at choco choco_

Archive/RSS/Ask

other blogs ·
Posts tagged with Long Reads.

Six-Eyes: Semiotics→

six-eyescathryn:

Every form of communication uses signs.

Saussure

Ferdinand de Saussure worked out that there were two planes, the Langue, the whole language known, and the Parole, the spoken words by each individual. These planes were divided again into two levels; the Syntegmatic, which is sequential and…

(Source: sixeyedandmagic)

gq:

The Siege of September 13:Your Longread Of The Day
Shortly after President Obama declared a kind of victory in Afghanistan—and days after the tenth anniversary of 9/11— a gray van sped through the streets of Kabul. Its destination: a high-rise overlooking the U.S. embassy. What happened over the next twenty hours sure as hell didn’t look like victory. In a GQ exclusive, Matthieu Aikins takes us for the first time behind the embassy walls and into the crossfire. Below, a brief portion of this riveting account. Aikins’s full story is here.

The building was empty, not an uncommon occurrence in Kabul, where construction moved in fits and starts. Like a lot of new buildings, this one had been put up without the proper permits and encroached on public land, and so the city had shut the site down in a dispute for the better part of a year. It had sat there, an eyesore, looming over the neighborhood on the diplomatic quarter’s northeastern edge.



At around 1 p.m., the gray van pulled to a halt in front of the tower. The passengers in back, who had thrown off their burkas, rolled open the sliding door and spilled out onto the pavement. They fired their assault rifles into the chest of first one traffic cop, then the other. A stray bullet killed a taxi driver circling the roundabout, and suddenly everyone on the street knew what was coming, had heard these sounds before, and was scrambling to escape—drivers jumping from their cars, the money changers abandoning their bicycles, shopkeepers hurriedly pulling down their shutters and fleeing out the back door.



But the attackers weren’t interested in the people on the street. After killing the two policemen, they ran into the building site and opened the front gate to let the van in, which they parked at the building’s entrance as an explosive trap. Three took up positions on the second story and started exchanging gunfire with police checkpoints farther down the road. The other three raced up the stairs to the top. They reached the eleventh floor and sighted their weapons through the gaping bay windows. As one of the tallest structures in the area, the tower on Abdul Haq commanded an excellent view of some of the most sensitive and important buildings in Kabul. From the eleventh floor, you could see a large compound belonging to the Afghan intelligence service. Next to that was the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. Adjacent to it was the U.S.embassy compound, the squat ochre cube of the main building small but distinguishable from that height. Just to the south was the smaller old chancery, where, in response to the gunfire in Abdul Haq Circle, the alarms had begun to sound.

gq:

The Siege of September 13:
Your Longread Of The Day

Shortly after President Obama declared a kind of victory in Afghanistan—and days after the tenth anniversary of 9/11— a gray van sped through the streets of Kabul. Its destination: a high-rise overlooking the U.S. embassy. What happened over the next twenty hours sure as hell didn’t look like victory. In a GQ exclusive, Matthieu Aikins takes us for the first time behind the embassy walls and into the crossfire. Below, a brief portion of this riveting account. Aikins’s full story is here.

The building was empty, not an uncommon occurrence in Kabul, where construction moved in fits and starts. Like a lot of new buildings, this one had been put up without the proper permits and encroached on public land, and so the city had shut the site down in a dispute for the better part of a year. It had sat there, an eyesore, looming over the neighborhood on the diplomatic quarter’s northeastern edge.

At around 1 p.m., the gray van pulled to a halt in front of the tower. The passengers in back, who had thrown off their burkas, rolled open the sliding door and spilled out onto the pavement. They fired their assault rifles into the chest of first one traffic cop, then the other. A stray bullet killed a taxi driver circling the roundabout, and suddenly everyone on the street knew what was coming, had heard these sounds before, and was scrambling to escape—drivers jumping from their cars, the money changers abandoning their bicycles, shopkeepers hurriedly pulling down their shutters and fleeing out the back door.

