Taken from the Spring 2014 issue of Dazed:
As our visual landscape becomes warped by images that can dissolve in under ten seconds or be compressed into a square box, Italian photographer Paolo Roversi continues to believe in the poetry of working on film. For the last four decades he’s captured his female subjects unguarded and often unclothed, transporting them into otherworldly realms through dreamlike lighting techniques and his own mesmerising charm.
Today, Roversi is in Paris with Kris Van Assche, who took the reins from Hedi Slimane as creative director of Dior Homme in 2007. “When you work with Paolo, you know there will always be tension and sensuality,” says Van Assche, who spent his teenage years enchanted by the photographer’s work. The Belgian designer’s SS14 collection for Dior Homme showcased his ability to warp and manipulate surfaces, taking inspiration from the work of sculptor John Chamberlain, who once had two of his 300-pound scrap metal artworks mistaken for junk and carted away. Van Assche constructed the collection from abstract leather and metallic patchworks and sent his models through a labyrinthine mirrored runway. Although he spends his time dressing the body and Roversi prefers to strip things away, they share a common belief that emotion and poetry can elevate fashion.
Paolo, what fuels your obsession with the nude?
Paolo Roversi: Well, it’s never been about a certain eroticism or pornography. It’s just about beauty. My studio is a dream place and the models feel that. That’s the way we work. The most pure way to take a portrait is to shoot a nude – it’s the most elegant.
Kris Van Assche: It’s important to say that there aren’t enough people interested in beauty any more.
It’s something we both feel. That’s why the girls are so comfortable with Paolo, because it’s not about provocation, scandal or even a tortured way of showing beauty.
Paolo Roversi: We keep vulgarity out the door!
Kris Van Assche: I mean, if you’re a girl and you’re going to be naked in front of Paolo you know you’re going to look great! Beauty is a way of breaking the rules of today. Just going for beauty can be very rebellious.
Paolo Roversi: That’s why I came here this morning, because I knew he would say beautiful things about my work! That’s the only reason I came. (laughs)
So emotion is connected to the way you both work?
Paolo Roversi: With Kris, we don’t need to explain to each other, ‘Photography is that,’ or, ‘Fashion is this’ – it’s instinct. We don’t need many words. I know his poetry, his feelings and his emotion. A spark happens immediately. I say we both put our hearts on the table in the same way.
Kris Van Assche: Inspiration always comes from emotions, even if it’s something rooted in frustration. I mean, it can come from really weird moments and it’s always the click that’s going to influence you for the next six months. That click can be only five seconds.
Paolo Roversi: Even when we are dreaming we are still working.
Kris Van Assche: With Paolo I always know there’s going to be some tension and some sexuality. So as I only do menswear, it’s important that there are some girls around, because it creates a poetic situation. That’s where the collaboration becomes important. My show was quite cold with all the mirrors – I wanted it to look like an art gallery – there was already quite a lot of tension but it was cold, quite robotic, even. Bringing in Paolo’s poetry gives it a very different sort of feeling.
Paolo Roversi: For some people romanticism isn’t strong. It’s my big downfall. I am romantic! I can’t be perfect, you know? I think it comes from my childhood, from Italian poetry… Oh, I don’t know where. I don’t want to analyse it too much. I don’t fight against it any more because I know I will lose!
Kris, is it true the Dior Homme SS14 collection was loosely based around an experience in Miami?
Kris Van Assche: Yes, I was in Miami for Art Basel and it was just one of those moments where you basically just feel totally ridiculous. You’re standing there on a beach under a palm tree, the weather is great and you’re in a tuxedo. There are all these serious people standing there with their feet in the sand. It’s just this weird contrast. I mean, contrasts are obviously inspiring but it’s then that you realise this is all really quite ridiculous!
Do you both consciously disconnect yourselves from the ‘circus’?
Kris Van Assche: Art Basel is actually the only two days a year I can stand it. When I go on holiday for the month of August, I barely even take a suitcase because I don’t want to see clothes…
Paolo Roversi: But I think that in a way we never really disconnect. I mean, people like Kris disconnect from the social system of the fashion world, but not the creativity or the inspiration. This is you. You can’t ever fully disconnect. I think he is a creative designer 24 hours a day, he couldn’t be any different. Sorry Kris, I just answered for you!
Kris Van Assche: No problem! I don’t need to run away from something because I love my work and I’ve managed to protect myself from certain systems.
Paolo Roversi: Sometimes I meet Kris at a party, we have lots of champagne together and just stand in the corner of a room!
Kris Van Assche: And I’m always like, ‘What are we doing here?’
Do you think it’s become harder to break the rules?
Paolo Roversi: You know, it depends what you want to break. It’s very easy to lose your spirit in fashion. I think I’ve lost it a few times; it’s one of the most difficult things, to be completely pure. You can’t compromise too much and you have to keep some distance, especially if you have a lot of people around you telling you you’re a genius. It’s so dangerous.
Kris Van Assche: I totally agree. I mean – close your ears, Paolo – there aren’t many photographers around whose work you can immediately recognise. It’s such a rare thing today. So much that is technically possible, so much can be tricked and faked. Real authenticity, emotion and personality is the new thing. That’s breaking the rules. It’s not trying to be the hype every week of every month, you know? It’s going against the rules – that’s the new rebellion.
Hair: Tomohiro Ohashi at Management Artists
Make-up: Marie Duhart at Atomo Management using MAC
Models: Janis Ancens (L'Uomo Elite), Adrien Sahores (Premium), Daiane Conterato (Elite), Maria Loks (Next)
Photographic assistants: Melanie Rey, Barbara Marangon, Felix Seiler-Fedi, Ton Ishiguro
Styling assistant: Natalia Culebras
Hair assistant: Kiki
Make-up assistant: Methta Gonthier
Digital operator: Matteo Miani at Dtouch
Production: ProdN Paris
Follow Isabella Burley on Twitter here @isabellaburley