Anna dello Russo, Italian, Extravagant, Style icon. These are only a few words frequently used to describe the Matriarch of the Fashion blogger fame and the fastest growing brand of any known fashion editor today. Determined to express her point of view, ADR has chosen a path that gives her slightly more freedom than that allowed by the politics and pressures of an increasingly more corporate industry. This season she managed to add yet another title to the ever growing list of positions played, styled by Katie Grand-a-minute for Emanuel Ungaro, Anna wasn’t just in attendance, she was a model in the show. Now, she sits with us to discuss her story, interests and the system by which she selects her stunning looks from the runways. Before our time was up, Anna also played dress up with designer and visual artist, Rad Hourani who both photographed and styled our latest subject exclusively for ONE interviews & Models.com.
Christopher Michael: Anna Dello Russo… This is your real name?
Anna dello Russo: Yes (laughs), it’s mine.
CM: At what point in life did you realize you were as obsessed with fashion as you are now?
ADR: I was born in the south of Italy where there is no fashion, and as young as I can remember, I started to wonder how I could work with fashion because where I was from, there were no opportunities to do something with it. Where I’m from, there is just one mini boutique, nothing else…so not having access to it all had caused me to become quite obsessed. I thought for a moment that I should start my own boutique but then my father said “No way! After university!? You should go for it all the way, go to Milan and become what you want, a journalist.”
CM: What did you study at university?
ADR: Historic art, of course that was another reason I loved fashion. If you notice in all of the antique art, there are all the styles, proportions, colors and composition that are used in fashion. I studied all historic art, no contemporary.
CM: In the documentary called “CATALK” Andre Leon Talley was asked if he thought fashion was art, and his response was. “No fashion is not art, fashion is hard work!” I wanted to ask you this same question…Do you think that fashion is art?
ADR: No, absolutely not. I think fashion is a muse, like music, like art, they are all muses. Fashion is a popular communication, whereas art is more of an elective communication. I don’t believe fashion is art, no.
CM: I’ve been told that in the beginning many years ago, you were very shy… Is that true?
ADR: Yes, I was invisible! I was a beginner, first of all, and secondly I was a hard worker. At the time I didn’t have time to show off. I spent all my time and energy learning about photography, about shooting, about modeling. I didn’t ever think to dress up or put make up on myself because I was just working as much as I could to understand fashion and the images of fashion. I worked with the best photographers in the world, if I was next to Helmut Newton, I couldn’t think about hair and make up on myself! I was such a beginner, but I believe everything comes at the right time. That’s why I always say to young people now, visibility and blogging and all of that, it is not enough; don’t think this is the work. That is a beginning, it is a starting point. After that you have to put your energy into the job, and not just in parties and showing up to shows. I never used to come to New York for the shows, it was always only Paris. I remember, if Franca would take us to Paris, it was an incredible season. We didn’t have time to go and see the shows. I remember thinking, those people are so lucky to sit on the bench! After the shows in Paris, we would always work right away.
CM: So you would just pull directly from the shows you were watching for the shoot happening right after the week was done?
ADR: The first day of shows was fantastic…The second day, we would be choosing the looks from the collections for the stories already. Every month I was doing a shooting. Back then I was working with about 10 luggages, no assistant. I remember one time, it was quite funny, one of the American based editors called and said “Hello may I please speak to the shoe editor?,” and I remember looking at Alice [gentilucci] going, “Shoe editor? What are they talking about shoe editor?,” because it was just the two of us in the fashion department, that was it. It was a whole other level. Italians, we did an incredible job with no money and no assistants. Now it’s like having revenge, I come just to see the shows and I have time to dress myself up and all of this, it’s like a miracle.
CM: What originally lead to you leaving Italian Vogue?
ADR: I spent 12 years at Italian Vogue as Fashion Editor, after that Franca asked me to become the editor in chief of L’uomo Vogue and of course I said yes. I spent another 6 years at L’uomo Vogue, after which I left because I wanted to sort of, start my own career. I really wanted to go back to working on women. Then I was offered the position at Japanese Vogue.
CM: It seems that you are the real Matriarch behind the birth of the fashion blogger fame, after originally suggesting to Stefano and Domenico that they sit the bloggers front row… How did you come up with this idea?