But the attackers weren’t interested in the people on the street. After killing the two policemen, they ran into the building site and opened the front gate to let the van in, which they parked at the building’s entrance as an explosive trap. Three took up positions on the second story and started exchanging gunfire with police checkpoints farther down the road. The other three raced up the stairs to the top. They reached the eleventh floor and sighted their weapons through the gaping bay windows. As one of the tallest structures in the area, the tower on Abdul Haq commanded an excellent view of some of the most sensitive and important buildings in Kabul. From the eleventh floor, you could see a large compound belonging to the Afghan intelligence service. Next to that was the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. Adjacent to it was the U.S.embassy compound, the squat ochre cube of the main building small but distinguishable from that height. Just to the south was the smaller old chancery, where, in response to the gunfire in Abdul Haq Circle, the alarms had begun to sound.

#gq   #Long Reads  

Steven Hall: My desktop

The novelist explains why computers, and even phones, feel much more suitable and safe ways to write than traditional pen and paper

The calmer and more well-ordered my desktop is, the more I can convince myself I’m on top of things. When I feel like I’m on top of things (even if I’m not) it’s much easier to work. My big problem is that I can never predict how long a piece of work is going to take, so I just have to keep going and keep going until – sooner or later – it’s done. A fairly minimal desktop layout helps me focus on one thing at a time. At least, that’s the idea.

I took this photo on holiday last year. There’s just something funny and likable about your average, everyday, tatty pigeon. Especially when it’s putting some thought into what it should do next, like this guy is. Maybe I like it as a desktop image because I spend most of my time sitting in front of this screen trying to figure things out too. I have a pretty good idea of the story before it’s written, though not so much that there’s nothing left to discover in the actual writing of it. I spend a large percentage of my working time thinking and staring at the words on the screen. Typing is a much smaller part of it. I spend a lot of time reading what I’ve written out loud too, to check the feel of the language. It’s a strange job, writing books.

I almost always work straight onto the computer. Getting sentences, paragraphs and pages to work and feel right as I go along is really important to me – it’s great to be able to add a new solid page to what I already have - so I’m always reworking and rewriting as I go (and then I’ll probably rewrite much of it again when I get to the end, but that’s different). Longhand isn’t well suited to my way of writing. I tend to end up with dozens of pages of crossings-out and margin scribbles just to find one good paragraph, and it’s easy to lose your train of thought, working like that. I’ve not lost anything important to technological redundancy yet. I have a couple of portable hard drives and I tend to email plain text copies of the important stuff to myself too, which makes me worry less. If anything is lost, it’s usually something I’ve written on paper. I have notebooks and sketchbooks for ideas. I also have drawers full of envelopes covered in quick outlines, scenes or scraps of dialogue that I don’t want to forget. I tend to grab whatever’s to hand and just get the thing down before it’s lost. It’s not what you would call a streamlined system. When I’m out and about, I’ll text or email myself from my phone. A smartphone is a great tool for a writer. I’ll sometimes edit on my phone too – it’s not ideal for large chunks of work but if I’ve got a couple of pages that just aren’t working and a journey to take, I’ll load the pages onto my phone and work on them like that. It’s a good way to make use of time on buses or on the tube. I have an iPhone and I use Notes, which seems to do the job just fine.

"Winter early edited 3" is part of my new novel. This section’s been a challenge – I’ve been working with it for years, but I’m really pleased with where I’m getting to – it feels like the best thing I’ve done. I separate out sections of the novel to work on individually. It helps me to manage the book in my mind, although this book is divided into sections for a very important reason. Hula Hoop is a sort of codename I use for the second book, to stop me accidentally pasting the real title all over the internet. I’m a fan of the potato snack too.

The photo of the tattoo isn’t mine, it’s a Ludovician shark tattoo that someone posted on Twitter. There are a few Raw Shark Texts tattoos floating around the internet now, so I’m gathering them up to post on my forum. It’s a strange thought, knowing that readers are tattooing themselves with something I’ve created, but it feels wonderful to have added something that people care about to the world. I remember Googling “Ludovician” (the name of the conceptual shark in The Raw Shark Texts) before the book was released. The few hits that came up were all about a period in French history or, I think, a type of squirrel. When I do the same search now, there’s a whole sea of homemade conceptual fish out there, as well as websites and blogs. I think there’s even a band named after the shark. It’s fantastic. It makes me feel very proud. And very lucky too. I’ve not considered getting a tattoo of the shark myself – that would be a little bit self-obsessed – although Jamie Byng (my publisher), Francis Bickmore (my editor), Simon Trewin (my agent) and myself did all talk about having smiley faces tattooed onto the underneath of our big toes, like a character in the book. Simon and Jamie were particularly keen, I remember. That would’ve been fun.

