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.
Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, and Christy Turlington, September 1994.
Stella Tennant in a Versus by Versace white suit, October 1997.
Putting on the Ritz
Carolyn Murphy conjures couture, October 1998.
Gisele Bündchen on an all-American cover, December 2001.
Liya Kebede makes a bold move, May 2005.
Karen Elson becomes a rare garden bloom, December 2006.
Agyness Deyn as a perfectly outfitted working girl, February 2007.
Natalia Vodianova in Vogue's homage to Poiret, May 2007.
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.
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