you?

Nick Knight: Yes, enormously. I see tenderness as another expression of the power of humanity. I think the ability to be tender clearly demonstrates the capability of reason, intellect and strength. In a way, those are the finer human virtues. If you were to define humanity by a set of values to aspire to, tenderness is the proof that we are at that level. I would hope it nourishes the better parts of my work. I don't specifically put it in, but if was recognised in my work, I would be very pleased.

Minoru Kaburagi, NYC, USA: I would like to take photography best of the world. Photography that stronger than yours. How would you advise me to do that?

Nick Knight: We've been talking about that on the SHOWstudio FORUM. It's hard to answer you, because I have a similar desire! I hope that doesn't sound ungenerous.

Rene Dupont, Los Angeles // Ccil, Paris // Elleser Galleta, New York // Ali, Cambridge // Daniel Sheriff, New York: To me it looks like fashion photography has become stagnant, a lot of shoots look contrived, repetitive and quite boring, frankly. Would you agree?

Nick Knight: No, not really. I don't have that feeling, though it might indeed be the case. I tend to seek out the work that I find exciting and don't even register the stuff I think is not, because I don't really have the time to dwell on it. I think there is a lot of exciting photography around.

Jason Evans, Hove: Do you think the fashion industry is more or less cynical than when you started working?

Nick Knight: I don't see it that way, Jason. I never have seen it as cynical! Some people are and some aren't. I don't tend to dwell on the bits of it that I wouldn't like. Parts of it probaby are cynical and probably always have been, but I think there are still the same amount of wide-eyed people, full of desire and eagerness, just as you were when you first came to see me. Probably not with quite the same sense of dress!

Paul Archer, London: Are there days when you don't feel passionate about the work you do?

Nick Knight: No. There are days I feel more scared and fright isn't particuarly a good emotion to make you feel passionate. So, I always feel passionate. There are days where at the end of them, I don't feel anything, but that's exhaustion.

Grischa Witt: How you get a picture from your imagination on paper/screen?

Nick Knight: Your imagination merely provides you with visual guidelines. It's a map for you. Because you can see something in your mind means that you know what you don't want. A sort of shortcut. All the image in your mind does is focus your desire. I would never want to just reproduce any image that I can see already.

Claire, France: Do you approach a shooting for Vogue the same way that one for i-D for example? I mean that those 2 magazines have a different editorial politic..does this matter for the way you are going to treat the subject you have to shoot?

Nick Knight: Do you speak to your boyfriend in the same way you do to your Mother? Not a good analogy, but there are different ways for addressing different audiences.

Jonathan Brown, New York: Do you ever shoot with a digital camera?

Nick Knight: I shot with a digital camera for Vogue last week. I have little or no interest in what my camera is any more than you would be interested in which pen a writer writes with.My main problem with starting the image process with digital is that there is no safe way to archive work. I can pick up a neg that I shot in 1979 and within seconds be sure it's still fine. There are zip dics that I shot in the latter part of the 90s that I now can't open and the work on them is lost. I think the digital revolution in photography is leading us into a new medium that is exceedingly exciting, that we shouldn't be calling 'photography' at all. It comes with its own distribution system, that of the Internet and screens, it comes with the ability to communicate instantly, on a global level, and of course, the addition of sound and moving image. This should clearly be seen as a completely new medium and not as a mere extension of photography. I welcome this wholeheartedly.

Sara Morrison, Northern Ireland: Hi Nick, what is your personal definition of beauty? Are you still motivated towards subverting stereotypical images of ‘beauty' in your work?

Nick Knight: Hi Sara. I don't have a personal definition of beauty. Yes, I'm enormously interested in subverting stereotypical images of 'beauty' in the media. But the line I have to tread, to be able to keep on doing this, has to keep on crossing back into the mainstream. If every shoot I did was about that, I would be marginalised and any change my work could bring about would be greatly reduced. I ask Vogue at the start of ever season to allow me to do a story with some who are size 16 +. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't.

Pablo U, Spain: Is the studio the best place to work?

Nick Knight: Well, I've always seen photography as a reductionist medium. By that I mean that you're condensing a series of events, forms, emotions to be expressed in one, singular moment. So having a controlled environment, like that of a studio, is often beneficial.

Antony Hegarty, London: What was one of the biggest laughs you ever had on a photoshoot?

