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Thierry Le Goués 90s book supermodels Kate Moss
Photography Thierry Le Goués, Courtesy of Powerhouse Books

Thierry Le Goués: the 90s photographer who painted Kate Moss gold

The legendary French photographer’s new book chronicles the glittering era of the supermodel and fashion’s (literally) golden age

Following a landmark year for the then 19-year-old, in which she covered her first issue of Vogue and posed for an Obsession by Calvin Klein campaign – iconic but subsequently controversial jobs shot by her friend Corinne Day and boyfriend at the time Mario SorrentiKate Moss concluded 1993 engulfed in gold paint. “She was a new superstar,” recalls Thierry Le Goués, who was commissioned by Esquire and came up with the James Bond-inspired look with makeup artist Kenny Campbell (‘GOLDEN GIRL: Kate Moss conquers the world’ ran the tagline). “I had no idea when I started shooting Kate she would become so iconic – I would have shot with her even more!” 

The image is about to re-enter fashion’s collective consciousness, selected by the French photographer to front a new book of his photographs from the most talked about of decades, the 1990s. Published next month by powerHouse Books, 90’s brings together a remarkable portfolio of supermodels, introduced by Le Goués’s friend and early muse Carla Bruni. “Thierry’s eye on his models is very special,” writes France’s former First Lady. “Imbued with delicacy and empathy, the shots are simple and joyful; we laugh a lot.” As well as a contact sheet from the Goldfinger cover, an earlier Moss editorial shot in Ladakh for Harpers & Queen and several pictures of Bruni, inside the likes of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Eva Herzigová all feature.

Having initially interned at a radio studio in Brittany while a teen in the early 80s – a short stint that saw him play technician, finding his tribe amongst the station’s DJs – Le Goués later moved to Paris and found work at the much celebrated Studio Pin-Up, the go-to shoot space of influential photographers such as Peter Lindbergh and Paolo Roversi, whom he came to assist. Befriending the late Vogue editor Franca Sozzani while in Italy, his career quickly ascended. Hence, he came to be one of Condé Nast’s darlings throughout fashion’s last real golden era – a time, he is forthcoming about, when youthful curiosity merged with the emergence of the supers. The media heavyweight was happy to pick up the bill for all that entailed. 

As Le Goués’s fourth collaboration with powerHouse Books, 90’s arrives 25 years after his acclaimed debut Soul, a bold coffee table title that put Black models front and centre at a time when mainstream publications were largely still championing white as the norm (it would be another decade before Vogue Italia ran their acclaimed, if not enduring, ‘all Black issue’ and longer still until Tyler Mitchell made history shooting for Vogue). Two more books followed in the intervening years, Popular (2000) and Havana Boxing Club (2015), but it’s this latest compendium that returns most to the era that shaped his practice and established the blueprint for his subsequent career. 

Below, Le Goués travels back over his memories of a pre-fame Kate Moss, the freedom and exuberance of working in fashion in the 90s, and how he has seen the industry evolve since then. 

Hi Thierry! I wanted to ask first how you got into photography and came to intern at Studio Pin-Up?

Thierry Le Gouès: When I was 16 I studied photography, then I did an internship in radio. I met a lot of DJs and started DJing in clubs – that was in Brittany, probably in 1982 or 1983 – I had a great time. All my friends moved to Paris, so I moved to Paris with them and met an assistant of Paolo Roversi who woke me up and got me back into photography; he basically said, ‘I know some guys at Pin-Up Studio’. It was the biggest studio in Paris for fashion photography at the time, and I interned there for about one month, then they took on me as an assistant. I did a year and a half at Pin-Up Studio.

Some of the industry’s biggest names were working at the studio at the same time, what was that like?

Thierry Le Gouès: Every day it was Peter Lindbergh, Paolo Roversi, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier – the biggest photographers at that time. I became an assistant on those big jobs and just thought ‘I love this job, this is what I want to do’. So I tested, tested, tested, every weekend, because I could get access to the studio and with that, I had access to all the model agencies. I fell in love with it and just worked really hard, and was lucky enough to go to Italy to show my portfolio. 

“I had no idea when I started shooting Kate Moss she would become so iconic – I would have shot with her even more!” – Thierry Le Goués

And Italy was pretty significant right? 

Thierry Le Gouès: That’s where it all started; I met people and started working with L’UOMO Vogue and Vogue Bambini – they gave me my first trip, to Cuba. Then I met Franca Sozzani and she started giving me work. In Italy they were not afraid – it’s always been more open to new talents I guess – so all the young photographers started there. The French didn’t give many chances to young people, except at Jill with [then fashion director] Elisabeth Dijan, who was really into young photographers, but the rest were more conservative. That was in 86 or 1987. 

Fast forward to now and you’re about to release a book of your work from the 90s. What was your starting point for collating these images?

