Daniel Magnussen: What campaigns are you working on for spring/summer 2012?
Fabien Baron: Well, all the Calvin Klein campaigns of course, and a few fragrances – for Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, and Madonna. We’re also doing Dior Homme with Karl Lagerfeld and the Dior womenswear campaign with Mila Kunis. Those are the few that come to mind right now.
DM: I wanted to ask you, looking back, do you have one campaign that means the most to you?
FB: That’s difficult to say. Maybe one of my favourite campaigns was the original ck One campaign with Steven Meisel and all the early Calvin Klein with Kate (Moss) and David Sims. I also like the work I did for Balenciaga with David as well as the Burberry campaigns with Mario Testino. But strangely enough, my fondest memories of all are the films, like ck One, Aqua di Giò for men, YSL Parisienne with Kate, Euphoria with Natalia (Vodianova), Fan di Fendi, and the Calvin Klein brand commercial with Lara (Stone). Maybe I have good memories of these films because I directed them all (laughing). I like films and I love to direct; it feels very natural for me, very similar to putting a magazine together.
DM: Do you have a favourite campaign from the past that isn’t one of yours?
FB: Oh there are plenty of those, there are plenty of campaigns I see every season that are fantastic and that I wish I’d worked on.
DM: Which campaign made the biggest impression on you growing up?
FB: It’s got to be Guy Bourdin’s for Jourdan. Those pictures, and his work in general, really grabbed my attention when I was around 15 or 16. I was looking at French Vogue every month back then and I would see all his work as well as the work of Helmut Newton and also those amazing still lives by Daniel Jouanneau. Later on, when I moved to New York, I was really impressed by what Bruce Weber had done for Calvin Klein. Those images were so iconic. It definitely made me want to work there.
DM: When do you think your interest in photography began?
FB: Very early – I got my first camera when I was 13 and I’ve been taking pictures ever since. For years, I did a lot of personal work, mostly landscapes with an 8×10 camera, but also some portraits and loads of still lifes. I never wanted to touch fashion because I felt it was a conflict with all the famous photographers I was working with. I thought, in their eyes, I am the Art Director, the guy that puts their pictures together on the page, and I am the guy who’s supposed to help them on set. I am certainly not the guy that takes the picture. It was only much later, after working at Harper’s Bazaar, that I decided it was fine for me to put myself out there as a photographer. I was not working for any magazine at that point so the time was right. Because I’d already been taking pictures for years on my own, by the time I started doing it professionally I was already very experienced and had developed my own style. I feel pictures have always been a part of my own identity, my own vision. As long as my images don’t look like someone else’s, then I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it. Now, if I’m really attracted to a certain subject matter, I shoot it myself and I enjoy it a lot.
DM: So when was the first time you actually shot for one of your magazines and had an image published?
FB: It was a men’s fashion story I did with Karl Templer for Arena Homme+, very high-speed flash photography, very technical and utilitarian – just like the fashion at the time. No one was taking that kind of picture then, so I wanted to try it out. Then I started shooting more men’s fashion, mostly action pictures, like someone jumping through glass, or on fire, or running at night into water – unusual stuff. Dennis Freedman from W Magazine gave me my first women’s fashion shoot. He wanted a story on the Olympic Games, since I was the action guy. I shot for W a few times after that, like this crazy concert story with Gisele (Bündchen) and a bunch of kids with tattoos all over just going wild. Gisele was crowd surfing.
DM: Obviously you enjoy taking pictures as much as everything else…
FB: Yes I do. For me, art direction, photography, directing and design in general, are all the same thing – there’s no difference in my mind. They are all forms of communication and ways to express a point of view with different languages and vocabularies, but the meaning is the same. For me, a fashion picture is not a finished product until it is in a magazine, with a title beside it, integrated into an environment. A fashion picture needs context, a specific reference of time and place . . . a reason to exist.
DM: Your father was an art director at a French newspaper. Tell me what you think that you learned from him?
