Indeed, with the exception of Annie Leibovitz (fall 2007), Nick Knight (fall 2008) and Steven Meisel (fall 2009), Maier has assumed the role of fashion-world initiator for the photographers he works with. He has a wish list—at the top was Irving Penn, who repeatedly declined up until his death, at 92, last year—and he counts Thomas Struth and Longo’s pal Sherman among those to be crossed off. But if Maier is nervous about approaching the artists, they are more startled by the invitations. “Shocked,” as Shore puts it. “Panic and fear,” says Goldin.
“I was surprised but really grateful,” says Barney, who shot a series of pastel-saturated images at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach for spring 2007. “It took me a long time to get a commercial job, I think because [art directors] worry I would try to control everything.” Maier, Barney explains, didn’t seem concerned that she would dominate the shoot. “The clothes are the ruling element,” says Barney, “but Tomas gave it over to me. He has real confidence in the people he works with.”
Of which, on set, there are few. “I think the more people involved, you’re always watered down,” explains Maier, whose own publicity team steers clear of the action. “You want to have very few people around, to keep it very intense.”
Perhaps no shoot better captured Maier’s craving for intensity than the one he did with Goldin for spring 2010—a collection that focused on colors and canvas—at a crumbling Staten Island house. The pair had a rocky start, in part because Goldin wanted to hire model Erin Wasson, a no-go for Maier, who preferred a little-known, albeit stunning, Russian blond named Anya Kazakova. “I thought, Oh, I can’t possibly work with a blond, and then she turned out to be absolutely lovely,” says Goldin, who adds that Maier spent most of the shoot in another room (a scout helps select all the locations). His absence was not because of their initial tension, Goldin explains. Maier simply didn’t want to intrude on her “process.” In fact, Maier and Goldin are similar in certain ways: They both cite Cristóbal Balenciaga as a favorite designer, and each wanted the images, which are imbued with natural light, to be authentic to Goldin’s style, in other words, far from hyperproduced. “I never thought I’d be able to do a campaign,” Goldin admits. “People would talk about hiring me and then they’d hire somebody else. [Those photos] would look like mine but totally devoid of any red blood cells. It’s really brave of him to use me, actually.”
And while Goldin’s campaign shots are much more polished and subdued compared with her raw images of New York’s subcultures, circa 1986, there is, as with the austere black and white portraits by Lord Snowdon (fall 2006) and the cool exuberance of Longo’s photos, a distinct imprint. Just don’t expect to see her name, or that of any of Maier’s collaborators, on the ads any time soon. “When I get the layout [from the art directors], it has the name on the bottom, and I say, ‘You can take that off right away because it’s insulting,’” Maier says. “If you know anything about photography, you recognize it. If you don’t recognize it and you have your doubts, look it up, you know?”