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Vladimir And Friends


Being a member of one of fashion’s royal families has its advantages. But there are disadvantages, too. Just ask Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld. Next week, the budding curator makes his debut on the New York art scene with a group photo show at the gallery Collective Hardware. Comprising work by three of Restoin-Roitfeld’s friends—PC Valmorbida, Salim Langatta, and David Mushegain—the show is sponsored in part by Louis Vuitton and will be followed by an A-list soirée at an undisclosed location. As noted, fashion royalty has its perks. On the other hand, Restoin-Roitfeld acknowledges, as the son of she-who-need-not-be-named, he must contend with both high expectations and some people’s suspicion that the only thing he has going for him is his name. “I try to accept the fact that there are always going to be a few cynics who say, Oh, he’s only able to do such-and-such because of who he is, because of his mother’s connections, etc.,” he says. “I don’t dwell on it. I am who I am. At the end of day, like anyone else who’s trying to work creatively, I have to be confident enough to know what I love and do what I like.” When his show opens on Tuesday night, the public can come and judge for themselves; in the meantime, Restoin-Roitfeld talks to about blind dates, working with friends, and going into the family business.

How did you get interested in photography?

Well, I grew up around the medium. Since I was a kid, I’ve been hanging out at photo shoots, meeting photographers, looking at images. It’s instinctive for me.

You studied film at USC. That’s not totally unrelated, obviously, but what made you decide to work with still images, rather than moving ones?

After I graduated, I got a job assisting a producer at Paramount. It didn’t take long for me to realize the business in Hollywood wasn’t for me. I worked at Paramount for six months, and I was restless the whole time. I wanted to start my own project and find a way to work with new talent, people of my own generation. I kept thinking about New York, where I had so many friends who were doing things like taking pictures or painting. So a year ago I moved here, and a little while after I moved, I met Marco Perego, an Italian painter and sculptor who lives in the city, and we decided, why not do a show? We opened in Paris in June. PC Valmorbida, one of the Collective Hardware photographers, he helped with the Perego show, and he was also taking really nice pictures. And my friends David and Salim make very nice pictures, too, so it seemed like the natural next thing to do a photo show.

When you say “friends,” do you mean, like, people you know from around whose work you like, or do you mean friends as in…friends?

No, they’re all really my friends. Salim is pretty much my oldest friend in New York. I originally moved here when I was 17, and someone I kind of knew suggested we hang out. He thought we’d like each other.

You got set up on a blind friend date?

Yeah, basically. Except what happened was that we both came to the same birthday party, and it turned out we did really like each other. And Salim knew David, so when I moved to L.A. for school, he set us up.

Was PC a friend setup, too?

No, him I met the usual way you meet people, just by going out and, you know, meeting people.

Well, now that we’ve got that squared away, what do like about each of their work? It’s all pretty different.

I like that they’re so different. You know, this show, mainly I’m just giving these guys an opportunity to show in New York. I think David was part of a group thing here a while ago, but they’re all pretty underexposed. My only requirement was no fashion photography. I wanted the show to be more personal than that—moments out of each of their own lives. David is showing a lot of portraits, and what I love about his pictures is the way he can really document a person. That’s such a talent. If you know anyone he’s shot, you see his picture and you recognize a true image. Salim is the kind of photographer who spends a million hours in the lab. His sense of color is incredible. He shoots a lot when he travels, and I also feel like he’s got an amazing ability to tell a story in one shot. PC is younger, and he’s is still at the point where he’s experimenting, but his eye for form is quite impressive. You really see that in his architectural images. I love all of their work, and I trust them as artists and as friends, so I’ve given them a lot of leeway to choose what they show.

I’m not trying to stir up trouble, but haven’t you found working with friends a challenge? There’s always that conflict—you need to be objective, but you don’t want to damage the relationship.

I learned a lot about that when I did the show in Paris with Marco. It’s true, no matter how close you are, people come to a project with different ideas, and of course, you get into a few fights. I think if you keep reminding yourself that the fights are because you and your friend both want to make the show as good as possible, then it’s easy to get past the difficulties. And when the show opens, you can feel good about having gone through the experience with someone you love. I like working that way; I like the idea that you can be hanging out with your friends and say, hey, let’s do a show, and two months later, you have one. And everyone I’m working with on this Collective Hardware opening is part of the family, you know—the person who designed the invitation, the DJ, the guy hanging the pictures.

You’re giving the proceeds from the sale of one of each of the photographers’ prints to amfAR. Why that charity?

Oh, you know. My mother has been very involved with amfAR, I know a lot about their work, and I believe in it. That was an easy choice to make.

As long as you’ve brought up your mom… Do you entertain any doubts about going into the family business? Obviously, what you’re doing is different, but it’s not like you’ve decided to be a rebel and go to med school, either.

I have to do what comes naturally. And I know I’m lucky, because there are important people in the fashion industry I’ve known for a long time, who are family friends, and they’re willing to help me. I get a hand up. But there are drawbacks to that, too. I don’t know. We’ll see how this show goes.

But you’re not really allowed to fail, are you? I mean, most people starting out in the arts can keep things small and private and learn from their mistakes in a small, private way.

I’m in the same situation. There are just more people watching me.

Photo: Will Ragozzino / Patrick