FB: I started my career in newspapers with him. He was tough but a great teacher. What I learned from him was the concept of journalism – having a message to convey, having information to communicate, and how to deliver it in the best and fastest way possible. After a few years I wanted to work on a monthly magazine, though. On a basic level of art direction, the way a magazine works and the way a newspaper works are similar. The way information is relayed and how that information works structurally – once you learn that, you’re fine. But now you have to start putting some style into the page, to refine the skill of placing pictures and using type properly, meaningfully, and to work on the pacing and the beat of the magazine. It is almost like building a piece of music – you have a core structure, then you stylize the other elements. I think part of the reason I was successful was that I always remembered the importance of words and the basic concept of journalism. Yes I design, but the design is not gratuitous. If I make a word big on the page, or the other way around, that’s because it makes sense for what the words say. A lot of people play with lettering, or color, for no reason. It’s just decoration then.
DM: What is your first step when you’re starting out on a new magazine?
FB: Well, I want to build my team first and find out what team I really can have, in order to succeed. That’s very tricky because it involves many different individuals with many different egos. A magazine isn’t one person, the editor; it’s a team. If you have a weak link, the chain breaks. You need all layers to complement one another. From the journalists, writers, and fashion editors to the producers and photographers – you need the right people with the right spirit and attitude to convey your point of view in a precise way.
DM: Which team have you enjoyed working with the most?
FB: I think the team at (Harper’s) Bazaar, was really special. It was an amazing mix of people, but also such an interesting time for fashion. Liz Tilberis was a very special editor and we certainly did some of the most iconic works of the 90s there. At Interview, I have the right mix as well. I have such a longstanding relationship with Karl Templer that we barely need to talk. We’re exactly on the same page and I trust him the same way Liz Tilberis trusted me. We’re also a small team, with a small budget. But the amount of work we can put out there is tremendous and at such a high quality level that it just proves that the team is right. At French Vogue, it was different. Some elements of the team I thought weren’t right, even though the magazine was visually very strong. People weren’t on the same page, and it cracked at some point. That was a shame for Carine (Roitfeld) mostly, because I think she paid the consequence for that.
DM: Was that when you realized you needed to have your own magazine – to be in control?
FB: Yes, at that point, that’s exactly what I thought. And when I witnessed all that disruption and negativity there, which was really unnecessary, I told myself, never again. Funnily enough, right before taking on French Vogue I had gone to Jonathan Newhouse with this idea for a new magazine. He said the timing wasn’t right for them (Conde Nast) but that in the near future they might be interested. However, in the meantime, he said there’s a magazine that really needs your help – French Vogue. I met up with Carine, who had proposed me for the position a few years prior. I finally accepted because I was really intrigued by her and I liked her. I felt her point of view on fashion was different and right for the time, and that I could make her vision more accurate, more precise – give her a package that was tighter and more consistent. The magazine had been rather inconsistent – with stories that were very strong in some places, and very weak in others. I think I helped Carine gain confidence as a strong Editor, but mostly I sharpened the product and made it more consistent. I think that was my role there. And she quickly became a real star, and the magazine gained a lot of power on the international fashion scene. But having said that, there were elements in the team that were very destructive and after four years there it did not add up for me anymore, too much politics, not enough focus and good work. I knew that ultimately it wouldn’t work. I knew it was time for me to leave.
DM: And you went to Interview?
FB: Exactly. Back in New York. Home. I knew the subject matter of Interview, and I’d worked there before and thought it was an amazing cultural magazine because of its past, because of Andy Warhol’s legacy. It was also important for me to take on the challenge of being the Editor this time around. I knew I could do it and make it right. I think we’ve managed very well so far, considering the economic landscape in publishing right now. The magazine today, has become a bit of a cult product again, with a very strong following and a real point of view. We stand strong and we’ve certainly moved the magazine up the ladder of style. We’ve also been really forthcoming on the digital front. We have a very successful website, which the magazine never had before, and we were the first magazine on iPad.
DM: In terms of casting for Interview, do you always feature people whose work you like personally?
FB: Most of the time we pick people we like and that are in the news at the moment. But we always try to reinvent them, to twist things around photographically and fashion-wise. We need to put out a different product than Vanity Fair or W, which are our closest competitors.
DM: How much do you speak with Peter Brant? Is he very specific about what he expects from the magazine?
FB: At first, I think he was unsure as to whether we could do it or not. But then he saw the first few issues we’d done, and he said, “Okay, you guys know what you’re doing.” He basically leaves us alone. Or he calls to compliment us, “I loved the last issue, fantastic.” Sometimes he sends us an email with some ideas he has. Peter is a very cultured character with extremely good taste, and with loads of charm and charisma. He is a real asset to the magazine for us and we welcome his involvement anytime he feels like it.
