A conversation between Jens Grede
and Jak & Jil’s Tommy Ton

As the internet gives the whole world access to the catwalk, fashion’s elite are increasingly in the spotlight. The success of The September Issue confirmed what we already knew: that Ann Wintour is a celebrity. The bloggers who chronicle their every move and every outfit have created a whole new tier of stardom. As Anna Dello Russo herself has said: “It’s about us, the people who work in fashion. What you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, when you wake up… It’s the new phenomenon”

Photographs by: Tommy Ton

Interview by: Jens Grede

Here we are at last… Do you know anything about Industrie?

‘I saw a cover on the blogs.’

It’s funny because that’s not the cover. I’ve seen it in at least 25 different places today. Everyone’s saying it’s an outtake, but it’s not. Basically, Patrick Demarchelier shot Daria and Lara for us and we used one of the pictures from that story on a document for advertisers. Someone must have picked it up and uploaded it thinking it was the right cover. So it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.

‘Oh, OK.’

With Industrie, we’re trying to make a magazine that is 100 per cent dedicated to the people in the fashion industry rather than to fashion itself. We felt there was something missing, something that is manifest in your blog, Jak & Jil, and that is how fashion has become entertainment; how the editors of today have, through sites such as yours, become their own best cover stars. For me, this is fascinating. I’ve been in many conversations with people who are trying to find alternatives to having celebrities on their covers, who either want to go back to models or who are looking for the new thing. It’s like you found that new thing: you realised the influence of people like Emmanuelle Alt. Photographed for your blog, she becomes far greater than the pictures she styles. In the context of the democratisation of fashion and the speed at which information now flows, it seems like we suddenly began looking towards these people, whose style we could identify with, to provide us with a sign of authenticity.

‘It’s true. The way that they dress feels a little bit more accessible: they are the ones who best edit and filter all this chaos that that we see every six months or every day. With the old Hollywood stars, we would always want to emulate the way they looked, the way they wore their hair or make-up and the way they dressed. But today the way celebrities dress is just so manufactured. It was only a matter of time before the people who are responsible for all this imagery we’re seeing were put in the spotlight.’

Do you think that celebrity has become too accessible? Are we turning to people like Emmanuelle or Giovanna Battaglia because they are still a mystery to us?

‘Yes. For people who are very interested in fashion, you can only go so far looking at a red-carpet image. The way that figures like Emmanuelle and Giovanna dress is more unique, creative and refreshing; it’s more fashion-driven. But I think everything happens for a reason at the right time. The increased popularity and reach of blogging, together with the introduction of street-style photography by bloggers such as Scott Schuman [The Sartorialist], has definitely played a crucial part in these developments. While street-style photography and the idea of editors being style icons had already been pretty dominant in the Asian community, it was only a matter of time before the Western world picked it up. Scott really popularised the art though; his images were really romanticised. Looking at them, as well as those from other photographers, you can see how they had the power to create these icons.’

Everyone is talking about how fashion has gone through this democratisation process, that fashion has moved away from this very elite group of individuals to a broader mass. What has actually happened is a democratisation of the media, but not of fashion itself. It still is this elite group that sets the pace, it’s just picked up by more people and has a wider reach. In a way, what you are doing is shining a light on that inner circle.

‘Yeah, it’s no longer a cult. The way that I see it is, I probably consider what I do to be documentary photography. It’s like going on safari to this really exotic place, let’s say the Tuileries in Paris. Only a small group of people who love fashion get to be in that space. I decided I was just going to click away and document these people in motion.’

Today if I were to stop a young girl in the street in Stockholm and ask her, she would probably know who Carine Roitfeld is, whereas five years ago, she would never have known. Are you as surprised as
I am by how far-reaching the fame of these editors and the fashion industry itself has come?

‘The internet plays a huge role in that. With websites focusing solely on blogging or news content, there’s been such a turnaround in the interest people have in fashion. It’s not just about what’s showing on the runway – everyone is interested in the process now too.’

How has their attitude towards you changed over the years?

