Photographs of Ascoli’s archives: Courtesy of Marc Ascoli Studio
I’ve known Stefano Tonchi and Edward Enninful for a long time now, so when they invited me to be the guest creative director for W’s March issue, I knew we could do something special together. I also knew that the magazine would offer me the opportunity to work with some of the greatest photographers of our time to astutely capture the current fashion zeitgeist.
From the get-go, we were on the same page. I met with Edward and Stefano in Paris, and we brainstormed about the essence of each photographer in the issue; then we talked about the overall theme and how each one could contribute in his or her own particular style. I did a lot of research on the different photographers’ work. For some, like Steven Meisel, whose career spans decades, I had to dig deep into archives and reacquaint myself with my hefty collection of photo books.
I also looked into my personal archive, revisiting work I had done with Craig McDean, a longtime partner in crime. A catalog we produced for Jil Sander in 1996 provided inspiration for Craig’s shoot for this issue and revived our mutual fascination with the beautiful Guinevere van Seenus. And as for Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, I knew everything would happen in the heat of the moment, because they truly march to the fast-paced beat of their own drum, capturing an energy that words can’t begin to describe.
I thought about how I could get the very best out of each talent; how to inspire them to reveal the core of their personal aesthetic through today’s fashion—and have a great time doing it.
Isn’t that what art direction is?
Back to Paris in the late ’70s and early ’80s…
I got my degree in law but started hanging out early on with people working in fashion. I attended university during the day, and at night I went out to clubs like Le 7 and, later, Le Palace. The nightlife was incredible back then. You could run into fabulous personalities like Antonio Lopez, Donna Jordan, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, or Karl Lagerfeld. This is where I initially got my fashion education. I was fascinated by the freedom, the fantasies, and the eccentricity of those people. I was hooked.
Back then, fashion wasn’t anything like the industry it is today. It was small and cool, and doors opened more easily. One of the doors I walked through led me to the designer Martine Sitbon. We started working together and then moved in together. We have shared our lives ever since. Martine introduced me to a whole new world of imagery: inspired photography, noir fiction, New Wave cinema, and art exhibitions… One day she bought me a book of Richard Avedon photos, and that was it. I suddenly realized that fashion photography could convey the energy and sensuality of women, and their clothes, that I’d always been drawn to.
At the time, it was possible to succeed using only your imagination and intuition. (I didn’t really understand what I was doing. Maybe that was my secret!) And I met a lot of people at the right moment. Among them was the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. Some journalists had advised him that he needed someone young and on the pulse to help him promote his label. He invited me to Tokyo, and I remember him telling me, “I make clothes for people who don’t exist.” I knew I needed to discover new talents to enliven his work.
The thing I’ve done best for designers like Yohji, Martine, and Jil Sander, as well as for magazines, is to offer them new perspectives. This is how I realized that I had quite the radar for discovering people who had something new to say. I also found out that I had an inherent skill for articulating my ideas to others and for helping them shape their own. Those are the strengths I knew I could bring to this special issue of W.
Watch Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Taraji P. Henson and Jessica Chastain Sit for their Revealing Screen Tests