DM: When you came to New York in ’82 and started at GQ, you worked with Bruce Weber. How did your collaborations with Patrick Demarchelier and Steven Meisel begin?
FB: Both Patrick and Bruce were already at GQ when I came there. Patrick was shooting the bathing suit stories GQ had always done twice a year, and we became friends right away. I was doing Bruce’s layouts at the time but he didn’t even know that. We never met until we worked together at Italian Vogue with Franca (Sozzani). I first heard of Steven Meisel when his portfolio came to GQ. When I looked at it I thought he was amazing. I was only a junior art director so I could not push for him at GQ, but I really wanted to work with him. So the first time I got an advertising job (Barney’s), I hired him.
DM: In 1990 you launched Baron & Baron. What was the idea behind that?
FB: Well, I’d started to do a few advertising campaigns for Valentino, and I thought it would be easier to have a proper set up. I wanted my own studio to be independent and have different clients so I didn’t have all my eggs in the same basket.
DM: How many people did you start with?
FB: At first it was me and an assistant. Now we’re 50 plus. We’re a full service agency; we do everything from A to Z.
DM: Do you still work a lot with Box (Studios)?
FB: Yes, all the time. We have to rotate the work sometimes because there’s so much of it. We can’t have all the work in one place.
DM: Actually I’m interviewing Pascal Dangin tonight…
FB: Pascal is amazing. He’s created a new standard for a finished image with Box and helped so many photographers, including me. His model has been copied by many. But he’s still the number one retoucher, and I think there’s something very special about the way he works with photographers – pulling the pictures up out of the crap sometimes. Believe me, he’s a magician and he’s very talented.
DM: Which other art directors working today do you really respect?
FB: I think M/M do a very good job. They’re original. They do their own thing and listen to their gut.
DM: What do you think of their work on Interview before you came back?
FB: I don’t think M/M was the right choice for Interview. The whole direction in which the magazine was going was wrong anyway and did not service the advertisers well.
DM: Is it true that you love to play the guitar?
FB: Yes. It’s nothing major though. I’m not classically trained; I just do my own thing. I’ve played all my life, and for me it’s just a way to relax and forget about everything.
DM: Have you recorded anything?
FB: At one point I started to, but actually I’m just really happy to know about music and I can really appreciate a good musician. I’m so passionate about people when they have a great skill. When I see someone playing the guitar, or someone drawing, performing, anything at a high level, I’m like a kid. It’s so exciting. I just love seeing people using their skills better than anyone else.
DM: Do you collect guitars?
FB: I have a few (laughing). I have about 10.
DM: Which fashion designer do you most admire working today?
FB: Well, Nicolas Ghesquière is amazing. He’s a true original. His work at Balenciaga is the most forward out there. He’s defining the future. Marc Jacobs is an amazing designer as well because he was able to make the business of fashion really big and at the same time keep the work interesting. Between Louis Vuitton and his own lines – it’s a huge business. He has an ability to marry art and commerce and be extremely relevant for today. Miuccia Prada is also on top of my list. She’s always pushing the limits of fashion and she has redefined the retail experience. I also like Riccardo Tisci. He was the only designer who was able to turn Givenchy around.
DM: What do you think of Marc Jacobs’ campaigns?
FB: I love them. Marc understands that in advertising, repetition gives you reputation. He got that down. He stuck with Juergen (Teller), with the small picture on a white background. So when you open the magazine you remember it, and you know what it is – there’s a familiarity. Fashion by principle is always changing; that is its strength but also its downfall. If you think about it from a customer’s perspective, you can get really confused about the image that some labels put out there because it’s all over the place and isn’t consistent. They change everything – the ideas, the photographer, the stylists, the layout – every season so they can conform to the trend of the moment, but do they really think about the long term? About their own DNA? And how will that reflect on their business? What do they stand for at the end?
DM: Whose idea was it to shoot Riccardo Tisci with all the dogs for a recent issue of Interview?
FB: It was Ludivine (Poiblanc). She thought that was good for Riccardo, because there’s a side of him that’s anchored in violence. He loves danger and you can feel that in his work. It was a perfect match for his Black Panther collection. Needless to say that Steven Klein just loved doing that story. He is so talented.
DM: How was Nicolas (Ghesquière) to work with?