Nick Knight: Often when Charlotte's there, or Simon Foxton. Humour, isn't very much at play in my work, however. It is one of the senses I try least often to portray. I just rarely think 'oh, I want to make a funny picture'. It could be because there is a large amount of fear I experience when I am working: not an emotion conducive to humour. I just never found a way of making it part of what I do. I'm very focused when I'm working and it doesn't lend itself to having a lark. I guess I'm very focused. It's just a very intense experience for me.

Alice Shenton, Perth, Australia: Do you carry your camera with you everywhere?

Nick Knight: I carry*a camera with me everywhere, yes, but it's usually a mobile phone camera. I don't normally take my 10x8 onto the beach!

Alexandra Shulman, London: Do you have any interest in photography as a record of the moment, rather than as a medium for totally created image? Does the completely unworked on photograph hold any appeal?

Nick Knight: All photography is a record of the moment. What I hope I am doing, when I am working on a photograph, is to make that image or communication more profound, successful, to perform better, and it's true that some things with less work on them can feel they are delivering something more spontaneous. But it's a sort of advocating a haphazard and naive approach to communication. It's a bit like saying the first thing that comes into your mind. But I think you'd agree that words and images can be used too lightly.

Lajla Mostic, Melbourne: Would you recommend or encourage your children to choose the same career as you?

Nick Knight: No, I would encourage and recommend my children to pursue a career in which they can be happy. That's what I said to Calum at the weekend.

Meg, New York // Andres Hernandez, Miami Beach: Do you see yourself continuing to work well into your eighties like Richard Avedon?

Nick Knight: Yes. I've recently taken up pilates because a large part of my work is very physical and at the age of 47 I am aware of the effect it has on my body. I have found the physicality of working to be an important part of creating the image. So, I am very much enjoying pushing my own physical limits through the exercise.

M Kim, Seoul, Korea // Chris, Phoenix, Arizona: What and when was your biggest breakdown in your life and how did you over come?

Nick Knight: There hasn't been a moment where I had a big breakdown, in truth.

Hari, New Delhi: Do you stay aware of contemporary politics and current affairs?

Nick Knight: To some degree, through conventional media: television and newspaper. There are some topics that I'm particularly interested in discussing and those are articulated through personal discussion. I can't for the life of me, for instance, see how this government can be committed to environmental issues when they are promoting the expansion of airports, cheaper flights and more of them, when air travel is one of the biggest factors in climate change. On that line, I was talking to David Chipperfield about this and it is his belief that there should be a generation of parents, who are sponsored by the government solely to educate their children. That's the way of sowing the seeds for a much better society. But I can't see any possible chance of my government putting such ideas into practice. In mentioning these examples, what I am trying to say is that, in my life, the awareness of contemporary politics is expanded by personal conversation, not by conventional media.

Tor Erik Bøe, Stavanger, Norway: You have earned a lot of your career-fame for breaking taboos, but what do you say to those who claim that it's just a one-time-gimmick for the shock-effect? Because you don't consequently use “different” model-types, it seems like they always are classified and gathered into that one project, instead of being used in all kinds of different context where the looks and body-types is not the main intention of using them. (PS: not meant as an insult)

Nick Knight: I don't take this as an insult and charges or tokenism or hypocrisy are things I'm prepared to accept as a natural shortcoming of the limited situation that I find myself working in. But if you don't try and do a story with disabled people, larger people, people with breast cancer, then they don't get done. I do detect some change within the media about a broadening of parameters. In a way, then, it's having some effect. But as I answered in the question earlier, if you become known as the photographer that photographs disabled people, curvaceous women or old people -whatever it is- it's just a way to be marginalised and then ignored.

Terry Jones, London: Has your wealth of experience made you a wealthier human being?

Nick Knight: Yes, emotionally, I feel a lot broader than I did 25 years ago when I first met you. During the Skinhead period, I was a my most narrow, emotionally. It was a concious decision to get to my lowest point to find out where that was: back against the wall. I think it was Al MacDowell or Perry Haines that told me I was an easier human being to work with since I met Charlotte!

Anastasia, London: Do you really have your jeans lined with gold silk?

Nick Knight: Yeah, I do! I have a knack where if I decide I like something, then they take out of production. This happened with a particular pair of jeans: Levis 505 0217. So, I approached Paddy at Oki-Ni, who deals with vintage denim, and he had a warehouse full of them in Hong Kong. But the only way he'd give them to me was if I'd do a customised Levis 505. As I didn't want to change their physical appearance at all, I decided that they'd be better if they were silk lined. It would feel better against the skin. Another thing I should say is that I don't like them faded, so I replace them regularly. When I'm working in the studio, I kneel a lot on one knee and it regularly gets covered in the white emulsion studio floor paint, Those all get put on eBay.