ADR: I was talking with Stefano and Domenico saying that I believe there is a big evolution happening right now from the background. With magazines being so expensive, it was hard to reach the younger audiences and these bloggers were reaching those young people with their sites. I never felt the power of this evolution as much as now. We are always talking about the industry and trying to understand where it is, where it is going, etc. I said, “To me, this is an incredible, incredible phenomenon.” I’m lucky in that Stefano and I grew up together, we are the same age and he’s the best friend I have in the fashion industry.
CM: What was the catalyst for you where you decided to really come out and become your own brand?
ADR: I didn’t come out and talk about my brand, I talked about my freedom. At that time, I was thinking about my own expression, because of course I love Japanese Vogue, but in any case, I was thinking to express myself. I thought, I should really jump in this world and have a voice to really express myself. With magazines, you don’t really express yourself; you express a corporate vision, you express the vision of Conde Nast. It’s not really your point of view. You can’t say in the magazine what you really like, it’s all a very political vision. So I thought, maybe I should spend some time and energy to finally have my little voice, and now it’s happening.
CM: To the onlooker it would appear as though you are quite a big fan of social media across the board…
ADR: In the beginning I was so uncomfortable with it all, but now I love things like twitter; it’s very immediate and you can reach people NOW. Also, during fashion week it can be very informative. Sometimes if I miss something or forget something I’ll end up seeing it on twitter. Another example is when I found out that Nicola Formichetti became the new creative director of Thierry Mugler via twitter. That’s what makes it incredible, you are staying in touch with your job in a spontaneous way. It’s really great.
CM: So it goes without saying then that you are a fan of how fashion has evolved into a much more accessible industry in place of the sort of closed off elitist world that it used to be…
ADR: Yes, because we spent 20 years closed up in our cage; in the past we sometimes didn’t go after the shows to say hi to the designer, even. It was more of a snobby attitude, it was too much. Now I completely love the fact that young people come to me and talk and you feel that sort of audience. I remember the years I was at L’uomo Vogue and I didn’t feel the audience. I’d find myself asking, who is the reader of this magazine? Straight, gay, old, young I had no idea. There was no way to really experience your audience. I find the way fashion has become now to be far more real and approachable.
CM: Being fascinated by the industry as a whole and it’s evolution, with bloggers having been a huge part of that constant change, what do you see as the next big evolution in our business?
ADR: That is a good question, I really don’t know where we are going, I really don’t know. To me, the speed of fashion is slowing down a little now, everyone seems to be getting to the roots. For example, everyone talking about heritage, roots and the history of fashion. This is nice.
CDR: I think that’s really nice to hear. Everyone has felt such pressure to mass produce and do so in a hurry, the idea of slowing down and ‘smelling the roses’ so to speak is nice. Speaking of new and change, you’ve been working a lot with Giampaolo Sgura…
ADR: Yes, I love him! He’s from the same city as me. For me, I get very excited when working with young people and to see how they see things. For me it’s about getting new and fresh air, and to not get stuck in my position, otherwise it’s already done. Giampaolo is an example of that fresh air, and at the same time going back to the excessive fashion of the past but doing it in a modern way.
CDR: Who was the first magical moment for you working with a photographer…
ADR: Two moments, one was a moment with Helmut Newton; he took a picture of me, he was the first one to take a picture of me actually. That was in 1996. He said to me, “listen, after we finish shooting, I’d love to photograph you.” I was afraid thinking, is he going to want to shoot a nude picture of me? And said, “Are you sure Helmut?” and he said “Yes, take your long long black coat…” and we did the picture. The second was with Steven Meisel. I remember the first time I was so hot it was as if I had a fever, just from the nerves. Then he arrived and he had black hair and I said “oh my god, HE looks good too. What do I do!” He was so beautiful and, of course he was speaking English to me at a time when I did not speak English so well. During those years there was only one that I missed the chance to work with, which was Avedon, Richard Avedon.
