April 28, 2009

The Godfather

Meisel and His Models

Over the years, Steven Meisel has developed an extraordinary body of work, an almost impenetrable mystique—and an uncanny knack for finding fashion's favorite faces.

Photo: For his self-portrait, the photographer gathered together the superstars, past and present, whose careers he launched. Clockwise from left, Carolyn Murphy, Liya Kebede, Kristen McMenamy, Coco Rocha, Jessica Stam, Amber Valletta, Linda Evangelista, Gisele Bündchen, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Karen Elson, Natalia Vodianova, Guinevere Van Seenus, Stella Tennant, and Agyness Deyn.

The Bee's Knees
Linda Evangelista in a 1930s-influenced ensemble by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, October 1992.

Grunge and Glory
Naomi Campbell and Kristen McMenamy announce the decade's new look, December 1992.

Heady Days
Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, and Christy Turlington, September 1994.
Blown Away
Stella Tennant in a Versus by Versace white suit, October 1997.

Putting on the Ritz
Carolyn Murphy conjures couture, October 1998.

Patriot Games
Gisele Bündchen on an all-American cover, December 2001.
Feather Weight
Liya Kebede makes a bold move, May 2005.

Purple Reign
Karen Elson becomes a rare garden bloom, December 2006.
Day Shift
Agyness Deyn as a perfectly outfitted working girl, February 2007.

Belle Epoque
Natalia Vodianova in Vogue's homage to Poiret, May 2007.

Fresh Face
Jessica Stam as the girl next door in a new-model portfolio, May 2007.
Paris on My Mind
Guinevere Van Seenus in a Brassaï-inspired fashion story, September 2007.
Dutch Treat
Coco Rocha gets a Vermeer-style makeover, September 2007.
Once, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away—early-nineties, supermodel-mad Manhattan—I went to a party at music producer Shep Pettibone's midtown apartment. It was a sultry July evening, and he lived in a penthouse with a huge terrace. The party had a decadent feeling: Everyone smoked; there were well-stocked bars inside and out; the crowd was by any definition a beautiful one. I got the sense that things would still be going on long after I had gone to bed.

At one point, I noticed that Steven Meisel and his tight little clique—which on that evening included a tall, cute blond guy and Naomi Campbell—were languidly slouching about, smoking. I had just run out of cigarettes, and so I turned and asked the group if I could bum one. Meisel, who had a bandanna covering his head and dark sunglasses on, did not even glance up.

The encounter—the first of many times in my life when I would not meet Steven Meisel—left an indelible impression, which was one of intimidating inscrutability. The fact that for so many years he has worn what amounts to a hip-gay-male version of a burka has only added to my perception of him as a creature of mystery. He is always covered up! Even when it's blazing hot out, he's got on some sort of headgear and layers of black clothing. It is a look that is designed to obfuscate and to keep people away. And it works.

Over the years, Meisel has become ever more reclusive, rarely going to fashion shows or parties, almost never giving interviews. There have been no retrospectives or gallery openings or lush coffee-table books published, nothing that would require him to face the public. His friends—to a one—say that he is shy and especially reserved around strangers, and they insist that his mysteriousness is not a cultivated affectation; it is just part of his nature.

"I think that he almost has to be that way to protect himself," says Amber Valletta. "He's so extremely sensitive."

"The Godfather" has been edited for Style.com; the complete story appears in the May 2009 issue of Vogue and here.
Photographed by Steven Meisel


  1. I've always been fascinated by him. I think so much about it is because he's such a mystery. Those are the people that intrigue us. We want to know more.

  2. I love this photos.Very chic.Xoxo

  3. I love these photos. Oh and there's Coco Rocha! :D

  4. Meisel is a master-mind of photography. His work with Naomi and Agyness is probably my favorite, although Coco Rocha comes close. He always seems to bring out the best in the models, which is what a great photographer is supposed to do.

  5. He is a really great photographer!

  6. The jewel tones are totally striking!


  7. Cool story! I adore the first picture.

  8. Wow, he sounds like such a sensitive man. I can attempt to understand him and I think I can. Since he's been in the public arena it must be so fustrating to have lost the privacy about yourself. People think they know you and people want to be you/want to be a part of your clique that you can't be sure whether they gennuinely liek you or not. I hope you understand what i mean by this? :)

    He is though an amazing photographer :D


  9. Haha I loved this! And every one of the models is gorgeous. I like your header, too. Tres chic haha :D

  10. love the pictures of karen, linda, and guinivere!


  11. wow, i love this post. i'm obsessed with photographers and their models.

  12. I love his work! Fabulous post! Adore Carolyn Murphy . . .


  13. Thanks for posting all these - all the shots are stunning in their own way, even though they're so different from each other.

  14. You are so lucky to have seen him, gorgeous photos!

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