Jana Cramer, London: Is it easy to combine your professional and your private life?

Nick Knight: I don't separate them, is the truth. In my head, it's just my life.

Simon Foxton, London: How much is a pint of milk?

Nick Knight: I have no idea. You're just bitter that you don't have a milkman, Simon!

Raf Simons, Belgium // Baljinder, Leeds // Martina, London: In this stage of your career as a photographer, what would be your ultimate photography-related dream project you would still like to realise ?

Nick Knight: My ultimate one? I want to do a book on birds. There is also a book on landscapes I want to do. But 3-D sculpture is my current obsession: the making of a physical object using the same skill set you use when capturing a photograph. With the 3-D scan data, you can make a physical object. Scent is another fascination. And I would like to learn to dance.

Nick, London: A sincere question that requires a quick-fire answer to determine your true passion: if 1 of the following disappeared from your life which would you feel more devastating - 'Photography' or the 'Nick Knight Empire'?

Nick Knight: It's a pretty limited choice! Since I don't conceive of a 'Nick Knight Empire', then photography, clearly!

Tom Kirkman, Dundee, Scotland // Mark Alcock, Elstree // Caitriona, Ireland // Natalia Brand, Venezuela // Markn Ogue, London // Leila, London // Ryan Pickart, Lowell, USA // Caroline, Leeds // Andres Pereira, La Paz-Bolivia // Michael, London // Michelle Hill, Dublin: What advice would you give to a young photographer?

Nick Knight: One, honesty. Two, work until you can no longer stand. Three, never give up. And four, be kind to people.

Matthew Henry, London // Samuel Westlake, London // Poppy Maynerd, Harrow // Cherry Li, Los Angeles, CA // Ying, Australia // Patrick Titheridge, Dundee, Scotland // Kenneth, Dublin // Holly Hay, London // Vivien, London // Carl Starling, Bournemouth // Mick B, Sydney, Australia // Ana Katuric, Milan // Luru Wei, London: How does someone become your assistant?

Nick Knight: The first step is to write an e-mail to my agent Charlotte, outlining why you want to assist and what you have done. Where you come from. You should know that I usually take on assistants for three years and I expect that for them, it feels like a three year assault course! I work my assistants exceedingly hard and I expect them to work seven days per week and to be completely devoted to making my images better.

Djamila, Paris: Who do you think will be your successor?

Nick Knight: I haven't got to where I want to be yet! I don't feel that I've done my best work or I've achieved what I want to achieve, so I'm not sure what they would be succeeding.

Caryl, Berlin; Simon Foxton, London: What will be your legacy?

Nick Knight: I think I have overseen a transition from one medium to another. That's what I feel I have lived through. Hopefully, I have laid some of the foundation stones for a new medium. That's what I hope I am doing: both technically and morally. This might be completely delusional, but that's what I would like to think I am doing.

Stella Tennant, New York: Are you still wearing the same jeans?

Nick Knight: I am about ten pairs further on since I worked with you last, but still the same model.

Craig McDean, New York: Is there a point where you will stop taking photos and look for a new medium to communicate your ideas?

Nick Knight: I am already well past that point.

Marc Ascoli, Paris: While we strived unaware for it, we have created through our collaboration novel sensations and tastes in the world of fashion photography. Today Nick... do you believe it would still be possible?

Nick Knight: Yes, for today and for tomorrow. I still have the desire to make it possible.

Jens Laugesen, London: Having had the chance to do a film with you for my second LFW show made me realise how important the fashion photography/video as a new art form is in the world of fashion. As one of the pioneers in this direction, where do you see this going from now? Towards more a more complex hi-fi mixed media or with a return towards something more old school? Or maybe a hybrid of both?

Nick Knight: I went to see a film I didn't expect to enjoy, which was Mission Impossible III. And to be honest, it was a thrilling, entertaining (no thought needed) experience. And I thought that there was no reason that fashion film couldn't be the same. The energy you can get into a fashion shoot can be similar: frantic and action-packed.

Tom Hingston, London: Music has obviously had an enormous influence on you throughout your career - if you could have been (or could be) a member of any band, who would it be and why?

Nick Knight: As you know from being on my shoots, I do compilation tapes. They are not whole songs, they are usually 5-30 second pieces of song. I also love the sound of the human voice. So if my band were to reflect what I like listening to, it would be a very fragmented vision!

Stephen Jones, London: Hi Nick, what do you prefer, hats or shoes?

Nick Knight: Masks!