How did you break into the industry?
I was working as an assistant in a basic catalog studio, one of my first jobs in the industry with the help of the placement agency at my photo school. One of the photographers at the studio knew Bruce Weber. Bruce was looking for a new assistant at that time, so an interview was set up with his studio manager. When I entered the studio I was first greeted by Rowdy, his big ole golden retriever. I grew up with golden retrievers, so always had a love for them! As Rowdy jumped up on me, I hugged him as we had an instant connection. Knowing how Bruce feels about his dogs, I think the studio manager pretty much knew that I had to meet Bruce. Before I knew it, we were catching a flight to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico to shoot the Calvin Klein campaign.This was the beginning of 4 years of continual travel with Bruce & his team!
When did you begin working for Gianni Versace and how did that relationship come about?
After working with Bruce I decided to move to Milano, what was then considered the main proving ground for new talent. I spent 4 months networking, testing, & looking for that one opportunity to break into the industry. Not much transpired over the 4 months and I was feeling somewhat defeated. Summer was approaching, and I was pondering if I would return to Milano in the Fall. It was June of 1989 & the Men’s Fashion Show were in full swing. Versace has always liked to put a top female model in all their Men’s Fashion Shows. I believe it was Naomi Campbell that season, and Versace had flown in Bruce Weber’s make-up artist Bonnie Maller to do her make-up. Bonnie called me when she arrived, and said to come by and see her at Versace’s Headquarters on Via Gesu. I was introduced to Paul Beck, Donatella’s husband, and we hit it off instantly! The next day Versace was launching the Versus line. They would have a rock band performing in their garden, with and all the male models hanging around on the stage. Paul told me to come by and take some shots of the event. I arrived the next day to see many of my friends as the models. I asked them all to help me out, to get the most kick ass photos possible. I banged out as many shots as I could, and brought them to Paul Beck a couple of days later. He was impressed at what I had done, and then asked me to return in the Fall to shoot the press release & backstage for the Women’s Show. So yup…..I cam back in the Fall for sure.
Versace really defined an era in fashion and you were in the thick of all that creative energy! What was that experience like for you?
Mind-blowing! I was thrown into the thick of it with the most stunningly glamorous & sexy clothing, with the top models in the industry, the best of the best hair & make-up artists, the most high octane energy possible. Backstage at the shows was an event in itself, with many of the girls having Rockstar boyfriends & Gianni’s celebrity friends hanging around to be a part it. All the creative energy came together when those girls strutted onto the runway! At the end of the show we would always do a group shots of all the girls. I would stand near the end of the runway and “corral” all the girls to my backdrop, before they could wisk off their clothing & run on to the next show.
You worked very closely with Gianni and later Donatella. Did either of them give you any advice that you still remember today?
Gianni had an amazing collection of books. We would look through them for images of inspiration, especially during the Miami period when I was shooting for them extensively. He made me aware of many images I had never seen before, and gave me a greater understanding of looking to images from the past to be inspired for the current. The inspiration came from all angles….art, travel, dance, architecture, & of course fashion. For one of the shoots for the Men’s Campaign in Miami, he sent me on my own with suitcases of clothing (leather, printed silk shirts, jeans couture…) & a bunch of inspiration books. He said go shoot & bring me back some great results!
Donatella worked right by my side on all the photo shoots. In the beginning & didn’t have much knowledge of high fashion, styling, or hair & make-up. I feed off of Donatella’s natural knowledge of beauty, fashion, and good taste. She went against what people were saying “more is less” and she would always say with a laugh “more is more”. She once told me to “look at Vogue like it is the Bible”, “Anna Wintour is God & Franca Sozzani is The Pope”!
You essentially grew up alongside all of the original super models. What was it like photographing baby Kate.. Naomi.. Linda?
Kate as a young lady was extraordinary! She had this true innocence with a great mischievous grin & laugh. She “stopped by” one time as we were both in South Beach. I was doing a double shoot with Carlyn Cerf for both Versus & American Vogue. We had a trampoline set up on the beach for Versus & Kate wanted to come by & jump! Of course Carlyn grabbed her and “threw” her into the American Vogue shoot. I loved working & playing with Kate.
Naomi always had this strong graceful presence, with the sweetest tender soul inside. I have great memory with her taking silly snapshot around Donatella’s house. We were there hanging out after the fashion show & started taking snapshot….lounging in the bathtub, laying on Allegra’s bed hugging a big teddy bear, riding Daniel’s mini toy motorcycle. My most tender moment I remember with Naomi was after Gianni’s funeral in Milano. We sat on the sofa in Gianni’s house holding hands with tears running down our faces
I can remember the first time seeing Linda, being in the same room. She was so insanely beautiful, I got goosebumps! When I started out shooting backstage, no-one knew who I was. I would try to grab the girls whenever I could. I strategically set up a hot light just off the end of the runway against a black background. I convinced Linda to stop for a moment & take a few quick shots with me. Through the camera I was even more in awe with the beauty! Its still one of my favorite shot until this day.
Did you have a favorite girl to work with?