FB: He was always very respectful of my knowledge, and he absorbed it all, and now he doesn’t need me any more. There’s no art direction for the Balenciaga campaigns now, it’s all him. He’s like a sponge. He takes from people and makes something of his own with it, and I mean that in a very positive way, like a great chef. And he’s a fighter – he won’t leave something alone until it’s exactly right. You only do the best work for these people. When I worked for Nicolas I tried harder than I did for anyone else. He keeps you on your toes and you have to roll with the challenge. The only other person who was like that, who could understand immediately what you say, forcing you to move up, challenging you more and more, all the time, was Calvin Klein.
DM: Recently interviewmagazine.com has been updated.
FB: Yes, we changed it entirely and we have a new iPad application as well. Because I really believe that’s the future. The landscape for magazines has changed entirely, and the problem facing magazines is that information that used to belong to them has disappeared. Now it’s on the internet. So what magazines have to do, I think, is reinforce a strong point of view, the core idea, the imagery, the quality. But when the day comes when someone says “I’m going to do a website that’s high quality, with great photography, great wording,” it’s going to be trouble for magazines. You have the moving image right there at your fingertips. Right now everyone’s playing
around with shitty cameras and it doesn’t matter because none of it means anything. But you have to remember that’s how TV started, and pretty soon things are going to change.
DM: So do you think Interview will one day be released 4 – 6 times a year, with everything else on the web?
FB: I believe so. I think magazines are going to have to put more quality into the product, something that has the quality of an object, something less disposable. The throwaway quality of magazines right now is going to be a problem in the future.
DM: How do you see a magazine like American Vogue fitting into that?
FB: I don’t think they’ll have a problem because they’re the leader. American Vogue is believable to women. Anna Wintour’s voice makes sense and is very powerful – she relates to women in a way that no one else does. I’m not saying what they do is the right solution for all magazines, but Vogue’s point of view is a valid one and the content they put out there is very exclusive.
DM: You published a book with SteidlDangin a few years ago. Do you have plans for anything similar in the future?
FB: Actually, I’m working on a new book and it’s being laid out as we speak. It’s going to include everything I’m interested in, from magazine work, typefaces, graphics, furniture, fragrances, ideas, concepts and campaigns. I’ve organized it chronologically. I still take a lot of personal pictures as well, and I am also planning for my second photography book.
DM: Can you tell me how your relationship with Mert & Marcus started?
FB: Well, it started about 10 years ago when I was the editor of Arena Homme+. We did a story together for the magazine and jumped almost immediately into an advertising campaign for a fragrance. After that, we worked together regularly. I brought them much later to French Vogue, which took me a long time and was very difficult because Mert & Marcus worked for Pop at the time, and Jonathan (Newhouse) didn’t want to use them because he thought it was a real conflict with Condé Nast. Ultimately, I got them there, we had everything all worked out, and I basically left them a month afterwards, (laughing), to go to Interview and they were like, ”How can you leave us all alone after you brought us here? You bastard… boo hoo…” but they worked it all out with Carine. They were also very excited to work for Interview and they shot the first cover with Kate Moss. They’re really great, fantastic to work with – one, they’re very warm; two, very funny; three, very talented. I get along with them well and I like the result when we work together.
DM: What are the differences and similarities between the two of them?
FB: It’s definitely a team effort with them. They have a bond. Sometimes Marcus will make sure things are going the right way, while Mert is doing the dirty work working on the set, and other times it’s the other way around, depending on the job. There are times when one or the other is more involved, depending on the chemistry of the situation.
DM: Does any one of your collaborations with them stand out in your mind?
FB: I think when I arranged for them to shoot Madonna for Interview, they did a really amazing job. I wanted to bring them and M together because I thought it would be a perfect match. She’s crazy about them now. They made her look incredible. I don’t think she has looked like that for a long time. And they got on very well on a personal level. Now we’re all working together on her fragrance campaign, and they’re probably going to be working on her album as well.
DM: Who else do you think shot her well?
FB: I think Meisel really got her perfectly many times. Of course there’s also Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, and Steven Klein. Including Mert & Marcus, I think these five photographers were able to capture her character without losing their own identity in the process. It’s quite difficult for a photographer to deliver in front of someone that is so used to the camera and that has basically done it all. It’s hard to do something new, and she’s such a big star that often she can take over the image if you show any sign of weakness. But when you see Herb Ritts’ pictures of her, you see a Herb Ritts picture; Meisel, you see a Meisel picture, and so on.