‘I feel like some are trying to distance themselves from it now. It’s insanely chaotic outside the shows. It was one thing when there was just one, two or three photographers, but now, walking 100 metres you have your picture taken at least 30 times. The thing about being a fashion elitist is that you have this sense of privacy: you put your work out there but you’re not necessarily out there yourself. I think that they are losing that mystique by becoming overly photographed and overly exposed.’

They should start giving someone like yourself exclusives and shut everyone else out. I think now it’s going to be all about controlling and using the bloggers and directing them, because I still believe that the element of exclusivity is very important. We have to aspire.

‘Yeah, it definitely is. After the whole blogging massacre happened last fall, when people saw that me, Scott and Bryan Boy were on the front row, I think there must have been thousands of people who thought, “You know, I could do that too.” That must have been hell for all the PR companies this past season, getting all these requests.
I have a friend who represents a designer and he said to me, “Look what you’ve done: my inbox is full with all these bloggers!”’

The landscape now is such that the readership of the big magazines is falling, as a substantial part of the global readership has been migrating online. I don’t buy magazines to see the fashion stories any more because they are uploaded online before the magazine even hits newsstands. At the same time as celebrities are put on covers to sell copies, people such as yourself are taking the editors out from behind their magazines and making them the heroes of a media which, in many ways, they can no longer control. It all sounds pretty chaotic. Do you have an idea of what is going to crystallise?

I honestly don’t know, because nobody predicted that any of this would happen. I had two meetings yesterday and the word iPad was mentioned at least 15 times. I’m not even sure where everyone’s going with the iPad; all I can say is that probably in the next five years, the iPad, or whatever it might be called by then, will service the new formatted media in which nothing is tangible any longer and everything is digital.’

The reason that we’ve done pieces in the magazine on Luis Venegas, Natalie Massenet and Tom Florio was to show three different approaches to dealing with media: Tom wants to flood the market with Condé Nast product, Natalie believes in delivering editorial content as a gateway to shopping – before Net-a-porter was a shop with an editorial counterpart; now it’s all becoming editorial and you shop through it – and Luis, who believes that his magazines should be hard to get hold of and creates only 1,000 copies that retail for $40 each to a very, very small audience who are prepared to pay them.

‘I tried and couldn’t even get a copy! I asked him personally and he said, “The store is sold out.” Are you kidding me? There is something quite charming about that, about someone who is not so fixated on the [financial] success of his magazines.’

It would be interesting to do a case-study on Luis’s business: he has three publications which he sells at a high retail price, they are not available on newsstands but in very select boutiques and stores around the world, so they become a covetable item, like a piece of clothing. By himself, without even an assistant, he probably makes a better living than who might try to publish an independent fashion magazine today. It’s a great business model. People are either migrating to specific points of real interest, which they are prepared to pay for and engage in, or taking part in mass-media events that become water-cooler moments between friends.

I think that this will probably be true for publishing too; the Vogues and GQs of this world are going to continue to do fairly well, and then people like yourself and Luis will own the niche market.

‘It’s true. I pay €50 for a magazine in Paris called Some/Things or €30 for Self Service – those are the ones I would prefer to collect.’

Yes, because you care a great deal about them…

‘I think that’s what publishing should be. You could forget advertising because advertising could be focused online and publishing could be meant just for the editorial or more artistic aspect.’

What do you think the people you capture will do with their newfound fame?

‘Anna Dello Russo is a very good example of someone who has fully embraced being photographed and written about on blogs. It’s almost as if she considers it a second profession. She represents a different type of fashion: it’s style, and even though people might not like her style, she’s reignited this fire that style can be exciting.’

Do you have certain editors who are much more forthcoming and seek you out?

‘No, they know not to do that. There are some who say hi and ask me how I am – you can sense that they want to be photographed; those aren’t the ones I’m really attracted to, though. I’m intrigued by the ones who don’t want anything to do with me.’

Who do you see from a personal style point of view who is becoming more aware of blogging and using the shows as their platform? You were saying that Anna Dello Russo has been pioneering.

‘She’s definitely gone full speed.’

Are younger editors, like Giovanna, also picking up on it and using it to make a name for themselves?

‘Giovanna definitely has.’

She wasn’t Giovanna before you picked up on her.

