"I feel like I should be doing coke in the bathroom!” Robert Longo is standing in front of a bulletin board plastered with printouts of his “Men in the Cities” series, the early-Eighties graphite drawings based on his black and white photographs of various friends, including Cindy Sherman, each dressed in crisp button-downs and writhing and leaping in midair. Longo pushes his black frame glasses up on his nose and bangs a fist on the pictures as Mick Jagger snarls “Under My Thumb” over the stereo system. A model skims by and shakes her hips to the music. Longo grins. “Isn’t this awesome?” he shouts.
It’s hard to blame him for indulging in some recreational déjà vu—days spent running wild in New York with such fellow artists as Sherman, Charles Clough, David Salle and Jack Goldstein—although such reminiscing is for a distinctly unbohemian, and very commercial, purpose: Longo is inside a cavernous Chelsea photo studio shooting the fall 2010 Bottega Veneta campaign under the exacting eye of creative director Tomas Maier, himself employed by the multinational Gucci Group, which in turn is owned by PPR. The advertising campaign is a first for Longo, who conceived an album cover for the Replacements and directed a video for R.E.M. and the Keanu Reeves film Johnny Mnemonic. But ever since Apple launched its iPod ads featuring silhouetted hipsters jumping around, he has felt a twinge of envy (mixed, he admits, with irritation) toward what he sees as the appropriation of his seminal Eighties work. Maier, as it turns out, had long admired the artist’s “Cities” images, and so earlier this year, he had an agent reach out to Longo about shooting Bottega’s fall pieces, which Maier describes as “very graphic” and inspired by “strong women.” “He said something to the effect of ‘Instead of ripping you off, we want to hire you,’” Longo says. “They got me at hello.”
Maier seems to have that effect on photographers. Since arriving at Bottega Veneta in 2001, after stints at Hermès and Sonia Rykiel, he has spun the once flagging, overlicensed accessories company into luxury gold: a restrained, trend-free lineup of clothes, bags, shoes and jewelry that last year raked in $495 million in sales. A serious student of photography and design (his father was a successful architect in his native Germany, and as a fashion student at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale in Paris, Maier trolled local auctions for pieces to buy on the cheap), he shrewdly began trading on his commercial success for more personal projects, namely, hiring fine-art photographers, many whose work he collects, to shoot the company’s campaigns. Among those Maier has engaged are Sam Taylor-Wood, Nan Goldin, Lord Snowdon and Larry Sultan. Sultan’s spring 2009 Bottega campaign shots were some of his last before his death from cancer last December. In an industry that has typically relied on a small cadre of fashion photographers to handle multimillion-dollar advertising projects, the use of, say, Tina Barney (spring 2007) and Philip-Lorca diCorcia (fall 2005) was considered risky, not to mention provocative.