When I first moved to London, I went into a hairdresser and asked for a haircut like Don Draper’s. Half an hour later, I’d been given what the very pleased stylist described as “that 1940s thing you were looking for, but with a New Romantic twist”. I wore a hat for a while, then found this picture of him and made sure to take it with me to the next place I tried. I wanted my hair cut like Don Draper’s partly because it’s the same haircut my grandfather had when I was a kid. He was a great man, my Grandad, a very calm, logical and methodical guy. I suppose I’m trying to be more like him as I get older.

Twitter is incredibly useful. It’s a great example of how the internet is changing the way we engage with information and text. Above all else, this change in the nature of engagement is fascinating for me as a writer. It’s something I’m constantly trying to understand and absorb into my work. I spend a lot of time watching Twitter, looking at how it works and watching information spread. I’ve only recently begun to experiment with what you might call the more traditional marketing aspects of it. Amazon sold the Kindle edition of The Raw Shark Texts for £1 over Christmas last year so, between turkey sandwiches and mince pies, my girlfriend and I decided to see how far up the charts we could push it using only the Twitter and Facebook apps on our phones. We just missed the top 100 in the end. The book peaked at 114, I think, but it moved about 600 places up the rankings in those few days, and we did it all in spare minutes here and there, while we were away visiting relatives over the holidays. Twitter is a very powerful thing. I’m learning what I can.

Damien Hirst is at the top of the modern art food chain

Hirst’s pickled tiger shark changed the way I saw conceptualism. His forthcoming Tate retrospective will show how the rest of recent British art is a footnote to his brilliance

I had no job and didn’t know where I was going in life when I walked into the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 and saw a tiger shark swimming towards me. Standing in front of Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living in its original pristine state was a disconcerting and marvellous experience. The shark, then, did not look pickled, it looked alive. It seemed to move as you moved around the tank that contained it, because the refractions of the liquid inside which it “swam” caused your vision of it to jump as you changed your angle.

There it was: life, or was it death, relentlessly approaching me through deep waters. It was galvanising, energising. It was a great work of art.

I knew what I thought great art looked like. I doted on Leonardo da Vinci, I loved Picasso. I still revere them both. But it was Hirst's shark that made me believe art made with fish, glass vitrines and formaldehyde – and therefore with anything – can be great. I found his work not just interesting or provocative but genuinely profound. As a memento mori, as an exploration of the limits of art, as a meditation on the power of spectacle, even as a comment on the shark-infested waters of post-Thatcherite Britain, it moved me deeply.

I’m looking forward to Damien Hirst's retrospective at Tate Modern because it will be a new chance to understand the power I have, in my life, sensed in his imagination and intellect. I think Hirst is a much more exciting modern artist than Marcel Duchamp. To be honest, the word “exciting” just doesn’t go with the word “Duchamp”. Get a load of that exciting urinal!

Picasso is exciting; Duchamp is an academic cult. The readymade as it was deployed by Duchamp gave birth to conceptual forms that are “interesting” but rarely grab you where it matters.

Hirst is more Picasso than Duchamp – the Picasso who put a bicycle seat and handlebars together to create a bull’s head. He’s even more Holbein than Duchamp – the Holbein who painted a skull across a portrait of two Renaissance gentlemen.

He is a giant of modern art. There is something hilarious about those who pride themselves on their interest in contemporary art, following the latest names from Glasgow and so forth, but sneer at the supposed vulgarity and cynicism of Hirst. This is like saying, in 19th-century Britain, “My goodness, I really love all this great Victorian art we have nowadays, with its sentimental scenes and frock-coated portraits, but I hate that vulgar Turner. What a fraud!”

Hirst stands far above his British contemporaries. The depth of his early work is extraordinary and dazzling. The intensity of his imaginative grasp of reality is unique. He makes art that is about life, and death, and money too, which is another absolute truth of our world – unfortunately. The whole of recent British art is a footnote to his brilliance.

This is sacrilege in the art world right now, because a lot of careers are based on pretending Hirst was just one among many cool artists and that he is now less important than Bob and Roberta Smith, Grayson Perry and other such giants of our moment. But the truth is soon to be revealed at Tate Modern.

