One afternoon in the '90s, Vanina Sorrenti ended up pressed up against a wall in Menton, France with Kate Moss in nothing but just jean shorts and bikinis.
“We were all just together on holiday, and Mario wanted to take some pictures,” Sorrenti said, referring to her famous photographer brother Mario Sorrenti, 45.
As it turns out, Vanina Sorrenti, who is the same age as Moss at 43, is a photographer, too, one with a long track record and her own unique, female-centric aesthetic. And this season, she's earned some renewed attention thanks to the striking images she produced for Zac Posen's 15th anniversary show.
Photography, in fact, is practically a gene that runs in Sorrenti's family. Her mother, Francesca, has long been a fashion photographer, and raised Vanina alongside Mario—Moss’ ex, who shares Vanina’s penchant for goggle-like glasses and nude portraiture—and their younger brother Davide, who for his part would photograph models like his then-girlfriend, Jaime King. It was a darker aesthetic also favored by Mario, and which found the brothers thriving at a time fashion was dominated by heroin chic.
In 1997, though, Davide died at age 20, prompting Vanina to reconsider pursuing film and spend a lot of time wandering around with a Super 8 camera.
“When Davide passed away, I started to take more and more pictures, and do more reportage,” Sorrenti said. “There was a trend of this darker side then, but I kind of skipped that. I started in 1999, and I was more attracted to the light.”
That could be because Sorrenti started with looking at her past. Her mother a photographer, her father an aristocratic painter, Sorrenti grew up with “totally hippie radical chic” parents in Naples in the ‘70s, a time infused with “decadence and this bon vivant feeling”—and, thanks in part to a spread of nearby topless beaches, definitely no fear of nudity.
Still, it was Roman Catholic Italy. "You were made to feel things were prohibited,” Sorrenti recalled. So, inspired by the sensual paintings of Balthus and the portraiture of early photographers like Bill Brandt, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, and Julia Margaret Cameron, Sorrenti switched from video to up-close and personal photos of the women around her and took things into her own hands. “I used to style on the side to make some cash, so I would go grab some clothes and basically dress my girlfriends."
As she started bouncing between New York, London, Paris, and various cities in Italy, though, shooting editorials for magazines like i-D and Another, her access to big labels—plus pieces from Run, the beloved brand run by Sorrenti’s friend, the artist-designer Susan Cianciolo, who lived around the corner in TriBeCa—proved less and less relevant. Nudity has always been what Sorrenti’s most comfortable with, especially when it comes to the female form.
“I have to be honest: I don’t really enjoy photographing men as much,” Sorrenti said. “There’s a lot of self-portraiture in my portraits of women.” She paused, then added with a laugh: “Also, women are are more ethereal and dreamy, and I love that.”
There has been, however, one exception: Zac Posen has proven a trusty subject ever since the pair were roommates when Sorrenti moved to London in 2000, long before Posen became her 10-year-old daughter’s godfather. At that point, Sorrenti was increasingly finding her work in group exhibitions alongside names like Corinne Day (not to mention her own brother), plus shooting lookbooks for designers like Posen.
The latter is a role she ended up reprising this year for Posen’s 15th-anniversary show, which replaced a runway presentation with an exhibition of Sorrenti’s large-scale photographs of his latest collection on models like Jourdan Dunn and Lindsey Wixson, plus more familiar names like Carolyn Murphy, another old friend of Sorrenti’s.
Not that capturing her famous friends has exactly ever been in Sorrenti’s wheelhouse. “I was always more interested in mysterious girls, or random girls on the street,” she said. "But I was never really into photographing celebrities or really high-profile people."
Moss, however, remains her one regret, if only because in Sorrenti’s cast of close friends, the supermodel would have fit right in. “Now, I would have loved to have photographed her, and I think, s--t,” Sorrenti said with a laugh. “She’s like a cousin I never see."
At the time, though, she left photographing Moss mostly to her brother Mario. There is, however, one testament left to the closeness of their ‘90s-era friendship: a 1998 issue of i-D, featuring Sorrenti’s shot of Moss, baby-faced and atop of a toilet.
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