Christopher Niquet is the creative director at the New York fashion house of his partner, the American designer Zac Posen.
A few months ago you published “Models Matter”, a book of photographs and short essays about your favorite models. Are models and beauty an obsession of yours?
They are and they are not. Now that the book exists it is not only beauty and models that fascinate me. It was a starting point, but the book was to keep alive some faces that are going to disappear. I know them because I am an obsessive fashion magazine lover.
You have spent your professional life in the fashion world. What is the role of a model in that world?
I used to think the role was to inspire designers, photographers, and writers. Now I realize it is only to sell. In the 90s, models were stars. I think of Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Carla Bruni. Now, however good looking a model can be, if she is not professional it cannot work. They are the ones that signed the death certificate for models. They were good looking, hard-working, inspiring, and they had a real commercial value. After that the fashion industry realized they had too much power and so they slowly took it away. Kate Moss was a gamble. They took that short, skinny girl with ugly legs and bad behavior and she became a star.
“What is interesting now is the “remix” of things.”
Giraffe Girl © The New York Times 1967, Gösta Peterson. Courtesy of TURN Gallery.
What can we say about today?
Now you have another kind. The Instagram “famous daughters of”. Reality stars. They don’t look like models, but because they have a name and they have followers the brand hires them because of the audience they have.
Pierre Bergé, some years ago when with Yves Saint Laurent they sold their company, said that it was time to do it as “fashion was finished”. Do you agree with that?
I do now. I did not understand it at the time. I thought it was an old man talking. Personally I felt it was very alive as I had just entered the fashion industry myself. In retrospect I understand what he meant. He belonged to the old school where fashion was not just a business as it is now.
Do you consider yourself a stylist or a fashion writer?
I consider myself a writer, not a fashion writer, and I hate the fact that I wasted 10 years of my life as a stylist.
But don’t you still do it, for instance for Brooks Brothers?
Yes, in order to help Zac Posen, and also, to be fully transparent, because I am extremely well paid and then I can do other projects. For instance, I write a column for French Vanity Fair every month about “jet set” and “lifestyle”. It is about the dead Café Society of the 60s and 70s that I care about.
Is it nostalgia?
Yes. Super nostalgia. Everything you have not experienced for yourself you look at with nostalgia. I am more curious about the era of the Palace nightclub in Paris in the 60s and 80s when I was not born, than for the grunge music of the 90s because I was already there. I see the kids now in their twenties are obsessed by the 90s because they were not there.
You are a style witness in New York. Is there anything that happens today of special interest to you?
There is and there is not. What is interesting now is the “remix” of things. I don’t see anything really new going on, but I see a different way of mixing references.
I think that for everything in music, magazines, fashion, it is about components that we all know, but the associations are different; and that is kind of exciting. Young people don’t necessarily know where their references are coming from. The letting go of context is interesting. All my education and professional life the emphasis was on knowledge.
Is it chaos now?
Yes, completely. I like the irreverence in the attitude. Now everything is on the same level. For the young generation there are no “sacred monsters”. Greta Garbo was considered better than Claudette Colbert. Today it does not matter where they come from or do.
“The fashion industry realized the models had too much power and so they slowly took it away.”
Are there still some stars?
It’s not the same. They become stars in a second, and in a second they will disappear. Look at Lindsay Lohan, a big Disney child star, then an adult star. She had her first grown up role with Meryl Streep and Robert Altman; and then disappeared.
You said that fashion is over in the historical sense but what are you and Zac Posen trying to do?
Zac is lucky because the core of his business is dressing for very specific purposes, a kind of dressing which is representation for galas, weddings, bar mitzvahs, red carpets… this still exists and there is still a clientele for it, on these particular occasions when a woman wants and needs to project an aura, to project beauty and confidence; and this kind of need is not going to disappear.
What will disappear?
Certain codes about how one is supposed to present himself, depending on the occasion.
Are we in a blue jeans time?
There are only a few places in New York or other cities where a man needs to wear a jacket and a tie. Women don’t wear tailleurs, and not even blue jeans anymore, but yoga pants. When you see photos of the Vogue offices and staff, until 5 years ago there was a kind of dress code. Now it is gone. I don’t think that 20 years ago a woman wearing hot pants and flip-flops would have been acceptable in a professional setting.
Are there new talents and new ideas?
I think it goes back to what I said before. It is hard for me to see what is new because it melts into the “remix”. We have to wait, I think a few years, to see who has a real point of view.
What about photographers?
For me the last real photographer who emerged was Juergen Teller in the mid-90s. He stripped all the “artifice” and for the first time presented the very raw idea of the woman and of fashion. Since then we have had a technical evolution with digital photography, but it didn’t change the content.
Models Matter by Christopher Niquet
Iman by Francesco Scavullo
Carolyn Murphy by Vanina Sorbent for Zac Posen
“We have to wait, I think a few years, to see who has a real point of view.”
Why are you writing a book on Gösta “Gus” Peterson, who recently died?
The reason why is because he was extremely successful and prolific in the 60s, but he always refused to expose his images in galleries or in books. For him the fashion photo lives in a fashion magazine, except for the fact that in this new digital world if you want to exist for the future you have to exist digitally, take a photo of the book and post it online.
Being nostalgic do you miss your country?
With my head I live in France. But whenever I go back to Paris I hate it.
Maybe it is the context of political correctness that did not use to be; and I don’t think it fits with France. Macron to me is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is a Republican and not a man of the Left. The worst is that people believe he is a socialist. Of course he is better than Marine Le Pen and this is not hard, and it is the reason why I voted for him. But I was certainly not very inspired.
What do you feel about America today?
Since Trump was elected, since he is so extreme, it united citizens against him. And to me that is a nice thing. I am horrified about his behavior, but as I just said I am happy that the common hatred for him brought different people of different ideas together.
What about your experience in New York?
When you are a foreigner it gives you a freedom not to play too much by the rules. In France I would be less free. Here I understand the rules, but I am not obliged to follow them as I can say: “I am French.”
New York, September 2017
Images from the collection of Christopher Niquet.
Enjoy this Interview? Share it with a friend.