Jonathan Jones

Thursday 24 November 2011 15.48 GMT

 

 

RISE: Anneleise Hatt
The designer talks to Dazed about how the novel, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson was the initial inspiration for her graduate collection of garments
Heavily inspired by the novel ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, recent graduate Anneliese Hatt’s collection ‘Without a Voice’ displays artful distortions of material to represent the imprisoned female characters of the story. Taking fashion as a tool of communication, Nottingham Trent alumni Annelisese Hatt, 22, drew reference from the novel by Stieg Larsson, confronting hard-hitting subject matter of the hidden emotional trauma of imprisoned and tortured women.
Revealing their imagined stories through garments and an innovative use of symbolism, she subverted these dark complex plights into empowered silhouettes and structures, retaining a feminine sophistication and delicate melancholia. We caught up with the designer, currently interning with Richard Nicoll, to talk through the controversial themes of her work and challenges of materialising emotion through fashion design.
Dazed Digital: What was the concept behind your graduate collection?Anneleise Hatt: It was my intention to capture imprisoned women who can never tell their story of pain. My garments act as wearable prisons, I used iron gates as a motif to emphasize confinement, with intention to create a visible yet wearable cage. Butterflies trapped in resin mouthpieces beautifully silenced the models emphasizing their feminine and delicate existence
DD: Did you watch the film ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?Anneleise Hatt: I did actually watch the Swedish film. The book was my initial inspiration.
DD: How did you imagine the female character from the book aesthetically?Anneleise Hatt: I imagined her very tomboyish with a gothic streak. It wasn’t her character that inspired me as much, more the prisoners.
DD: Your work is very conceptual and emotive, what is your work process for translating feelings into fabric and fashion design?Anneleise Hatt: I submerse myself in my concept. I created sunken shoulders and exaggerated raglan sleeves to communicate vulnerability.
DD: Do you identify with the work of Alexander McQueen who took subjects such as rape and violence as themes in his work?Anneleise Hatt: I have great respect for McQueen, not only did he make beautiful clothes but they always had a deeper meaning or touched on a political issue. My collection comments on the mistreatment of women.
DD: What materials do you find the most interesting to work with?Anneleise Hatt: Leather, its structure and how versatile it can be.
DD: How did you create the skillfully crafted leather fabrics?Anneleise Hatt: All leather pieces were laser cut, the cream jacket was a multitude of layered iron gate motifs, the belt straps originated from a straight jacket and the rigid cage-jacket was a very thick leather intended to resemble the butterflies prison.
DD: How did you come across the trapped butterfly technique?Anneleise Hatt: I collected real butterflies from a butterfly farm; I painted them first in resin and attached the insect to a plate of Perspex, then set that in resin and grew on a mouth plate.
DD: Is it inspired by silence of the lambs?Anneleise Hatt: I haven’t seen this film, I do remember seeing the moth on the mouth, however I saw butterflies alike to the women, they cannot communicate sound and begin their lives in a cocooned prison - with such similarities the two paired in harmony.
DD: How would you see your designs displayed in a store window?Anneleise Hatt: I imagine my garments to be amongst pipes and iron bars.
DD: What was the last book / film that inspired you?Anneleise Hatt: I recently saw Pans Labyrinth, which was really inspiring.
DD: Who are your female role models?Anneleise Hatt: I like strong women; Marilyn Monroe is really my true icon.
DD: How do you feel as a recent graduate in the current job market?Anneleise Hatt: Excited, it’s a tough industry and I’m going in with my eyes open but dedication always leads to good thing.
Text by Dimitra SotirchosPhotography by Ashley Reynolds

RISE: Anneleise Hatt

The designer talks to Dazed about how the novel, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson was the initial inspiration for her graduate collection of garments

Heavily inspired by the novel ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, recent graduate Anneliese Hatt’s collection ‘Without a Voice’ displays artful distortions of material to represent the imprisoned female characters of the story. Taking fashion as a tool of communication, Nottingham Trent alumni Annelisese Hatt, 22, drew reference from the novel by Stieg Larsson, confronting hard-hitting subject matter of the hidden emotional trauma of imprisoned and tortured women.

