A Q&A WITH STEVEN KLEIN ON THE NARS STEVEN KLEIN COLLECTION
By The Beauty Hub | January 12th, 2016 | Editors Pick,Interviews,News
You collaborate with true creators, artists – why is this important to you?
I get bored very easily so I try to keep it exciting. Selfishly I think I choose these collaborations because their work interests me. If you’re bored yourself then others will be bored. I try to surround myself with things and people that I feel are very different, and new, and hopefully that will be exciting for other people to discover.
When did you first meet François?
We met roughly 20 years ago when we first started working together. The first job that we did together was when I was photographing Isabella Rossellini, and he did her makeup. The second time, I worked with him as a makeup artist with Linda Evangelista.
What is your relationship like?
We’re both very busy in our own worlds and we don’t necessarily hang out all the time, but we do understand what the other is doing. We both have always appreciated each other’s work.
When it came to this collaboration François was very forthcoming in wanting me to do what I do. He endorsed what I do as a photographer and didn’t use me as a service to promote a lipstick or an eyeshadow. That was unique and it is very, very rare these days that people will come to celebrate your photography.
What was your first impression when you learned NARS was interested in collaborating with you on a collection?
The whole idea was a no-brainer. I love the idea of not shooting images for a campaign, but using archival photos. What François said to me were key words, because I’m always restricted. He said, “If we use your strongest images, we want you. We love what you do and I want your vision.” How could you refuse an offer like that?
Tell us about the collaborative process.
It was really interesting because he had me submit pictures that I like, and then he made a large selection, and we both chose the final images together. We thought we’d represent this new collection and represent me as a photographer. I found that really exciting given the climate of the corporate control with most brands (especially in cosmetics). Everything has still come back to me. That’s why this project was so exciting; I was working with another creative person, collaborating directly with him. He’s the one in control, so he doesn’t have to go through this corporate board to crush ideas.
How did you choose the shades for the collection?
For me, it was a great opportunity to explore my work in a different way – it’s turning my images into three-dimensional products. The collection was based on my images that existed as opposed to creating images that were inspired by the products.
What is your favourite piece in the collection?
I don’t really have a favourite; I like them all for different reasons. That’s the thing, I think they all work together, so I like the whole project.
What do you want women to take away from this collection? What statement did you want it to make?
I think of all the people, like Lady Gaga, Madonna and several artists that I know that are very creative women. I like women who are daring, but underneath they are all very sensitive and care about the world and where the world is going.
What is the relationship between beauty and fashion for you?
There’s an aspect of what you do with the makeup and how it fits characters. The colors that you choose, the way you do your eyeliner, your style – it gives me an indication of who you are. Faces tell stories. Make-up creates characters.
How do you feel makeup impacts your overall vision for an image? Does it?
Oh, it’s extremely important. I think that anybody in front of the camera is a blank canvas. When you put a mark on them they commit to who the character is and what they look like. Making a movie is the same for me. It has a cast of characters and you have to be very definitive on who you portray.
Who has been your favourite person (or people) to shoot?
I have a strong connection Madonna – she’s one of my best friends and we have a long history together. It is unspoken words of love and respect for each other. She was the first person that told me to pick up the film camera. After I did the Ecstatic Process, I did an exhibition and she said, “I want to show your work all over the world.”
Ever since then, we’ve been doing various projects together. We don’t always see eye to eye, which is good, but we have the same interests. We love horses, we love great art and we love cultured and intelligent people. We’re both seekers and we don’t settle for anything but pushing the limit as far as we can go.
How did studying painting influence your work as a photographer?
I started photography at a young age, but I never really intended to be a photographer, so I approached my work from a painter’s point of view. The great thing about school was that whether you were an architectural student, a filmmaker or a graphic design person, everybody in the first year had very fundamental courses like 3-dimensional design, 2-dimensional design drawing, life drawing and nature drawing. Everything you didn’t want to do, you still had to do.
Photographers don’t want to draw or understand the structure of nature, but it really taught me to solve problems, explore ideas and execute them. From there on you were pretty much set on your own, given a studio and you would start producing work. You have to work in an independent way and start creating.
When did you take your first photograph?
My first professional shot was for Dior. I was running a rental studio at the time which had one of my drawings hanging up in the space. I had a kind of presumptuous idea to put it up, even though the walls were bare at the time.
The creative director for Dior walked in one day and it happened to be that Irving Penn rented my studio for a shoot. I actually had hung my drawing right in front of his face. I wasn’t trying to impress him and I don’t really know why I put it up, but that Dior art director saw my drawing and offered me my big break.
Do you have a favourite image you’ve shot?
The thing is, they’re like children. You have to love all of your children. You can’t have any special ones or favourites. I never really have favourites of things.
What inspires you?
I look for all kinds of objects and materials that I like to deal with. With beauty I like the idea of masculine elements mixed in with feminine elements. They really almost need that yin and yang.
I like the bullet idea, the idea of war, but it’s also lipstick. I like the implementation of both elements. In these pictures from the campaign, they’re almost like a surrealist vision of beauty. I think as a collection – as a whole – it has a statement about looking at beauty from a different point of view.
What is your definition of beauty?
Beauty can be a goddess or it can be a beast. I think it is how one sees it. It can be the dark, it could be the light. Beauty isn’t everything. I think it’s more how the eyes are looking at it, how one perceives it. I don’t think there is any definitive idea that you can state about beauty because I think it exists in everything.
Do you have a muse?
Not so much a muse, but I would have to say, hands down, Kate Moss would be (and has been for a long time) this kind of, “I’m everything, but I’m not much.” I like her attitude about beauty and I like the way she puts herself together. To me that is the woman that I’m attracted to in a way. I like her humor about who she is and what she does. To me she’s the contemporary icon of beauty.
Are there any photographers you consider role models or who inspire you?
I like all of the great masters that have passed away in the last 10 years, like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. I think that they were my role models as photographers, because they were pioneers and paving ways, and they weren’t always acceptable. I remember reading, in regards to Penn, that really nothing has changed. At times, the editor-in-chief at Vogue would tell him that his pictures were too strong, that they would burn the pages. They weren’t acceptable because perhaps they were too truthful or too daring. That idea still exists today.
I think those photographers had their own unique vision and their own unique tools. They were giants because they were the ones that were creating the images and image-makers. I think today what’s happened is that there are too many people dictating to photographers how to do things or what they want, rather than trusting the vision of photographers to create images for them.
What do you still hope to achieve in your career?
I’m interested in making films, bigger stories. Specifically, I think as a photographer, something that captures your eye. A glimpse of a second.
Who would you like to shoot next?
That’s a tricky question because I’ve photographed pretty much everybody, but there are people. I can’t think of who right now that I haven’t photographed that I’d like to. Actually, I’d like to photograph the horse that just won the Triple Crown this year. I’ve done a lot of horse studies and a Triple Crown winner hasn’t been crowned in thirty years so I’m really excited to do that. I’m also doing the opening of Madonna’s new show that’s starting in September.
What is your next big project?
My current project is to be a movie that will inspire the world. It’s not all fixed at the moment, so I’d rather not speak about it until it’s all come together.
The Beauty Hub is an online news and information platform covering the beauty industry in the Middle East.