CM: With all this talk about the 90′s, what sort of changes do you feel have occurred in magazines today in comparison to publications during the 1990′s…
ADR: First of all, in the 90′s everything was TOP…Top model, top photographer, top designer, all top. I felt like a little mouse, everything was huge in terms of proportion. When I used to come into the studio I always felt like such a little mouse, because you used to arrive and Claudia Schiffer was there, Linda Evangelista, Francois Nars… Everything was in huge scale. Now, the approach is much more democratic in a way, much more easy and cool, more approachable. There is a possibility to have different kinds of levels simultaneously. At that time, the level was pretty pretty high across the board. I remember some clothes were only reserved for Vogue, no other magazine was allowed to use them. Now, every magazine looks good because they have access to all the collections. Of course the economic pressures are starting to become more and more obvious since the recession, the client and the magazines both have to sell. In terms of how the work is approached, things are more ‘easy’ now.
CM: Well before there was less of everything, there were 20 models and now there are 3,000. There is more of everything from designers and photographers to stylists and magazines, all of it… Do you prefer working in this way over how it was when there was less of everything?
ADR: It’s not about one being better than the other, it’s about each time being different.
CM: Anna Dello Russo, the lady of looks, going through so many outfits in a day and over the entire show season. What goes into the selection of your clothing?
ADR: It has to be top level. I love catwalk outfits because they always have a lot of creativity. Full looks are good, I don’t like mixing. I share the passion with the designer, why should I mix it? They do very well with the catwalk pieces. I love when you can look and say “Oh this is a Givenchy, this is Balenciaga,” I love when it’s flashy clothing.
CM: You travel quite frequently but you’ve managed to keep your base in Italy, do you think that will ever change?
ADR: Yes because Italy is such a nice place to live, the quality of life here is so wonderful. First, of course I have my family here and secondly because it’s such a great place to live. When I travel around the world I love it, but how you can live in Italy is so easy. When I’m home in Italy, I don’t need anything, and the best city to go shopping is still Milan. The best selection, most of the clothes are done in Italy, the best place to go shopping is in Italy because you have an incredible selection of everything. Easy access, I still love to travel but I can tell you, in a couple of years I hope to be in one place and just enjoy the life.
BARBIE® LANDS INTERNSHIP AT SHOWSTUDIO.COM
AND BARBIE® VIDEO GIRL™ IS THERE TO FILM
Barbie has landed her dream work placement assisting one of the world’s most influential photographers, Nick Knight, and the SHOWstudio.com team. From this Sunday, Barbie will be posting live video updates to the SHOWstudio.com blog documenting her experiences there; this is Barbie-behind-the-scenes with unique access to the core of London fashion.
Based at SHOWstudio.com’s Mayfair HQ, Barbie will be: chasing London Fashion Week show tickets for herself and the fashion team, sitting in on SHOWstudio.com brainstorming sessions, assisting on shoots, making studio visits to artists and designers, as well as doing the coffee run to Starbucks. One of her first tasks is to help install The SHOWstudio.com Shop’s latest exhibition ‘In Wolves Clothing: Re-Imagining the Doll’ which launches as part of Fashion’s Night Out next week, and in which Barbie Video Girl features.
New Barbie Video Girl Comes with built-in video camera and LCD screen
New Barbie Video Girl is not just a doll, she’s a video camera too, the camera lens hidden in her necklace, and a video screen on her back, allowing you to record and view movies instantly. It’s moviemaking from a Barbie doll’s point of view, literally, and includes USB plug-in cord, is Windows/MAC compatible, with the facility to record up to 30 minutes of footage, while software allows for adding music, visual and other sound effects; you can record your own movies and add special effects.
Barbara Millicent Roberts – more famously known as Barbie – is a fashion doll and figurehead of Mattel. Since 1959 she has been recognised as the original teenage fashion model. In the past 50 years, she has established herself as one of the world’s leading fashion icons. She’s been dressed by the best, including: Prada, Burberry, Chanel, Roksanda Ilincic and Danielle Scutt; more than 100 million metres of fabric have gone into making her fabulous wardrobe and she has had over one billion pairs of gravity-defying shoes, most recently created by Christian Louboutin.
She first broke the plastic ceiling in the 60s when, as an astronaut, she went to space four years before man walked on the moon. In the 80s she took to the boardroom as ‘Day to Night’ CEO Barbie, just as women began to break into management. And in the 90s, she ran for President, before any female candidate ever made it onto the presidential ballot. This year, Barbie takes on several new careers, including: snowboarder, ballroom dancer and racecar driver. Her 126th career was recently announced as computer engineer, set to launch early 2011.