Revealing their imagined stories through garments and an innovative use of symbolism, she subverted these dark complex plights into empowered silhouettes and structures, retaining a feminine sophistication and delicate melancholia. We caught up with the designer, currently interning with Richard Nicoll, to talk through the controversial themes of her work and challenges of materialising emotion through fashion design.

Dazed Digital: What was the concept behind your graduate collection?
Anneleise Hatt: It was my intention to capture imprisoned women who can never tell their story of pain. My garments act as wearable prisons, I used iron gates as a motif to emphasize confinement, with intention to create a visible yet wearable cage. Butterflies trapped in resin mouthpieces beautifully silenced the models emphasizing their feminine and delicate existence

DD: Did you watch the film ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
Anneleise Hatt:
I did actually watch the Swedish film. The book was my initial inspiration.

DD: How did you imagine the female character from the book aesthetically?
Anneleise Hatt: I imagined her very tomboyish with a gothic streak. It wasn’t her character that inspired me as much, more the prisoners.

DD: Your work is very conceptual and emotive, what is your work process for translating feelings into fabric and fashion design?
Anneleise Hatt: I submerse myself in my concept. I created sunken shoulders and exaggerated raglan sleeves to communicate vulnerability.

DD: Do you identify with the work of Alexander McQueen who took subjects such as rape and violence as themes in his work?
Anneleise Hatt: I have great respect for McQueen, not only did he make beautiful clothes but they always had a deeper meaning or touched on a political issue. My collection comments on the mistreatment of women.

DD: What materials do you find the most interesting to work with?
Anneleise Hatt: Leather, its structure and how versatile it can be.

DD: How did you create the skillfully crafted leather fabrics?
Anneleise Hatt: All leather pieces were laser cut, the cream jacket was a multitude of layered iron gate motifs, the belt straps originated from a straight jacket and the rigid cage-jacket was a very thick leather intended to resemble the butterflies prison.

DD: How did you come across the trapped butterfly technique?
Anneleise Hatt: I collected real butterflies from a butterfly farm; I painted them first in resin and attached the insect to a plate of Perspex, then set that in resin and grew on a mouth plate.

DD: Is it inspired by silence of the lambs?
Anneleise Hatt: I haven’t seen this film, I do remember seeing the moth on the mouth, however I saw butterflies alike to the women, they cannot communicate sound and begin their lives in a cocooned prison - with such similarities the two paired in harmony.

DD: How would you see your designs displayed in a store window?
Anneleise Hatt: I imagine my garments to be amongst pipes and iron bars.

DD: What was the last book / film that inspired you?
Anneleise Hatt: I recently saw Pans Labyrinth, which was really inspiring.

DD: Who are your female role models?
Anneleise Hatt:
I like strong women; Marilyn Monroe is really my true icon.

DD: How do you feel as a recent graduate in the current job market?
Anneleise Hatt:
Excited, it’s a tough industry and I’m going in with my eyes open but dedication always leads to good thing.

Text by Dimitra Sotirchos
Photography by Ashley Reynolds

Project Japan: Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Not content with being the subject of an expansive retrospective at the Barbican, debating post-modernism at the V&A, opening the new Maggie’s Centre Glasgow and putting the finishing touches to the New Court Rothschild Bank HQ in the City, Rem Koolhaas has also taken time out from his global schedule to launch his new book, ‘Project Japan, Metabolism Talks…’ A collaboration with his long-term co-conspirator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the book is an oral and visual history of one of the most influential, yet elusive, movements in modern architecture, the Japanese Metabolist Movement.

Koolhaas and Obrist came to the subject via their shared enthusiasm for the long-form interview, delving deep into the country’s past to uncover the origins and legacy of this spirited movement, with its combination of emerging technology and traditional architectural strategies. The results were often other-worldly, megastructural in their ambition and yet still human in scale despite their utter obsession with the role of technology in society. Metabolism effectively culminated in Japan’s magnificent Expo ‘70 at Osaka, a sprawling proto-high tech wonderland that cemented the nation’s global image as a technological utopia. Wallpaper* sat down with Koolhaas and Obrist to take about the genesis of the book and what Metabolist architecture means today.

