Raquel Zimmermann and Shalom Harlow by Inez and Vinoodh.
Can your nerves stand it? No, nor mine. Those good people at Idea, David Owen and Angela Hill, asked Suzanne Koller, the brilliant Fashion Director of French Vogue and cofounder of Self Service, to publish a book of her work from the past couple of decades. She said yes. It’s called Red Lips, Attitudes, and Other Obsessions and it’s available from September 9. But—here’s the nerve-racking part—it’s limited to, uh-oh, 500 copies. If you’ve strived to get your hands on Idea’s previous blink-and-they’re-gone tomes, from the likes of Vetements or Gosha Rubchinskiy, you’ll know that anything worth fighting for is never easy. And having seen a prototype during the Paris haute couture shows this past July, I can tell you one thing: It’s really, really good. (Get ready to be as fixated as I already am on the cover, which is decorated with sticker versions of some of the images inside.) Koller took time out from her couture week schedule to chat about Red Lips, Attitudes, and Other Obsessions. But there’s more, because with Ms. Koller, there always is.
When David came to you with the idea, what did you think?
I was thinking how to make a book for today look smart because a retrospective, well, I’m not old enough. And especially with Idea, it’s more of the moment thing. I also wanted to mix all the pictures together and make it look now. I find that quite important, so that the fashion doesn’t look dated.
Did they give you limits on how many images you could select?
Nothing. No limits.
They have quite a renegade spirit in terms of their approach to publishing. . . .
That was the other thing, because nowadays people are thinking more digitally about images, with Instagram or whatever. A book is kind of old-fashioned somehow, which is why I wanted something easy, spontaneous, and not pretentious. The freedom was inspiring, actually.
I think both the material they publish and how they publish are really interesting because they kind of create an event around every book they do.
They always do an event, and it always feels of the moment, which I find very important.
Even though they’re not big, heavy books, they never feel throwaway.
Exactly, they feel more precious in a way. More modern, I would say.
It’s almost like a zine approach.
That’s what I like about it. It’ll be a good mix of 10, 15 years of images with different photographers and different themes edited for now.
So you were saying the images are edited for now. . . . What was the particular criteria? What made you say yes to one and no to another?
That’s difficult. First, I have to like the image, and because I am coming from my past as an art director [which is how Koller started in the industry], yet here I’m a stylist, I don’t know. . . . It’s very much about the girls. My work is very much about the person, the character, and the attitude more so than about crazy or conceptual styling. I had, like, selected 12 photographers, all the people I’ve worked with. Some are from French Vogue, and some, Self Service, but I’ve never worked for anyone else so it’s very selective!
Before we get to the photographers, I would say that I agree your work always has an interesting coexistence of different elements. The clothes, the mood, the location play an important role, obviously, but I always feel I’m looking at something that feels like it is a piece of documentary.
It’s very much documentary, yes. It’s the most important thing. That’s my taste and what I express the best is when I bring out the woman I have in front of me. The model is a person and you can imagine the character or story behind that person. That’s why when I look at all the pictures, most of them still work today, even when it’s 2000 mixed with 2016, because it’s less about the fashion and more about the person in the image.
So tell me, who are the photographers?
It’s Inez and Vinoodh, because it feels like it all started with them. There’s Ezra [Petronio]; Glen Luchford; Katja Rahlwes; there’s Alasdair McLellan, who I worked with a lot; and Walter Pfeiffer. Collier Schorr. David Sims. Harley Weir and Jamie Hawkesworth. They are like the young generation. I think Harley and Jamie are both really very good. Paolo Roversi, who I really enjoyed, and Patrick Demarchelier. I’m quite amazed by him. The quality is quite incredible. Patrick takes it to a whole other level.
He does. When it’s that direct, it’s really about the girl. There’s no attention elsewhere.
I think that’s a good example. He’s there to photograph a story, but you have to feed him. Then, you can feel he gives it back to you, too.
A bit of a diversion here. . . . Tell me about the clothes you like for yourself, not those that you use in your shoots . . .
I wear mostly Céline, Prada, Saint Laurent, and when I want to be more casual, Isabel Marant. I realize that my decision of what I wear depends very much on what I’m doing that day, office day, shooting day, off-day. . . . I don’t think I really follow trends, but as a “fashion obsessed” person, I’m always excited by the next season. I have to admit, I fall every season for some kind of item or outfit I need to have!
Let’s look at the book. . . .
As I’m one stylist and there are 12 photographers, there will be 12 stickers on the cover, one for each photographer. There will be extra stickers too, so that you can put them where you want, so it’ll be more playful. For the cover, I couldn’t just use one image, and no image is boring. It’s meant to be like a scrapbook or a notebook for school.
Do you want to highlight some of your favorite images in the book?
There was a story, I don’t know if you remember, it was a 100-page story [by Inez and Vinoodh, with Shalom Harlow and Raquel Zimmerman] from Self Service, with five days of shooting, and I think this is one of my favorites. . . .
So you’re talking about the importance of the woman. For you, what makes for a compelling character in front of the camera?
That’s a good question. It always happens depending on the clothes, the hair and the makeup, the photographer, the kind of story you are doing. The mood boards and storyboards you do before a shoot can be very precise, but ultimately everything turns out on its own on the day. I do believe when you work together over one day or two days, everything has to happen at that time. For me, it’s extremely important to have good vibes on a shoot. I need to work with a girl who I like as a person.