‘I wish I’d developed the idea of how I shoot things now when I started back in 2007, because the way she dressed back then was very Italian, very va-va-voom. Over the seasons she has become a bit more refined because she’s seeing herself in the public eye and probably realises she has to evolve because she’s become a style icon. I respect that she’s not trying to outdress everyone, she’s dressing for herself but still trying to please her following.’

She does have a big following. Her style, like Emmanuelle’s, has this appeal… girls just love it! Is there anyone else who is going to have a kind of Giovanna moment?

‘Kate Lanphear is definitely someone out of North America who has blossomed through the whole blogging thing. The fact that there was a Facebook group created for her called ‘Lanphearites Unite!’ is very amusing. She definitely had a moment where everybody quickly adopted her punky, relaxed, just-jeans-and-a-T-shirt-but-pile-on-a-bunch-of-bracelets look. I think that was a sign that what the editor wore was more influential than whatever a celebrity would wear. She was wearing whatever she had bought from a sex shop mixed with a ripped-up jean, and everyone was copying it.’

Have you ever been photographed?

‘Not really. People photograph me more for who I am than for how I dress, which is probably why I stopped wearing Givenchy and Rick Owens: I realised I could be wearing sweatpants and no one would care less.’

So you’re not going to turn yourself into your own cover project?

‘It would be kind of pointless because no one cares. People care more about the women than they do about the men. I’m actually more intrigued by menswear now than I am by womenswear.’

That’s interesting – why do you think that is?

‘There’s something inspiring about this idea of a uniform which is evident in the way that men dress themselves: a suit, a pair of pants, a shirt. Menswear is not as disposable as womenswear, it’s more investment dressing.’

It’s much more sustainable.

‘The challenging aspect about documenting menswear is the detail. I find that men are more drawn to detail, whether it’s the collar, the cuff or the trimmings. I’m learning how to capture it, and I find my men’s detail shots more inspiring on a style level than the pictures I take of women, which are more about a complete look. The women’s shots are also more aspirational – it’s not as if you can immediately go and put together that look. One more thing I was going to tell you, when you were asking me about certain editors, was about Carine. She’s a favourite of mine – well, she’s a favourite of everyone’s – and all of sudden this season she wore the same coat and boots every single day. I don’t know if it was a backlash against being photographed or whether she was trying to pull something radical by not being ashamed to wear the same thing every single day…’

Being so enormously popular, she must have been super-aware of what she was doing.

‘She’s one of the top three photo-
graphed women.’

Who do you feel gets the most responses once you upload their picture onto your blog?

‘Carine or Anna Dello Russo, and then probably it’s a tie between Giovanna and Kate Lanphear.’

Do you enjoy being challenged? When Carine was wearing the same thing to shows every day, did you smile to yourself and think, she’s aware?

‘I didn’t smile until after the season was done. Being in the moment, it was more like, “Dammit, I need something new to photograph and you’re not wearing anything new.” My readers are dying to see progress in these women and the way that they dress. If I were to showcase her wearing the same coat in different environments, they would think I was just getting lazy. Although it’s really not my fault, I’m not going to tell the world she’s wearing the same coat every day.’

I didn’t know that she did that. That’s hysterical.

‘The same Prada coat every single day.’

I wonder whether it’s a style statement about the clothes, or a message to bloggers: ‘I’m going to wear the same thing every day so that you don’t photograph me.’

‘It could be a bit of everything. It could be like being so comfortable in your pyjamas that you don’t want to take them off.’

How do you view your photography? You said you were a documentary photographer, but you are also now a media brand in your own right. How do you see yourself developing over the next couple of years?

‘I would still like to be working in fashion.’

As long as they don’t hire security to come and take you away you’ll be alright…

‘Well, I never envisioned myself being a photographer because a, I still don’t know how to use a camera properly and b,
I use an automatic camera with automatic settings. So everything is based on my eye. Really when it comes down to it, I consider myself to be more of an editor or a fashion enthusiast. I’ve been able to merge this idea of photography with this passion of mine. When I’m being approached by a brand to shoot their campaign, sometimes it does have to do with my photography, but in some ways it’s also my point of view on fashion. I just signed with an agency finally and they understand the branding aspect of my name. There is something that is carried along with my name now, so we’ll see where that goes.’