Watch http://showstudio.com/blog from this Sunday to catch a Barbie’s-eye view of London Fashion Week, uploaded live by SHOWstudio.com’s latest helping hand.
Christopher Michael: You had mentioned before how Madonna was the most collaborative person in terms of the artistic process out of everyone you’ve ever shot, what made you decide to put her on the cover of your new book in particular?
Tom Munro: Well I guess, she is perhaps Madonna and one of the most iconic figures, but the actual idea came to me to use the book as a means of highlighting an African charity that I’ve been working with called Meak. After the collaboration with Madonna, she invited me to go to Malawi with her for a week, which I did in April of last year. I saw all of the things she was doing there, so I asked her if I could include Raising Malawi (www.raisingmalawi.org) as one of the beneficiaries of whatever proceeds we manage to make from selling the prints. So in the end, it sort of just seemed a natural step to put her on the cover with Raising Malawi being included in the book.
CM: In your works, you tend to be a walker between worlds in a sense, with your hands both in celebrity as well as fashion. Which realm of your work would you say defines you more?
TM: I think the celebrity portraits sort of materialized and came about through celebrity endorsements, from fragrances and that sort of thing. I also had a contract with Details for 3-4 years and I shot a lot of male celebrities. I ended up building relationships with, you know, Justin [Timberlake] and Patrick [Dempsey]. So when they were endorsing products we got together on those, like with Justin and the Givenchy fragrance, Play. I’ve also done various things with Leo [Di Caprio] for his film promotions and such. We’ve just done something with Warner Brothers for Inception, his new movie. With Patrick Dempsey, we’ve done Avon fragrances and such, so it was really through editorials and stuff that I’ve managed to work into these celebrity endorsements. I don’t know, I suppose one becomes known for taking celebrity portraits but it’s something that was sort of a progression for me from being a fashion photographer and was never something I really pursued, it just evolved I guess.
CM: Obviously, the subject of celebrities moving in on the territory previously dominated by the models is a conversation that’s been going on for years at this point. Do you feel it’s something that’s finally stabilized or do you think that celebrities continue to gain more ground as time goes by?
TM: Well, certainly in terms of advertising it still seems to be pretty strong. However, it seems to be more cosmetics and fragrances, and less about fashion, in terms of what celebrities take on. I think there are kind of defined areas that celebrities really tend to occupy and that there is room for everyone in the end.
CM: I like the idea of looking at it that way…I read that photography was something that you started to play with in your mid 20′s after you had been travelling and that one of the places you had been travelling to at the time was Bali. It’s one of my favorite places and has such an incredibly spiritual nature to it, I wanted to find out if you had any sort of revelation during your time there at all? Or if photography was born of some other process going on in your life at that time…
TM: I was traveling with a bunch of friends and we were sort of getting up to no good and having a good time. Basically, taking pictures was just a hobby; a friend said that I should do it seriously. For me, the idea of making a living as a fashion photographer, particularly having grown up on the country side of England, to move to New York and become a fashion photographer was sort of a very alien concept. When I had returned to London I had been travelling for a period of 9 months already I think, and a friend of mine was taking a photography course and suggested I take it with him so I did. It wasn’t born of some undying passion or anything, it was more of a ‘why not give it a go’ sort of thing. That class ended up being a provincial course that led me to transfer to the London Institute, which took me to Parsons and New York. One thing lead to another and I started working with Steven Meisel. It was during my time working with him that I thought this was sort of my time to actually do this and be serious about it. It was a great experience working for him, when I left, I was 32 and I really just thought, I have to make this work because I’m too old to change tracks now, so I just stuck at it basically… not to say that I didn’t enjoy it.
CM: What would you say are amongst the most prominent traits you learned from your time working for Steven?
