12.07.2015 - Katherine Koniecki


Steven Meisel


He was born in Manhattan and grew up among New York’s club kids, his glossy jet black hair, bandana and motorcycle jacket where his elemental trimmings, his friends Anna Sui and Steven Sprouse around. Illustrating was his outlet during his Mudd Club days and after majoring in Fashion Illustration at Parsons School of Design he went on to teach classes and work a day job as house illustrator for Halston and Women’s Wear Daily. His earliest influencers were the great Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and finding the perfect subject was his ultimate quest. It began with his model sightings of LouLou de la Falaise, original Yves Saint Laurent muse, Marisa Breneson and Twiggy about the street of New York, he would wait outside their modeling agencies and snap them paparazzi style with his unassuming lens. Photography and illustration crossed rails while working at Women’s Wear Daily, Alexander Liberman, the Editorial Director at Condé Nast asked Meisel to go to Paris to shoot the collections. The one to have jolted the career of some of the industry’s leading faces like Linda Evangelista and Karen Elson, he has unanimously extended Madonna’s leading reign when he photographed her ‘Like a Virgin’ album cover in ’84 and later on her prolific book, ‘Sex’, which was designed by Fabien Baron. His subjects and sets are always cast with a hint of impeccable strangeness and it is the angle with which he holds a mirror up to culture which has become a Steven Meisel ruling mark.


Meisel’s close collaborators have called him a cultural vanguard. As an image maker he understands the ebbs involved in styling and unravelling the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps it is his rigorous privacy and diversion from public attention that keeps his humour so well placed. Distancing himself personally from the images that he creates allows for the fantasy to infiltrate the paradox and to him, glamour and beauty are by no means mutually inclusive. Inasmuch the themes that he chooses very much reflect the excess: wealth, war and power have all been covered with shades of irony pulsing through his narrative. While living in Los Angeles he began to shoot a series with Amber Valetta and Georgina Grenville in a Beverly Hills mansion poised in a perfectly twisted tone of ease and discontent. The images that mirrored the lavish life they live were briskly scooped up by Versace who ran a selection of images for their 2000 campaign. The humorous undertone that runs through the series wholly reflects fashion’s societal contradiction between pleasures and problems. Impeccably styled, the Versace clothes drip off the page in the exact note with which Meisel’s mastery plays an ever-so-subtle truth within the fantasy structure of adulthood.


His models are much more than a subject within his frame and their participation within the creative process is paramount. His call is well received through the reciprocal admiration that his models share for him, due in part to his way of honing into the shot with an acute sensitivity that locks this personal intensity within the frame. Karen Elson recalls her first shoot with Meisel on her 18th birthday. It was ‘97, The Prodigy and Massive Attack were the soundtracks blasting on set. In a moment of entrancement, locked into Steven’s direction, the Raggedy Ann carnival inspired fantasy for Vogue Italia became the cover image that launched her career. Kristen McMenamy has divulged a whole hearted sentiment of beauty and utmost attention that Steven gifts his models’ with a sense of safety and trust in every sitting. The supers of the 90s, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell were among his close friends. They would shop, party and travel together, it was all an essential part of Steven’s world whereby the inner fantasy of his images fluently aligned with the workings of his outer reality. His crew are the pillars to his imagination and he has carved a solid team of purveyors from the fashion industry’s stock: stylists Anna Sui and Lori Goldstein, makeup mastery by Pat McGrath, hair creations by Oribe and Guido Palau. His creative process is never segmented and his hidden and highly sensitive constructs saturate his vision’s emotional space. It is a process with which Meisel himself calls a coalition of elements that are very much in his head and in his heart. On set he takes on a close role as a director with the careful lighting preparations set long before the shoot. His aptly tuned sense of atmosphere comes down to the pink rhinestone lighter on the table of the Versace set or a blitz decision to swap the pink jellybeans in the jar for the yellow ones. The sensible confidence that he elicits comes through a strong eye for graphical composition as drawn by his formerly illustrated lifeline.


Momentous milestones have trickled in an out of Steven Meisel’s career, all amounting to a fully entrenched set of relationships which have granted him free creative reign. His longstanding relationship with Franca Sozzani the Editor In Chief at Vogue Italia has placed more than 311 Italian Vogue covers in the annex since 1988. Fantastically vivid campaigns have inundated the pages, most notably his repeated relationship with Prada, for which he has just shot the fall 2015 campaign with a sub-line of modern femininity cast with a slew of fresh faces. His awareness is aptly tuned to the workings of a convoluted world that flows through his full display of fantasy. An eye on the pulse of the times, fashion foremost and utmost synergy with the team around him, his secrecy still remains well kept.

Short Facts


His long jet-black black hair, motorcycle jacket, secrecy. He is rigorously private, keeping interviews limited to one in seven or so years as with his recently traveling retrospective ‘Role Play’, which spanned Paris, London and New York saw no sign of Steven Meisel in attendance. 


