Back to the Dark Side: Panos Yiapanis on Love and His Creative Evolution
You can’t miss a Panos Yiapanis photograph. Since beginning his career in the late nineties—working alongside photographer Corinne Day—the 38-year-old stylist has honed a dark, gritty, raw-to-the-bone aesthetic that is distinctly his own. His particular vision has led to a longstanding creative relationship with Rick Owens, as well as countless spreads in such magazines as i-D, W, and Vogue Italia shot by the likes of Steven Meisel, Inez & Vinoodh, and Mert & Marcus. To add to his accomplishments, last week, Katie Grand tapped him to become Love‘s fashion director-at-large. Here, Yiapanis talks to Style.com about the new gig, the state of fashion, and staying true to his look.
Why did now feel like the right time to join a magazine?
I feel like I’ve come full circle in terms of what I do. I’ve kind of been nomadic, which is putting it nicely. I’ve been a gypsy, going from one magazine to another. I feel like I’m back to where I was aesthetically when I first started out in terms of what I want to say, so having this position now gives me a new way of conveying that message. When I first started out, a lot of what I did was very personal and I had evolved away from doing that. People would say, “Well, maybe that’s a little too creative for us,” so I started to clean up what I did, which didn ‘t work for me. I’m happier doing what I enjoy, so it felt right to go back to my messier aesthetic.
How do you balance art and commerciality?
I don’t think you have to. I always argue that the best results are when both of them are at their height. I always yap about the nineties, when brands were willing to put out campaigns that captured the spirit of the brand as opposed to the product. That seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. So I don’t think creativity and commercialism are mutually exclusive. I honestly think they’re best when they both collide. But that doesn’t seem to be a thought that’s shared widely right now.
Your aesthetic is usually described as dark and moody. Do you feel that’s accurate?
It’s funny because when the Love announcement was made, I saw this tweet that said, “Love just got darker.” And I don’t know if that’s necessarily true; maybe I just got a bit brighter. There is a darkness to what I do, but it’s never macabre or unpleasant and I always try to adapt to the situation. The clients I’ve worked with vary from pure brands like Calvin to flashy brands like Cavalli. And I enjoy that diversity. I enjoy sitting in a room full of embroidery and fur and gold trimmings one day, and then going into a different setting the following day where it’s all about stripping things away. Love is a very positive publication. So on the one hand, it kind of works to go against that and give it another voice, but at the same time, I’m not going in there to paint the walls black.
You have very close relationships with Riccardo Tisci and Rick Owens. How did you come to work with them and what are those relationships like?
I met Rick when he was still working out of a little studio in North Hollywood. We’ve been working together for over a decade now, so we’ve kind of established our own way of doing things. It’s the ultimate joy to go and work with Rick. You don’t have to go through all the pleasantries. If something’s horrendous, you just say, “That’s horrendous.” It’s as simple as that. And Riccardo was someone who was very supportive of me right from the beginning. I think he was the second person to ever send me a thank you note for shooting his clothes. Even though we don’t work together anymore, there’s still a very strong bond.
Corinne Day jumpstarted your career. Can you tell me a bit about that creative relationship?
She was probably the singular biggest influence on my life. She was extremely giving. I had no fashion knowledge or training or point of reference, and yet she saw something in me that she thought was relevant and exciting. I never worked with another stylist, so the only way I know this job is through the template that we forged together. She was very loyal, but she was a nightmare at the same time. She was extremely opinionated and stubborn, but she had the most amazing eye. She had this innate ability to see things differently and she affected such a change in fashion photography. We saw each other every day apart from Sundays when she went to see her grandmother.
I read that you used to wear Ralph Lauren when you were a kid in Greece. How do you get from that to cloaking yourself in black?
That was my big effort to fit in with a certain part of Greek society. It was a futile exercise from the get-go. I love Ralph Lauren to this day. That’s the irony. I still wear Ralph Lauren. But yeah, it was definitely an attempt to adopt a uniform to blend in. It didn’t work.
What do you think of this season’s punk trend?
I remember when I first started, a lot of people were so dismissive of what I did, and then there was one season, maybe eight years ago, when there was a grunge trend. All of a sudden, lots of people wanted to speak to me. It felt ironic to be almost reduced to being a trend. Trends are beyond my sphere of interest. I find it bizarre to collate a lot of people’s creativity into one category.
How do you feel about the state of fashion at the moment? Are you happy with what you’ve been seeing?
I guess not, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. I think the commerce has overtaken the creativity. But I’m not so negative about it because I can still go ahead and do what I want to do, and there’s plenty of great clothes out there. I don’t have to be so altruistic about it. Me moaning isn’t going to affect any change.
Is there anyone you’re dying to work with at Love?
Well, I’ve worked with Courtney Love and that kind of sums it up. You couldn’t want a more insane, amazing person to work with. She’s been the highlight and will always be the highlight. We’ve done quite a few projects together, and when you’re in a room with her, you just sit back and watch. It’s a mighty fantastic scene to behold. Yeah. She’s a special one.