Thierry Le Gouès: It was the 20th anniversary of my first book Soul in 2018, so I started to look in my archives and spoke to my publisher about doing another book. I said ‘I have this project about all these top models from the 90s, maybe I’ll put a sample together’. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure, but the 90s are now in fashion again and this new generation is fascinated by the period: there was a lot of freedom and a lot of magazines. We were young and it was good money, good to travel – I was lucky enough to work for Condé Nast and they sent me all over the world to shoot fashion stories. I was blessed, you know, I had a great experience. So I said let's put this together and see how it looks, and I'm really happy with the results – the work still works great. I was afraid some images would look old, because after 30 years you don’t always have the same perception, but I think we did pretty good.

The cover image of Kate Moss painted gold is amazing. Can you tell me a bit about the shoot and the gold concept? 

Thierry Le Gouès: This concept came from Esquire magazine, I think she had just done the Calvin Klein campaign with Mario Sorrenti. She was a new superstar and the journalist’s idea was ‘everything she touches, becomes gold’. That's why we decided, with my friend [makeup artist] Kenny Campbell, to paint her gold like Goldfinger. At the time I was doing a lot of black and white, but I think it works perfectly with the 90s being the golden age of fashion. It was so huge, and all that’s disappeared now. We don't know the models anymore – it’s so fast now with the internet and Instagram – those girls were the girls at the time, like Linda Evangelista, Naomi, Stephanie Seymour, Kate… There were ten of them and everybody knew them. So I shot Kate many times, and this cover is very special – I'm the only one who shot her in gold, so this image has become iconic in a way.

You worked with most of the supers at their height, in an era that remains very much in vogue. Were you aware then how influential the models, your photographs and that decade would prove to be, was there a particular energy?

Thierry Le Gouès: It was difficult to get them for magazines – I was lucky because my friend was a booker at Elite and I was doing Condé Nast all the time. But I didn't think we would, 30 years later, still be talking about those girls, I didn't think it would become so big. We were just shooting and making great stories. I had no idea when I started shooting Kate Moss she would become so iconic – I would have shot with her even more! It was a moment, but I think the younger generation has become fascinated by this period through Instagram, and the designers as well. We had much more freedom, it was before the big brands became so global: we were just living the thing, a group of friends having fun. When I went to London I’d have dinner with Kate, Mario, and Camilla Nickerson, then in Paris, we had parties. We were working hard, but nobody was taking it too seriously. That's why I think I lived in a golden period – we had no kids, we were travelling, we were free. 

“We don't know the models anymore – it’s so fast now with the internet and Instagram – those girls were the girls at the time, like Linda Evangelista, Naomi, Stephanie Seymour, Kate… There were ten of them and everybody knew them” – Thierry Le Goués

Carla Bruni wrote the book’s preface, and she speaks a lot about how joyful the shoots were and laughing on set. Can you tell me about working together?

Thierry Le Gouès: Carla and I became friends pretty much right away. When I was an assistant at Pin-Up we met and I think I did her first test. She was so beautiful and had such a great spirit, she became kind of a muse to me. I think it was 1989, I was with a friend on St Barts shooting another girl for Lei magazine. Franca Sozzani was there, she had just joined Vogue Italia with Fabien Baron, the art director, and she said ‘Thierry, I know Carla is on the island shooting for Elle, I would love for you to do a beauty story for me’. I’d never shot for Vogue Italia, so I was like ‘Oh my god that's amazing’. My first story for Vogue Italia with Carla, my friend. She was with another crew and I had lunch with them, I told her, ‘Franca wants us to do a nude story on the beach’. So we did this story and Franca gave me like ten pages, which was major. 

You mentioned Soul, which was quite a landmark in terms of celebrating Black models, and came out a decade before Vogue Italia ran their ‘all Black issue’ in July 2008. Can you speak on the industry response at the time, and how you think the industry’s relationship with diversity has evolved since?

Thierry Le Gouès: Soul came from the Festival of Fashion in Paris in 1994, they asked me to do a special project, which became an exhibition that was the beginning for the book. In the 90s, magazines were not running so many stories with Black girls, it was ‘maybe let's do a story with a Black girl but ‘not too Black, maybe light skinned’, something like that. I always loved to shoot with everyone, I didn’t care, but I think Black Lives Matter has changed the perceptions of people in the industry. Now I see Black girls everywhere, which is great. 

Finally, is there a specific image in the new book that best sums up your experience of the 90s?

Thierry Le Gouès: I mean, there are lots of images I really love, but one of my favourites images is the gold cover, and also some of Naomi Campbell. I really love also, a Carla Bruni one I did for Vogue Homme, the nude in a little hotel. But it’s difficult to point to just one image as there is always a story, behind all the images. That's what is crazy, when I think about it, each image or editorial, there is a story.