August 21 2014

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Juergen Teller Had His Hands Full Everywhere


Fashion’s constant state of flux means that few things ever remain, well, constant. For this reason, Juergen Teller’s creative relationship with Marc Jacobs as the shooter of all campaigns bearing some form of Jacobs’ imprimatur is so remarkable. Teller’s raw, intimate, and often comedically irreverent style is the thread running through the various seasons, but the mind meld between designer and photographer has managed to stay interesting and provocative over the course of a decade. Two of Teller’s past MJ campaigns have evolved into books: Louis XV, from his infamous romp with Charlotte Rampling at the Hôtel Crillon for Spring 2004 and Juergen Teller, Cindy Sherman, Marc Jacobs from the Spring 2005 shoot with the artist. But this week, Steidl releases the simply named Juergen Teller: Marc Jacobs Advertising 1998-2009, a chronological compendium of every single ad. caught up with Teller on his publicity tour to talk about getting dressed with Cindy Sherman, the arc of Marc, and his adventures at the Louvre.

So this book contains literally every single campaign organized chronologically?

We had to cut it down a little bit, but yes. That was kind of important to me that you see the development through the years. It starts with the first, which is Kim Gordon, and ends with Raquel Zimmermann. And it’s basically done as it appears in magazines, like tear sheets. It’s a crisp white page and you see faintly the tearsheet is a bit off-white. You can see that it’s Artforum size and it’s square, or that it’s Teen Vogue and it’s tiny. It’s quite important to me to not take a single photograph out and put it together as some sort of book. I wanted to see it how the consumer sees it in the end.

Let’s talk about the collaborative process. What happens every season with you and Marc?

It’s pretty much fifty-fifty. Sometimes he has an idea. Sometimes I have an idea. It comes through friends of ours who we’re interested in. Like he’s friends with Sonic Youth, and Kim was asking him whether she could wear a dress of his for her tour. He was really flattered and liked the idea. And he called me up and said, “What do you think? We don’t really have an advertising budget but there’s Joe’s Magazine“—which is Joe McKenna’s that he used to do—”and we would have a double page.” He told me the story about Sonic Youth and I said, “Well, I like them very much too.” Then I met them backstage and we took the picture.

You shot that one backstage?

No, I shot them onstage. That is really the only example out of the whole 576 pages where I’m not in complete control. You could call it a little bit more reportage. Everything else is completely thought-through and art directed by me.

So the two of you decide on a subject and then you direct it from there?

Well, that really depends. For example, he wanted to have at some point Kate Moss. But then she was very difficult and we didn’t have much budget then to pay a supermodel. So we were depending on her time and she couldn’t do it and this and that. Then she just called saying, “I’m going to take some time off and go to Ronnie Wood’s place in Ireland. Why don’t you come shoot there?” Very often I just like the idea of going to places where they are. Or like with Asia Argento, she was filming in Prague. So that was a great excuse for me to pack my bags and take all the clothes. I went on my own and we just figured it out over there.

Do you remember the first time you met Marc and Robert Duffy?

Well, Robert and Marc were very keen to have Venetia [Scott] help style the show. Venetia had turned it down because we just had our baby. It was an impossible idea to go to New York for three weeks. But they were very persistent in such an accommodating, nice way. They said, “We just want to fly over and we don’t want to intrude too much but if you could just listen to us.” So they came to London and we had this meeting. It was a lovely day. I remember it very well, in our garden. We both liked them very much. They were both so forthgiving [sic] with a kind of understanding of a mother. They were very, very good about the whole scenario. Venetia thought that would be a good challenge. So I came along to help out.

Have things changed greatly in the way that you work with him from the early days?

Well, thank God it does. That’s the kind of nice thing about it; it’s always changing and it’s always challenging. I find it just fascinating to work with Marc because there’s a constant progress with things. He changed a lot with himself of being the grunge boy into what he is now, and in terms of how the fashion developed. If that wouldn’t have changed, it would be boring. Do you know what I mean? It’s good.

Was there one subject in particular that was a tougher puzzle to solve?

I pretty much had my hands full everywhere. I got involved really heavily with everyone to try to tackle the idea of what I think a Marc Jacobs ad should look like. All the subjects themselves were very fantastic and totally up for an adventure. It’s not that there was somebody who was difficult. To your earlier question, the longer I went on, the easier it became for us in terms of the subject because they knew what they were getting into. They were excited to be in the ads. I was really surprised, in a positive way, with Victoria Beckham, who really did her homework. She knew all the ads of all the people and studied my work.

How did Victoria deal with the way that you work, without a full crew?

This is a bit of a complicated thing. It isn’t really always so true what sometimes is in the newspapers. Because in certain scenarios, for sure there is a hair and makeup person there. Of course there are other scenarios; like with Kate Moss and Asia Argento and Lisa Marie and Sofia Coppola, there was nobody there. So it’s not always true what the newspapers write.

Well, we can correct that misconception here. I think the Charlotte Rampling campaign is the most infamous. What do you think when you look at those images now?

