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July 30 2014

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Mert and Marcus Talk Playboy, Lady Gaga, And Why They’re Better Together

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Mert and Marcus

Lady Gaga for the latest Versace campaign, but they were also responsible for Givenchy’s Spring ’14 ads-seen-round-the-world featuring Erykah Badu. What’s really got everyone buzzing, though, is the London-based pair’s unconventional Playboy cover and editorial. The spread appears in the iconic girly mag’s sixtieth anniversary issue (on newsstands now), and stars none other than the sharpshooters’ good pal Kate Moss. Below, Style.com speaks to the enduring image-makers about nudity in fashion, late-night chats with Donatella Versace, the philosophy behind their Playboy snaps, and why they’d never go solo like Beyoncé. And because our bandwidth wouldn’t possibly permit us to ramble on about all the unforgettable photos Mert and Marcus have produced for Pop, French Vogue, the Pirelli Calendar, Interview, and more, we asked the duo to send us some of their favorite work. Click through their picks, here..

You two are good friends with Kate Moss, and have been working with her for years. How was the Playboy shoot different from your previous collaborations with her? Did you have any hesitations?
Mert Alas: Oh, my God, it was a no-brainer. When Kate asked us to shoot her for Playboy‘s sixtieth anniversary issue, you know, we had to do it.

Marcus Piggott: We didn’t have any hesitations. We were all in from the start. We’ve done a lot of things with Kate—a lot of role-playing, a lot of fashion pictures, a lot of personal pictures—and when we started this project, we asked ourselves what not to do. We wanted it to be really Kate. It wasn’t about the hair or the makeup, it wasn’t about styling or fashion. It wasn’t about all the frivolous tools of our industry. It was about her—her lips, her charisma, her body, her skin, her eyes…

What makes this shoot stand out from a typical Playboy spread?
MP: She’s dressed more than the girls in most Playboy editorials. It was a bit of a striptease. We wanted to leave a little bit to the imagination, and we wanted the reader to get excited imagining what’s underneath. But there are a lot of crazy pictures that you haven’t seen…

Oh, really? What kind of pictures?
MA: They were just fun pictures—a bit ruder and crazier than what’s in the magazine. Someday they’ll come out! Marcus and Kate and I were laughing, and we told her that we’ll get them out there when she’s 60.

Kate Moss in Playboy

You mentioned that you didn’t want this to be like a fashion shoot, but you can find naked women in pretty much any high-end fashion magazine. Do you think there’s too much nudity in fashion? We are selling clothes, after all.
MA: First of all, we must appreciate what a fashion magazine is. I don’t like calling them fashion magazines. I just call them magazines. In the old days, you’d see a great article, a great fashion picture, and a great nude all under one hat. So, no, I don’t mind seeing a naked girl in a fashion magazine as long as the photograph represents something beyond meat, flesh, and sex. If it’s about an object, or creating a beautiful print, or there’s a message in it, or it inspires you, or makes you happy or angry, then it has substance. And as long as there’s substance, I think, why not?

You two have been shooting together for twenty years. What’s the appeal of working as a pair? And does working solo interest either of you?
MA: When I kill him, I’m gonna do it all! We started as lovers in 1994, and we had not only a romantic relationship, but a love for similar art, styles of fashion, cinema, and that kind of thing. We’ve evolved from that. We learned through the years, but I don’t know any other way of working, and I don’t think Marcus does, either. I don’t know what it would feel like not to have someone to fight with. I feel very privileged to have my “evil voice” as a person next to me. Do we do pictures on our own? Yes, we do. But in the end, our work is what we do together. And there is no plan to go solo, like Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child.

You recently shot the Spring ’14 Versace campaign with Lady Gaga, and in November you leaked an image on Instagram before the ads’ formal release. How has social media changed the way you work?
MA: The story behind the Lady Gaga picture is actually very funny. It was the middle of the night, and I was talking to Donatella, and I said, “Donatella, when can I put the photo on Instagram? What’s the release date for the campaign?” And she said to me, “Just do it now.” So it was a leak, but had approval from darling Donatella. As far as technology goes, I love the fact that you can take a picture and just put it out there with your phone. I find it very funny and entertaining. I would love to be the kind of photographer who walks around with a camera around his neck capturing a lot of things, but unfortunately neither I nor Marcus is that kind of person. Camera phones and Instagram are kind of a release because I can take a picture of anything any time.

Versace

Was it intentional to make Lady Gaga look like a mini Donatella Versace in the campaign?
MA: Yeah! We were like, “What are we gonna do for Lady Gaga?” She’s done every amazing look. She’s been every kind of monster. But a few weeks before the shoot, Donatella told me that Gaga did a song called “Donatella,” and we said, “Oh, my God. This is it! She’s Donatella! She’s got to be Donatella!”

What was Donatella’s reaction when she saw Lady Gaga in her image?
MP: She loved it.

MA: She was so much fun. We listened to the song “Donatella” so loud on set, and on one side there was Donatella, and on the other side was Donatella. At one point, I said, “I think we should do the hair like this.” And then Gaga said, “Would Donatella wear it like that?” And Donatella said, “Yes, she would wear it like that.”

So many photographers today define themselves in terms of being a “film” or “digital” photographer. At this point, do you think there’s a difference between the two mediums?
MA: Do you think there’s a difference between a record and a CD? It’s exactly that, the difference. The musicians are the same, but the platforms have changed. Now instead of editing pictures by painting them, you do it digitally. We have to move forward, and we have to understand and appreciate the tools we have in front of us. Digital only becomes a mockery when the tools are used in a senseless way. We don’t use our tools to just airbrush people and make them look like aliens. We use them because we have a vision in our head, and we would like to get this onto paper. We use them to create what’s in our imagination.

Photos: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott

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