This feels like a very personal, intense project. At what point did you think there was more archaeology to be done on the Metabolists than what was already available?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I knew about Metabolism through Rem, from the first day we met, when we did the ‘Cities on the Move’ exhibition - it was a very hectic day and he needed to catch a plane to Hong Kong, so he said it would be better not to discuss Asia in Rotterdam, but in Hong Kong. So we all got a plane and starting researching Asian cities. While in Asia we found these post-Metabolists in Singapore but also the core Metabolists in Japan, like Kurokawa and Maki, and Rem suggested I should interview them. So it all started 16 years ago in 1995.

Rem Koolhaas: My interest in Metabolism was always strong, firstly as a student in ‘68, but it was reactivated when I went to Singapore. There were projects that had been inspired by Metabolism and they were a more successful realisation than they had been able to do in Japan.

Presumably this was a very different project for Rem as an architect than for you as a historian. Did you reveal a different truth of how we look at Metabolism?

HUO: Rem and I have always had a practice of doing interviews, it’s something we have in common. The first interview we did together was Philip Johnson and we went on from there. I came up with the format of the marathon and at some stage we thought it would be interesting not only to do a portrait of a person but of a whole movement. We live in a time when there are less manifestos and movements. In art, which is my field, you had Fluxus, you had Dada, and now you have less artistic movements. There are manifestos, but they are more individual. In Rem’s field it is the same.

RK: We wanted to reconstruct how that worked. The whole point of writing about Singapore was the anticipation that architecture and artistic movements are no longer Western and are instead moving to the East. Metabolism is the first non-Western avant-garde. One thing that is very crucial to the book is that we not only interviewed architects but also their contacts. We discovered that to some extent this whole movement was willed by the [Japanese] state, so we had to reconstruct this invisible part of the movement.

HUO: It became obvious that Tange was a key influence; it was all triggered by him. So we interviewed his two widows to go deeper and as a result we had many, many trips to Japan. That’s also why in the end we called it Project Japan

RK: The discovery was that this movement was an ambitious enterprise to change the face of Japan, simply because there was an awareness of Japan’s inherent weaknesses - earthquakes, tsunamis, but also over-concentration in the cities.

Do you think this kind of intense research is important to architectural practice today?

RK: What is also obvious is that by going back 50 years we were able to reconstruct the difference between architecture as a public issue and architecture as a private issue. Today the initiative, as you know, has shifted from the public to the private sector, so it is also a reconstruction of what the public sector can do.

What would you say the legacy of the Metabolists is today?

RK: For instance if you look at this building [the Barbican], you can see that is a kind of Metabolist building with a very strong idea, and a noticeable dedication to ideas.

HUO: Many of the projects, like the Marine City, continue to be quoted by architects because of their optimism. [Arata] Isozaki always injected a certain portion of doubt because he felt that maybe Metabolism was too optimistic - it was a movement of extraordinary optimism. We discussed Metabolism on our many trips to China and we realised that Metabolism has an influence on the Chinese optimism of the last couple of years.

RK: …or that it ought to have an influence…

HUO: Maybe the book can help there - it can be a toolbox.

RK: It took so long because we interviewed people a number of times. But also we needed to reconstruct key episodes in the history of Japan to really make sense of it.

HUO: If you look at Japan, there is something very interesting about Japanese architecture, it’s a Japanese miracle. I mean generation after generation in Japan produces great people. There is this continuum. It goes from Tange through Metabolism, to Isozaki’s non-involvement, to the next generation, which is Toyo Ito, the next generation, which is Seijima and Nishizawa, and then the children of Seijima, like Ishigami, etc., it just seems endless.

RK: That is also the family that I feel most at home with, in architecture.

HUO: The Metabolism research ended up being real research into Tange as well. We went to his office. We looked at all of his buildings. It was also research into where this Japanese miracle of architecture came from. In the West there is more rupture, whilst in Japan there is a continuum, where one generation helps the next generation and so on.

How would you characterise Expo ‘70 in terms of influence?

RK: A moment you could feel euphoric about the future of the world. Maybe the last one.

HUO: It’s interesting to look at it now because it’s an expo that produced so much reality and so many extraordinary things. It was a true concrete utopia. And if you look at what expos have produced since, it’s maybe slightly less urgent. As a curator I always think how can we do an expo that is urgent for now.