DM: How would you compare the new generation of photographers to the ones you worked with in the past, such as Avedon and Newton?
FB: I think if you look at the older generation of photographers, such as Newton, Irving Penn, Avedon, Guy Bourdin, and so on, they defined the territory of fashion photography. They covered all the bases. They did absolutely everything. And I think what the newer generation is doing is an emulation of their work. I don’t think they can bring very much more to the plate. I am not saying they’re copying, but the reference points of Newton, Penn, Avedon, and Guy Bourdin are so iconic, so powerful, and so well defined, that it’s very difficult to step away from that. I think the older generation of photographers had the luck to be there at the beginning, so they were able to establish the dictionary of fashion, which photographers now take small words from, and make it into their work. Steven Meisel may be the exception to that phenomenon.
DM: You’re working a lot with Mert & Marcus, Mikael Jansson and Craig McDean. Is there a reason Mario Sorrenti or David Sims doesn’t work as much with you at Interview?
FB: I think Mario, who is a good friend of mine, is more interested in working with fashion than with personalities, which we obviously often have to do. Photographing a personality is a completely different ball game to using a model – it’s way more challenging, but at the same time, if you succeed, it’s much more powerful. The Mert & Marcus pictures I mentioned earlier, if you use a model, they can look great, but if you manage to make those pictures with Madonna, they become iconic. You’re going to remember them for a long time, because subject matter is important. David Sims has a contract with Condé Nast that prevents him from working with us.
DM: You’re very involved on set – how much freedom would you say your photographers are allowed?
FB: Well, Karl Templer and I have very strong points of view. I’ve never been the type of guy, nor has Karl, that just goes on-set and says to the photographer to just take some great pictures and we’ll do the layout. We have very specific ideas and we need to keep the magazine fresh, so we come with a precise point of view to establish a real dialogue with the photographers. We come up with concepts that fit their criteria in the first place so there are no surprises. We also push for good ideas that are really unique and properly researched and that make sense on the fashion landscape at the moment. We also want to push the photographers into areas that we believe are their territories, even if they have previously not explored them. Usually we rapidly end up on the same vibe, so it’s never a struggle. Ultimately, that’s why the magazine works I think, because we have new ideas and that those ideas are well executed, so they are believable. It also means we have consistency – the voice, the tone, the fashion, the imagery and so on, it’s all the same point of view.
DM: Who discusses the main ideas for upcoming issues? Is that only you and Karl?
FB: Mostly us. We’ve been working together for 15 years, and I know what he’s about. I know his strengths and weaknesses and he knows mine. So when we’re planning we’re fast and decisions are made on the spot. When we’re on shoots together, we know what we’re doing and where we’re going. That’s why we’re doing the magazine the way we do it and that’s how we get good results. Listen, the photographers bring a lot to the plate of course, and we’re there for them as much as we can, but at the end of the game, it’s also our solid point of view that makes the difference, and it is the direction that we’ve taken the magazine into that makes it what it is today. We’d rather do it this way because we’re not going to do trashy product, we just can’t. The work has to have a level of sophistication and creativity, which is why we only work with very creative photographers. I’m extremely interested in the details, which focuses the point of view. I think it probably helps the photographers to feel that they’re in good hands, because there’s a guarantee of a certain level of quality with us. And they know that if anything goes wrong, we’re going to pick up the pieces and make it work.
DM: You are using few new photographers at Interview. Why?
FB: To showcase a photographer requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. You need to help them, nurture them and appreciate them. Take the good and take the bad. I’ve always been very committed to helping new photographers, but because of the amount of pages I have with this particular magazine, I can’t work with 10 new people. I have to focus. I can only work with three or four. The ones we’ve used so far are already getting bigger assignments with other magazines and some advertising campaigns. It has already paid off. When you see the work that Sebastian Kim or Robbie Fimmano have done for the magazine it is quite impressive. They are so dedicated that maybe in 10 years these guys will be the new crop, just the same way Craig McDean, David Sims, and Mario Sorrenti were when they started with me at Harper’s Bazaar.
DM: Have there been photographers you’ve invested in that didn’t live up to expectations?