TM: Prior to working for him I worked for a more commercial photographer in London and we’d go to Miami and put a long lens on the camera and that was pretty much it. The first shoot I did with Steven where I was sort of being ‘tried out’ was an Italian Vogue shoot with Christy Turlington and a few other girls. Christy was standing in a galvanized bathtub with Wellington boots on in the middle of the garden with a headscarf on in black and white, and it was so removed from wide angle lenses and things and anything else I had experienced before. Over the years, apart from learning technique and lighting, I just basically learned to open my eyes and sort of explore things creatively, further than I certainly had ever thought of doing before. Steven is an incredibly versatile photographer, probably the most versatile photographer, so when I left I certainly didn’t have his talent and still don’t but I understood how to light in many different ways… Where I came from, everything was very formulaic and I sort of knew where to put the camera in order to make someone’s legs long and that sort of thing. So I was kind of winging it to begin with, I didn’t have my own style or voice yet. I mean if you know how to light and you know and understand composition, that’s half the battle I think. You obviously also have to have an affinity for beauty; it’s all those things combined. I sort of left Steven with having learned all those elements in my head, and it was truly a great experience. He would take pictures in no light, whereas in my previous position in London we would have stopped shooting by then. With Steven, he pushed film as far as it would go in those days before everyone started using digital… You know, he would purposely shake the camera or knock it or something in order to create more emotion from the slightly blurred effect. All the things that one wouldn’t do because everything had to be sharp and precise, it was just a discipline and a different approach to photography.
CM: You’ve just referenced the arrival of digital and the exodus of film which reminds me of something that Olivier Theyskens mentioned as well… How in times past, the legendary photographers would both create and maintain their work and reputation on 10 epic shoots a year. Whereas now, with the arrival of digital there is such an impatient pressure to mass produce everything and photographers are not given the time to really find a moment of grace caught on camera. Do you feel that to be true even since you’ve started?
TM: It’s interesting because I’ve been having this conversation with my agent recently. The industry has changed so much from the days of Avedon and Newton and Penn. They would do one editorial a month perhaps, like you said- it was a limited amount of editorial, or a book that would really define them. They had to keep evolving then within each work, which is one of the most difficult challenges of being a fashion photographer… You have to keep re-inventing yourself but sort of within the borders of your own world. It makes it difficult to draw that fine line between cranking it out every day and trying to approach it with more of an intellectual fashion with a sort of greater honesty towards yourself. It’s hard to do that when you are shooting back to back. I mean, in the last couple of years I’ve done roughly 60 shoots a year and running from one airport or plane to the next and getting off a plane and going to a job, it’s hard. I’m not sure it’s the right way to be doing it, but it’s not all bad because it means there is a demand and something one should be grateful for. I think it’s just how the business has evolved and it’s still very much about images, but perhaps less so than it was 20 years ago. The immediacy of digital has a huge part in that evolution. I mean, it used to take a week to pull something together and now you do it as you go along throughout the day. I mean, when we used to shoot film we’d be doing Polaroids and then spending 30 minutes trying to get back to what you achieved in the polaroid. That’s one of the best things about digital photography, that you don’t have to go back and get it because you already have it.
CM: What do you find to be the most relevant subject or change that’s occurring in the business today?
TM: Certainly there is a sort of movement towards embracing femininity and we clearly went through a period that was all about androgyny and boyish models so I’d say that’s obviously changed. Maybe it’s also because I’m getting older (laughs). But in fashion photography, you are embracing their intellect, their beauty, and their sexuality and in my pictures I like to portray women with certain strength. I think for me, shooting young girls who are androgynous is sort of quite hard to bring that (strength) across. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the really young models in terms of shooting them. We are all conditioned to view the world and fashion in a certain way, and it gets very political when the girls look anorexic and 99.9 % of the population doesn’t look like that. At the end of the day we are selling clothes and, like seeing a film, fashion creates something for people to aspire to or want to be a part of and it has to ensue those emotions. In turn, part of one’s job as a fashion photographer is to create something that people aspire to, and because of social demand we like to see something slightly more idyllic than a model absent of gender or legal age.
CM: What do you hope is the next great big shift and leap in fashion photography?
TM: I like shooting beautiful women so what’s going on now works wonderfully for me. I think looking back on fashion photography from the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s the women were beautiful women. I think that there is a handful of girls now that fall into that category… I think that hopefully we can stay in a world that is believable. I mean there are always going to be people that are more beautiful than others but it’s about celebrating femininity and intellect and beauty. That’s actually a really hard question because on the other hand, the sort of shock factor of the 80′s and punk was equally interesting but in a completely different way. I think that we are going through a good moment for me and in terms of where the industry is but it would be boring if it stayed the same. Things have to keep evolving which is why models and photographers all change. You have to stay on top of the game and I don’t know what the next stage is going to be…