KRISTEN MCMENAMY! The girl cold turn a potato sack into a vision. I knew Kristen prior as I had worked with her on a Calvin Klein shoot with Bruce. We became friendly back then, when she was a pretty long hair red head. Upon our next meeting, she had turned into this blunt hair cut fashion goddess! Right after the Haute Couture shows in Paris, we would always shoot the Versace fabric collection in the studio. We would have to shoot MANY looks/photos in one day. The cut of the clothing was not the best, as the concentration was strictly on the fabric prints. Kristen before she got on the set, would know through pose & angles how to turn a basic dress into complete Haute Couture. On one of these shoots I had food poisoning. I was literally throwing up between every shot! Because of Kristen, how she worked, how she could “turn it out”…..even on this day with me being a bit out of it, we did over 100 shots! She was always the BEST model, amazing to spend time with, pleasure to be around. Besides the fact that one time she shocked the shit out of my nephew/assistant Jeremy, and planted the hugest open mouth tongue kiss on him as she excited the runway……GENIUS!
What were they like off set? Did you all go out partying together?
There is no way one can speak generally about that group of girls. Some where amazing people, and truly great to hang out with. Others….NO COMMENT LOL. Always, always the truest kindest loviest & beautiful person both inside & out…..Christy Turlington. With some I just had a working relationship, others I considered friends. Kate & I used to hang out, as we both used to stay in New York @ the Gramercy Park Hotel. Would love hanging out in her room or my room & have fun little parties. Always had a special relationship with Naomi, as we have had many crazy times together. I was very close friends with Donatella in the 90s, as was Naomi. We used to have so much fun hanging around Donatella house, drinking champagne, just being silly after the fashion shows. I have such fond memories of these nights, hanging out with a group of people who’s company I really enjoyed!
You must have experienced so many surreal moments during that time. What is your wildest memory?
Oh boy….that’s a loaded question! The craziest moment had to be when we were in Miami staying at the Fountainblue Hotel in Miami in the August of 1992. The team was all there as we were shooting the Men’s campaign & The South Beach Stories book. Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Miami with mandatory evacuation! Italians may not really understand what can happen during a massive hurricane. Donatella was staying in her posh “Frank Sinatra” suite. She thought at that point she would be fine being on the 10th floor of the hotel & would be able to chill and order room service. Nope sorry Donatella….room service will probably be under water! The whole family (including the kids) were there at the hotel so we needed to act fast. I was staying there with my dear friend make-up artist Lena Koro. We both jumped into action and started to pack up their stuff. Lena packed Allegra’s goods, and drooled over ever mini-Verace outfit she packed. I pushed & helped Donatella to pack up her goods and evacuate. Once we were packed Donatella, Paul, & Kids started driving north to eventually stay in one of the only hotels still available. Howard Johnsons in Orlando…LOL. Lena & I drove north to Orlando & caught one of the last planes leaving Florida for NYC!
There’s an amazing photograph of Donatella Versace on a motorcycle. What is the story behind that image?
I agree….these are some of the behind the scenes moments that I love! After the Men’s Shows we were doing a shoot for Versus Perfume & had the most amazing location on the roof of Station Centrale Milano. We had such a great friendship & working relationship with the “VERSACE BOYS” of the 90s. Brian Buzzini was one of the main Versace boys. While setting up to go to the roof top, I saw Donatella & Brian just being natural & having fun. I clicked a few frames…..and there you go!
Some of your most iconic images were taken in Miami, which was a place of both refuge and inspiration for Gianni. What was it like working in that environment vs Milan?
OMG the difference was night & day! As a fashion photographer inspired by locations, EVERYTHING changes according to where you are. Imagery you take backstage at a fashion show; versus imagery you take on the gritty streets of Milano; versus imagery you take with sunlight, palm trees,& beach….of course it’s going to be different!! I have always been inspired by natural outdoor settings. Being able to take photos at EVERY angle, with no artificial light, no set angles. Just capture images as they happen naturally.
Tell us about that shot of Christy Turlington and Kate Moss roller blading down the boardwalk of south beach.
This was one of those spontaneous moments! No set angles, no restrictions of lighting. We are in South Beach with Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, James Hyde, & Hansel Rodriguez. People love to skate on the South Beach sidewalk. Let’s put them all in RED & SKATE! I ran backwards for hours with my assistants close by, capturing every moment. Nothing planned just capture as you go!
What is the biggest change in the industry from back then to today?
WOW….ok! This is the big question that troubles me daily. There was a time when capturing the most beautiful image, with the most stunning model, and creating a historic image was important. The importance has now become getting any image up online & social media as quick as possible. The quality of imagery has been lost due to social media. In the past people looked at a magazine or book over & over, and absorbed the imagery. Now they flip through it so fast, and are looking for the next thing to entice them. To me this has destroyed the quality of imagery overall.
Why do you think there has been such a 90’s resurgence in fashion and a huge interest in this era amongst the new generation of kids?
I think the resurgence of 90s fashion & imagery is part of the backlash of social media & instant imagery. I hope the new generation wants to go back to a time when creating timeless imagery was important, and stop worrying about immediate gratification. My generation of photographers looked at the past historic photographers for inspiration in what we do currently. My hopes are that the new generation are doing the same, going into the history of photography & fashion for inspiration, and not only looking at the Kardashion’s, Hadid’s, & Jenner’s as well as any others “fnfluencers” for inspiration!