FB: Of course. It’s a bet – you put time and energy into managing talent, and sometimes it just doesn’t come out. It can’t all be coming from you – they have to be confident in their own vision. I mean, if you look at Mert & Marcus, of course they’re going to make a good picture because they’re so incredibly confident. Picture taking is mostly about confidence and conviction. There are a lot of young photographers who aren’t confident enough in their own ideas, and if the picture does not come out right away they abandon it. For a picture to be perfect after three clicks, that’s very rare. A studied image needs work on composition, light, colour, attitude, body expression, hair, make-up, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You have so many people involved in building the image, the photographer needs to be able to direct a whole team in the right direction to raise the image an extra five notches. You have to build your own authority. If you’re weak, everybody reads it. Why does Steven Meisel take such fantastic photos? Not only because he has the ability, but also because he knows what he wants; therefore, he can make every single person on set work harder towards creating the perfect image. And if you’re not on that level, you’re just out of the team. Only the best remain. And every bit counts, from the computer guy that gives you a nice coloration on set, to the hair stylist that makes the extra little flick, to the lighting assistant that puts the bounce card at just the right angle, and so on, all these little details can make the image 20 times better. And that’s how you arrive at a superior image.
DM: How did you first work with Karl?
FB: I looked at his portfolio because he was up for a job for Hugo Boss with Avedon and me. I liked what he was doing, but I thought he was maybe a bit too trendy. You know, Hugo Boss is a man’s man kind of brand. But when we met I thought he had an interesting point of view on fashion, so we decided to work together. We started to do other jobs as well, and as we started to become friends I realized we had a very similar way of seeing things. I feel we really complement each other well, and together we’re a really good team. I’ve worked with everybody in this business and I haven’t met anyone else I have that type of connection with. Karl is not only a stylist; he’s much more than that. He can make the most forward fashion story on one day and strike it right on a commercial level for a brand like Gap or H&M on the next day. To be able to navigate from highbrow fashion to a simple pair of jeans and T-shirt, to understand what the brand is all about, and avoid being pigeon-holed as a guy who can do only one thing is not so easy. He can work with anyone and do a good job, and it’s the same with me – that’s why we get along well. I don’t eliminate, I work across the board, and I love to, because it gives me a more complete understanding of fashion, from super-pointy to super-mass.
DM: How do you see the industry compared with 10 years ago?
FB: I think over the past five years it’s become an accessories business. Fashion has taken a backseat to accessories, which is where the money is. It’s also become a personality-driven business at the moment, meaning all the big brands rely on stars. It’s all about the bag, the shoe and the star. In terms of being creative, I think apart from a few brands, things aren’t being moved along very much. It’s step and repeat, step and repeat…
DM: So what would you suggest to your clients?
FB: I think they have to take risks. Success is not only about coming up with a very calculated equation; it has to have an element of risk because believe it or not, it is in risk taking that you find novelty. And the market out there wants new things. People love new things. There’s no real formula and everything has to work on a business level as well. And very few people can do that well.
DM: As creative director for Calvin Klein, do you have the freedom to do that?
FB: Yes, and the company has been extremely successful. At the same time, there’s a catalogue of images for Calvin Klein stuck in people’s minds. Everyone knows there is a very precise vision of what Calvin Klein is about. When you own that kind of vocabulary, you have to use it because it is your DNA and the repetition gives you a strong brand identity and allows you to mark out your territory. At the same time, you cannot forget about the novelty; it has to be added for the new generation, and that is quite challenging for big brands like Calvin Klein. So my job is to infuse newness into the brand, within an image that people already know. In fashion you always need to push, but it needs to be in the right direction.
DM: Looking back at your work for Calvin, which period was the most exciting?
FB: I think when Calvin was there, because he was really the voice of the company. When I was working for him, he appreciated my work because he felt that it was Calvin Klein. We felt very close to that philosophy and that specific image, and to the dream he was selling. We invented ck One together. We cast Marky Mark for underwear and Kate Moss for jeans and used new photographers, expanding the vision and redefining it at the same time. In the early ’90s, Calvin had a great authority and the work we were doing was one on one. Now it’s different – I have to respond to a group of people because it’s a public company. It’s still very creative and I’m still very proud of the work I do, but I think the work responds to what the company stands for today, which is Calvin Klein the brand, as opposed to the man.
DM: How did you start working together?