His photographs have been coined to hit the themes with an impeccable strangeness. He has an ironic humour which runs through his images and he acts as culture reflector, often challenging the current political and societal movements through his high fashion narratives.


During their Parsons days he and his good friend and former stylist Anna Sui would shoot headshots for a hair salon in Greenwich Village for the Soho News.


Steven Meisel’s work has circulated numerous high profile exhibitions such as MoMa in New York and the White Cube Gallery in London. His recognition has most recently been honoured in a touring exhibition by contemporary auction house, Phillips. 


1954 - Born.

Steven Meisel is born on June 5, 1954 in Manhattan. 

1966 - Model Watch.

Steven falls under the model’s hypnotic spell at the age of twelve and he discovers the famous faces of the time, Twiggy. He would wait outside of her agency demanding to meet her. 

1973 - Parsons.

He attends Parson’s The New School for Design with a major in Fashion Illustration. 

1975 - Day Job.

He begins working as an illustrator for Halston and Women’s Wear Daily while shooting editorial images on the weekends. He got his first major gig with a camera during his days at Women’s Wear Daily when Alexander Liberman, the Editorial Director at Condé Nast, asked him to go to Paris to shoot the collections. 

1979 - Paparazzi.

Steven discovered the it girls of the decade LouLou de la Falaise, original Yves Saint Laurent muse, and Marisa Berenson living across the street from his school in New York City. He would wait for them outside of their modeling agencies to snap pictures of them paparazzi style on the streets of New York.

1980 - Signed.

Steven is discovered and signed by Jimmy Moffat, co-founder of the powerhouse fashion talent agency Art + Commerce. 

1984 - Madonna.

He shoots Madonna’s prolific ‘Like a Virgin’ album cover. 

1987 - Alaïa.

Provocation from the first shot, Meisel shoots one of his earliest images with model Sean Bohary nude in fur and stilettos for Azzedine Alaïa on Long Island. 

1988 - Legendary Women.

This year marks Steven Meisel’s crowning of creative reign for Vogue Italia under the direction of Editor In Chief Franca Sozzani. He was strongly drawn to older models and actresses who held integrity, which led him to photograph the iconic black and white portrait of Veruschka, Isabella Rossellini and Lauren Hutton in this year.

1992 - Sex.

He photographs Madonna’s iconic ‘Sex’ book designed by Fabian Baron.’92 is also the breakthrough year of grunge which he shoots with Kristen McMenamy and Naomi Campbell, styled by Grace Coddington in full ‘Grunge and Glory’ for American Vogue. 

1995 - Calvin Klein.

Steven Meisel’s notorious campaign for Clavin Klein was basement bare and became wrapped in attention for its explicit simplicity. The campaign ran despite the uproar. 

1997 - Karen

He saw Karen Elson’s potential before anyone else. Her fist casting for the cover of Vogue Italia was preceded by a week of planning discussions: how short should her hair be cut, dyed which colour, eyebrows shaved or plucked? The resulting image is a beautiful carnival inspired spread and her hair fire red and chopped, eyebrows shaved and shot on her 18th birthday. 

2000 - Melting Asphalt.

Anouck Lepere and Raquel Zimmermann melt into the pavement on a scorching deserted street in New York City. The shoot was set on a movie lot at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, Steven Meisel’s New York home split. 

2001 - White Cube.

The prestigious White Cube Gallery in London exhibits Steven Meisel’s work in Europe for the first time in large scale format exhibition of his Versace Campaign: Four Days in L.A. 

2004 - MoMA.

In the first ever MoMA exhibition devoted exclusively to fashion photography and film: ‘Fashion Fiction in Photography since 1990’, Steven Meisel’s work hangs alongside 13 fellow photographers from the world of fashion and contemporary art among Cindy Sherman, Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti and Ellen Von Unwerth

2009 - Hyères.

The 24th International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France enlisted Steven Meisel’s momentous collection of 311 iconic Vogue Italia covers in an exhibition. 

2012 - Moving Picture.

Erecting still images to moving pictures has become a double bill to his campaign images. Along with one of his collaborators, filmmaker Gordon Von Steiner, they produced two exquisite mood videos for Italia this year: ‘Face the Future’ features Carolyn Murphy and unites themes of wealth and surveillance in true Steven Meisel style. 

2014 - Loewe.

Meisel photographs J.W. Anderson’s redesign and branding for the 168 year old Spanish fashion house Loewe. The images are an offshoot from Meisel’s 1997 Vogue Italia spread inspired by the artist Alex Katz. 

2015 - Role Play.

This year marks a traveling exhibition of Steven Meisel’s rich body of work. Phillips auction house curates an exhibition called “Role Play” which will be traveling from Paris to London and New York. 


© GettyImages, Instagram


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