1983 docudrama Portfolio exposes ‘the guts of the fashion industry’ and features a high-octane performance from the elusive photographer
The year: 1983. The movie: Portfolio. The surprise guest: the elusive Steven Meisel.
Almost ten years before he collaborated with Madonna on everyone’s favourite visionary erotic tome ‘Sex’ in 1992, Meisel was captured in moving image in this fashion movie of truly gorgeous — and very niche — proportions. The docudrama follows newly-signed model Julie Wolfe as she sets out on her glittering career and is potentially the most 80s thing we’ve ever seen.
“Steven Meisel is totally divinely twisted, and that shit was like an international gathering of the clan,” Portfolio’s narrator — hot model Kelly Emberg — explains as Meisel arrives on screen, with a black mullet and smudged black kohl ringing his eyes, and a cigarette billowing smoke in his hand. As the living icon yelps, screams and roars, and shouts directions like "nastier, stranger, wilder, sicker,” it's a far cry from the photographer we know in 2018, who prefers to keep a low profile.
“A friend convinced me to do it. But what’s shown in the movie isn’t how I work and isn’t what I do,” Meisel explained in an exceptionally rare interview with 032c back in 2008. “They’d say, ‘Scream and smoke the cigarette, and make crazy eyes with Kim,’ or whoever. And then: ‘Finish, and jump up screaming.’ Like an asshole I did it. It was better than doing a sex tape I guess. I was young and stupid, but if that‘s the worst of it, then fine.”
While the movie, and Meisel’s appearance, is an important (and glorious) moment within fashion’s vast archive, Robert Guralnick’s masterfully trashy drama, which was designed to show ‘the guts of the fashion industry’ is instead known for it’s brilliantly parodic exposure of what working in it was like in the early-80s.
At least they described Meisel right, though. As Emberg adds at the end of the clip: “I just love Steven. His pictures are the hottest thing since Richard Avedon. There’s simply nobody that can get you into a fantasy the way he can. In fact, you might say that Steven is the fantasy.” Some thirty-five years on, it’s safe to say he still is.
Watch the clip below.