FB: He just called me. At that time I was thinking, oh my God, I must be so lucky because three very big things are happening all at the same time – Madonna’s Sex book, Harper’s Bazaar and Calvin Klein. Weeks apart. I thought, will I ever top this? I ended up having three full-time jobs at the same time: Calvin Klein, Bazaar, and my own company. It was such an amazing point in my career, because I had to learn so much so rapidly and I had to be very quick at decision making. Now it has become extremely professional since I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I know the job inside out.
DM: Which photographer do you think you’ve shared the most energy with over the years?
FB: I have to say, I’ve worked with Steven Meisel for almost 25 years, and still today Mr. Meisel always has a trick up his sleeve. He can solve any problem and respond to any challenge. He’s incredible.
DM: Which of the magazines you’ve worked for do you think brought out your strongest creative work?
FB: First of all, I enjoyed each magazine for different reasons. When I went to GQ, I was coming straight from France. I was very young and I got hired by Alex Liberman, the Editorial Director at Condé Nast. He liked me and I learned a lot working with him. He was a giant, the only one of that caliber at the time. We spoke French together and he liked that because nobody else could understand. He was wicked. Then I went to Italian Vogue and that was the first magazine I worked for where I could do whatever I liked, as an art director. Working with Franca Sozzani was so refreshing and innovative at the time. I was able to do a lot of very interesting layouts. She was the first one to give me a real break, a crack at the top, and that was the time when I really began to develop my personal style, and where I realized I could make a magazine very well. Then I went to Interview and I’m still very proud of the work I did at that time. I think it was truly groundbreaking, and the imagery we were making was new. But Ingrid (Sischy) and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, so she fired me. I did not want to work for any magazine after that. I started my own company instead. One day I was giving an interview, and I was asked which magazines I’d like to work on. I said only that Harper’s Bazaar could be an amazing redo. I got the phone call two days later. I couldn’t believe it. And when I met with Liz, it was an instant connection. I knew it was going to be great, and that was the first time I really put a real strong stamp on a magazine. I saw Harper’s Bazaar as a sleeping beauty, and Liz knew that I would bring newness to the magazine and a new crop of photographers, as well as the old guard. We gave Vogue a run for their money. It was a very exciting time.
DM: In the past, which editors-in-chief did you learn the most from?
FB: I learned from all of them. I think from Franca, I learned not to be scared, and with Liz I learned teamwork – how to create a positive environment for talent to be able to express themselves, and to get what you want from them with a smile. With Carine, it was about going back to my roots, and purely about fashion for fashion’s sake and with a twist of intrigue.
DM: When did you decide you wanted to be in charge of a magazine?
FB: You know what, for what I know, I could have done that a lot earlier, but who would have given me that opportunity, to be the editor-in-chief of a woman’s magazine? I have edited a men’s magazine and now Interview, a cultural magazine. You have to understand, since I am not a woman and since I am also not gay, I am not valid in people’s mind for a women’s fashion magazine. Can you tell me one women’s fashion magazine where the editor-in-chief is a straight man?
FB: Yes, sure, but he had to publish the magazine himself. The same with Purple. It’s not like they called them to edit any Vogues or Bazaars around the world. They don’t believe a straight guy can do it. It needs to be a woman so she can sit front row to give the good looks, and represent, represent, represent. But it doesn’t mean the magazine’s good… And that’s part of a bigger problem in fashion, where the persona they’re putting out there to represent the product is more important than the product itself.
DM: Is there anyone out there right now you think are doing a good job?
FB: There are obviously lots of smaller magazines that I think are great and I can appreciate their work. But to be honest, on the big level, I think the most impressive person out there is still Anna Wintour. She has a product that’s working exactly the way it should be working for what it is. Like it or not, it works and she does a good job. She’s the queen. If you asked me, which magazine has done the most to shape fashion in recent years, I’d say French Vogue, and before that Italian Vogue. But the one with the most power and the most relevance is American Vogue. I know there are a lot of people out there doing interesting things but it’s the noise that you put out there that actually gives your product a place to live. If you look at Love, or Purple, they’re doing a very good job, but it’s unfortunately small. That makes all the difference. Right now, I work in probably the smallest of the big magazines.
DM: So would you rather work on Vogue than Interview?
FB: That’s a good question… In terms of resonance, definitely. But on a practical level, would Anna work with someone like me? Would I do what she wants for Vogue? Probably not. I’d put more spice into it, and it would look better on the page, but would it really matter? Would it sell more? Maybe not. And she may say, we have the formula already so why mess around with it… repetition is reputation, right?