Uh, I don’t really look at them anymore. [Laughs.] I have extremely fond memories of this time and I know exactly how they look. I liked the idea that it doesn’t have to be an 18-year-old model all the time. So you have a very successful European actress in her early 60s or whatever she is and then a kind of slightly much younger, kind of overweight guy who you don’t normally see in a fashion magazine, either. But I wanted to portray a certain kind of intimacy and friendship, which also you don’t see in so many fashion ads either. So it was all about that, really.

And of course you didn’t fit the clothes.

Through my excitement of doing this project with her, I completely lost sight of my weight and these model sizes or whatever they are. What are they called?

Sample size.

Ah yes. I mean, obviously I know that because I’m a professional fashion photographer. Then there was this pair of silver shorts which obviously fitted me. Anyway, the next day she came and said, “Well, what are we going to do?” And I said, “I just had this idea. Let me just show what I’m going to wear.” So I came out with it—the little shorts and I kept my socks on and that was it. And she said, “Oh my God, what are we going to do?” I sort of started stuttering and said, “Maybe I could kiss you and fondle your breast.” I couldn’t even believe that came out of my mouth, but that’s what I wanted to do. Then the room was completely silent. I just thought, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve said in my whole life.” And she lit her cigarillo and said, “Well, let’s go and I’ll tell you when to stop.” I thought, “This is genius. This is the best job I’ve ever had!”

Are you still surprised that she agreed?

Uh, no. It’s my job to do that in the right way. You know, I wouldn’t ask that of Victoria Beckham or somebody else because that would be completely inappropriate. It’s only because I knew her for so many years and I knew where I was trying to go, where it would make sense.

You recently shot Charlotte again, this time nude at the Louvre with Raquel Zimmermann, in the images that you’re showing on September 10 at Lehmann Maupin. How did you get permission to shoot there?

Through a friend of mine who’s the editor in chief of this magazine called Paradis. We’ve been working on this series of nudes together as well as this other series of portraits of Sir Norman Foster and David Hockney. He said to me, “Do you want to do some nudes in the Louvre?” And I said, “Yeah right. Call me later!” And then he called me later and asked, “Have you thought about it?” I said, “No! That’s just not going to happen.” And he said, “No, I’m serious.” I had been talking to Charlotte about doing some nudes of her for the past two years, but that didn’t quite materialize. But now I thought, “Well, this is something. I can pick up the telephone and say, “Charlotte, it’s your turn now. You’re going to be in front of the Mona Lisa and you’re going to be naked.”

Is it meant to be a critique of how women are viewed in the history of art?

Uh, no. It’s not a critique at all. It’s like, “Hey, me and Charlotte are in the Louvre.” And a little bit more weirder. It’s like, you know, I want to have an adventure. You know, I was there in the daytime before and there’s all these tourists just packed around the Mona Lisa and you can’t even see anything. They’re not even looking at it but just pressing the buttons on their mobile phones to show it to their friend and say, “I’ve seen the Mona Lisa.” It was pretty fantastic to be there on your own. It was a bit spooky and kind of strange. It had a totally different quality.

Speaking of art, what was it like to essentially do an artistic collaboration with Cindy Sherman for Spring 2005?

Well, the whole book is an artistic collaboration with all my subjects, if I may say so.

Sure, you may say so, but how was it working with Cindy?

Well, basically in that case it was Marc’s idea. He said, “What do you think about Cindy for the campaign?” I was like, “Definitely! Let’s do it.” Then pretty quickly after I put the phone down, I thought, “What the fuck am I going to do?” She’s been dabbling in and out of fashion and her work surrounds itself with disguises and costumes and fashion in one way or another. And I remember this fantastic Comme des Garçons ad that was just brilliant. I thought, “What the hell can I do that’s not just redundant?” I was seriously questioning what I could bring to it. Then I thought the one thing I’m quite good at is doing something quite direct with a subject whereas Cindy especially in her film still work doesn’t really look into the camera. Then it occurred to me that she’s always on her own. I thought a role-playing could be really fun, and challenging for her. So I had actor A and actor B and actor C, but then I thought, “Fuck these actors. It doesn’t make sense.” My wife and me just looked at each other and we realized it’s just got to be me again.

How did the shoot exactly work? Were you each dressing yourselves or each other?

I tried to be in her world where I kind of got wigs and stupid little things. And she got a whole sort, from fake teeth to wigs and this that and the other. Bigger breasts and all this sort of stuff. And then we sort of dressed each other together. It was like, “Hey, look at this. This looks stupid, in a really good way.” And then we figured out what kind of looks go together in a good, stupid way. Then she did the makeup on me and we tried different wigs. Then we decided that we liked it so much that we’re going to do a book.

Your creative freedom on these shoots is kind of legendary. Were you worried when LVMH took a majority stake in Marc Jacobs that it would change?

It never occurred to me. Now I’m thinking, maybe I should have thought about that. It meant that I probably got paid. But otherwise, it couldn’t have really interfered at all. They [Jacobs and Robert Duffy] are both so strong in what they want. Obviously Marc Jacobs is now a very big company, but Marc’s really in control and when he likes something, that’s what it’s going to be. That’s the strength of his whole success anyway, instead of having another CEO in front and some art director and everybody with their own opinion.

Photo: Juergen Teller