20 Jul, 2009

Style and substance?

Posted by: admin In: Creative Review

From Galliano’s Warriors, photographed by Nick Knight, styled by Simon Foxton. Published in Arena Homme Plus, Summer/Autumn 2007

When it comes to creating fashion images, it’s the photographer who gets the fame and most of the glory. But a new show at London’s Photographers’ Gallery suggests that credit should perhaps be shared.

When You’re a Boy: Men’s Fashion Styled by Simon Foxton, looks at the work of the eponymous stylist and, in particular, his working relationship with three key photographers: Nick Knight, Jason Evans and Alasdair McLellan.

Foxton left his home town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1979 to study fashion design at St. Martin’s School of Art alongside the likes of John Galliano. In 1984, i-D editor Terry Jones suggested he might like to hook up with a young photographer named Nick Knight – the beginning of a highly fruitful creative relationship.

As Brett Rogers of the Photographers’ Gallery says in her intro to the accompanying catalogue, “Though acknowledged as trendsetters and visionaries within the fashion world, the creative contribution of stylists to the construction of the fashion image goes largely unrecognised”. She contends that stylists, far from being ephemeral figures, have effectively “co-authored some of the most iconic fashion images of our time”, hence the show.

From Acid Wash, photographed by Alasdair McLellan, styled by Simon Foxton. Published in 032c, Summer 2007

This theme is picked up by ShowStudio’s Penny Martin in an essay in the same catalogue: “Foxton’s unique perspective inspires discrete and very different bodies of work, each of which carries the joint authorship and aesthetics of both the creative partners involved.”

Martin also traces the link between the nascent ‘Stylist’ role and the rise of style magazines in the 80s. “Whereas the person choosing clothing and casting models for a shoot commissioned by a Condé Nast-supported magazine would be a full-time, salaried Fashion Editor, the equivalent person working for a style title was most likely freelance, receiving expenses only and working for the prestige.

From Strictly, photographed by Jason Evans, styled by Simon Foxton. Published in i-D, July 1991

The deal was, of course, that by getting your work into a style title, you stood a good chance of picking up distinctly more lucrative engagements from that magazine’s advertisers. However, when asked in an interview if that worked for him, Foxton says “No. Absolutely not. The idea was that you do editorial shoots so that you have tear sheets to show in your portfolio. Then you can take them to other photographers or to PRs and say ‘look, this is the sort of work I do, give me a job’. Because I’m not particularly career-driven, my editorial is probably quite difficult for prospective employers to get their heads around. My work is often shocking, or funny, but rarely is it commercial. Sex sells but comedy rarely does.”

Nevertheless, he has played a major part in the creation of some of the most influential fashion imagery of the past 25 years.

Catalogue designed by Paul Hetherington.

When You’re a Boy: Men’s Fashion Styled by Simon Foxton is at The Photographers’ Gallery, London W1 until 4 October.

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