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Naomi Campbell and Christy Steven Meisel exhibition
Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, Los Angeles, Vogue Italia, December 1989Photography Steven Meisel

The man who discovered Steven Meisel

As the fashion photographer opens a new exhibition in London, Jimmy Moffat, a founder of the agency who signed him, shares the stories behind his most iconic work

When Steven Meisel was asked to select the most important images in his vast body of work, it took months of printing, choosing and filtering to come up with the final 25 iconic photographs. These large-format snapshots – featuring Linda and Naomi in wigs and Lauren Hutton, Veruschka von Lehndorff and Isabella Rossellini fur-clad and laughing – are made up of images that, although sweet, soft and sometimes tough, all remain striking. Currently being shown at the Phillips Gallery in London until 11 January, the exhibition will then travel to New York. For the occasion, Dazed met with Jimmy Moffat – co-founder of Art + Commerce, the talent agency that signed Meisel in the 80s – to discuss the hidden stories behind some of the pictures.


“This was taken in a park in upstate New York at the time of grunge. The shot was a commission from American Vogue Featuring Kristen McMenamy and an up-and-coming male model called Daniel Blaylock. However, when Anna Wintour saw the series, she decided to kill it. The long hair, the men in skirts and the androgynous girls were very far removed from the usual aesthetics of the magazine. Luckily Alexander Liberman, then Editorial Director at Condé Nast, was enthusiastic, going as far as to say it was the most important fashion story of the decade. That changed Anna’s mind!”


“Steven did this story for Italian Vogue inspired by figurative artist Alex Katz, who was known for creating his paintings from photographs. So Steven decided to do the opposite and, choosing a particular Katz painting as a starting point, he positioned his models in exactly the same poses as the characters in the painting, but putting them in different contexts and backgrounds to create an unsettling effect.”


“It looks like a deserted street in New York, but the setting for this picture was actually the Manhattan movie lot at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. I don’t remember much about the shooting except how hot and sunny the day was. It must have been 100 degrees outside, and the pavement was around 150 degrees. I love how in the photo the girls look like they are melting all over the floor because they were literally melting!”


“This was a story for Italian Vogue. Steven is known, probably more than any other fashion photographer, for discovering and using models that have all kinds of shapes, sizes and ages. He was one of the first to seek older models to star in campaigns and stories. He just liked the expressions of Lauren, Veruschka and Isabella, and their quirky smiles. I don’t think he knew at the time that this picture would become so iconic.”

Role Play runs through 11 January at Phillips, 30 Berkeley Square, London.