When You're a Boy: Simon Foxton

We speak to the groundbreaking menswear stylist who is being feted with an exhibition at The Photographers Gallery.

Fashion Incoming
From Hey There Fancy Pants, photographed by Jason
From Hey There Fancy Pants, photographed by Jason Evans. Published in i-D, May 2004
With a career spanning the last three decades, British stylist Simon Foxton has built himself a reputation as a leading image-maker of men’s fashion; anticipating and defining key shifts in menswear design over this period. Beginning his career as a stylist for iD magazine in 1984, Simon’s work has been consistently groundbreaking in its approach to questions of masculinity, sexuality, ethnicity and taste. His use of classic menswear tailoring besides contemporary street-wear and references as disparate as pornography and the national geographic have lent themselves to his distinctly innovative, thought-provoking images. 'When You’re a Boy', which opens at The Photographer's Gallery tomorrow, will celebrate men in fashion and is one of the first exhibitions to focus on the work of a stylist as opposed to a photographer. The exhibition will look at Simon’s work over the years as well as his working collaborations with photographers including Nick Knight, Jason Evans and Alasdair McLellan.

Dazed Digital: What does ‘When you are a boy’ mean to you?
Simon Foxton: We wanted to do something that ‘boy’ or ‘man’ in the title, just because I work with menswear and am using male models and we tried all sorts of mutations of that, and that was the one that came to fit.

DD: What is it particularly about menswear that fascinates you?
Simon Foxton: To be honest, I do menswear and work with male models because it’s a world I understand. I don’t have much interest in styling women, it’s not that I don’t like women, but it’s just I haven’t really got the kind of the wherewithal. I don’t really know how to make women glamorous or sexy and I kind of avoid that if possible.

DD: Where did that interest in men’s fashion begin and how did it develop into a career as a stylist?
Simon Foxton: After my art foundation course I kind was of veering towards fashion. I realised I had some sort of potential to do menswear, but where that came from, I don’t know. I never really classified myself as a men’s fashion stylist. I’m not that interested in fashion. I like clothing, as a way of making an image but I’m not that desperately interested in the latest collections, or the latest trend or whatever, it’s more about using clothes as a tool.

DD: What shifts in style have you seen over your career?
Simon Foxton: I suppose that obviously things have become far more, exciting. Men have become far more style aware, you know designer dressing and outlandish things, its all become far more mainstream. Pivotal moments are things I never think about if I’m frank. I just work away in my own little bubble, I’m not very aware of trends.

DD:  How do you think general shifting definitions and understandings of masculinity have been reflected in your work?
Simon Foxton: I think my own work touches on and explores different facets of masculinity, although I’m not totally sure how in sync that is with any general trends going on, As anyone working in visual media you pick up things around you subconsciously. A lot of my work has to do with race, sense of place or sexuality, but they dip in a out of these things all the time. I see my work as bubbling alongside things but not sure it’s a particularly accurate mirror.

DD: How has it been putting together the exhibition?
Simon Foxton: I had to look through the whole back catalogue of all the things I’ve done and had to edit it down quite drastically just to make sense of it. It’s been quite nice finding things from 10, 20 years ago that I worked on and perhaps forgot about. Certain ones haven’t stood the test of time at all but then others still feel quite fresh; not to say relevant, but still have some vibrancy today and that’s been rather nice. I’m not a particularly analytical person when it comes to my own work. It’s something I do, and I don’t sort of ruminate, I leave that to others to sort of dissect.

DD: What is the starting point for you when you are styling?
Simon Foxton: I tear out pictures from magazines, usually photographic images cut from all sorts of magazines, National Geographic, pornography, kids books, advertising…and keep them in a box, and then every so often I make a scrapbook. They’re quite a good starting point so if I need some inspiration I’ll leaf through them. There’ll be quite a few scrapbooks in the exhibition.

DD: You’ve collaborated with some amazing photographers over the years. Could you tell me about some of those working relationships?
Simon Foxton: Certainly the 3 main protagonists shown in the exhibition, Nick Knight, Jason Evans, and Alistair Mclellan. I’ve got great, good, strong relationships with all of them and they’ve become close friends. It’s a very kind of relaxed process shall we say, not too academic. It’s a dialogue most of the time. It’s not just done one way, we talk around it.

When You're a Boy: Men’s Fashion Styled by Simon Foxton exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery from July 17 to October 4.
Click on the gallery to the right for images of Simon Foxton's infamous shed where he works.
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