By Jonathan Bell

13 October 2011

 

Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloe Grace Moretz

Drew Barrymore

At the age of 14, Chloë Grace Moretz has already secured a special place for herself in the annals of youth culture. In Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, which was released last year, Moretz plays a pre-teen superhero named Hit-Girl who, brandishing a gun, utters a word theretofore unbandied about in the kiddie-hero genre, when she refers to her imminent foes—a roomful of drug dealers—using a colloquial term that begins with a C and rhymes with fronts and still isn’t allowed to be spoken on television. Whilethere is indisputably a degree of evil genius at work in any movie where a group of ne’er-do-wells becomes instantly paralyzed by a pre-teen with a glock who has referred to them by the last great verboten expletive—Was it the gun that did it? Or the foul language?—the line, coming from a then-13-year-old, was a proverbial showstopper, and beyond the initial schlock-shock, occasioned some low-intensity cultural soul-searching. The responses, both negative and positive, were emphatic: The Los Angeles Times questioned why anyone would allow a girl that young to be involved in a scene that involved so many very bad things; the British newspaper The Guardian, in its more permissive English way, actually verged on heralding Moretz and Vaughn as quasi-revolutionaries for dragging the C-word into the popular vernacular. But regardless of where anyone stood on the spectrum of indignation, the attention also unequivocally announced Moretz’s arrival as a young actress who not only doesn’t quite fit the mold, but also might one day do something to the mold that makes us question the very nature of the mold—or if in fact there should be one.

Moretzhas all of the stuff that makes studio executives drool: precocious talent far beyond her years, an expressiveness that can convey both wonder and worldliness, a wide-eyed beauty, an old-soulfulness, poise, enthusiasm, a Twitter account. However, her most basic qualities as an actor also perfectly match those of a role that Hollywood is constantly looking to cast: that of the teen actress who can do the kind of mature work that resonates with other teens as well as adults, and whose coming of age, both on screen and off, they can ride as far as it will take them (which is usually until college age). The list of actresses who’ve played the part successfully before maneuvering their way out is impressive, among them Kristen Stewart, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, Christina Ricci, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Diane Lane, Mariel Hemingway, Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster, Tatum O’Neal, all the way back to Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor. But the list of actresses who’ve struggled to find creative life beyond this specific brand of teen stardom, or, more commonly, have had to work hard to find within themselves the fortitude to fight tirelessly as twenty- and thirty- and fortysomethings for the kinds of substantial roles they were being handed as adolescents, is even longer—and there are a lot of actresses on both lists.

So it isn’t easy being a teenage actress, especially today, with the premium that continues to be put on tapping into the ever-expanding international market of media-obsessed teens and twentysomethings—and it’s only getting harder. But it’s also important to keep in mind that old truism about adolescence—that whatever happens, good or bad, it’s all just a phase. And through that lens, Moretz’s very big upcoming year right now has all the makings of a very big future. This month, she stars as the best friend of an orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated new film Hugo, a 3D adaptation of Brian Selznick’s best-selling children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. She’ll also appear next year alongside Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s new big-screen adaptation of the vampy, campy ’60s soap Dark Shadows, and take a decidedly less fantastical and more dramatic and gritty turn in Derick Martini’s Hick, in which she plays a teenage girl who runs away from her drunken parents with her sights set on Las Vegas, and is taken under the wing of a grifter played by Blake Lively.

Drew Barrymore, herself a veteran—and triumphant survivor—of the young-actress ringer, directed Moretz this year in the video for Los Angeles band Best Coast’s “Our Deal.” They recently reconnected by phone in L.A.

DREW BARRYMORE: CHLOËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËË!

CHLOË GRACE MORETZ: Oh my god. How are you?

BARRYMORE: How are you? Where are you right now?

MORETZ: I’m in L.A. actually. We were moving all weekend. It was such a mess.

BARRYMORE: Are you moving into your new house?

MORETZ: Mm-hmm! It’s so cute. It’s this little place for Mom and me.

BARRYMORE: Are you in town for a while?

MORETZ: Yeah. I’m actually here the rest of the year because I’m taking a little break for a sec.

BARRYMORE: Oh, good for you. So I want to try and ask you questions that don’t suck, if I can help it.

MORETZ: [laughs] Thank god.

BARRYMORE: Are you ready?

MORETZ: Oh god … Yeah. I’m scared.

BARRYMORE: Do not be scared. You never have to be scared with me because I have the protection of laughter and safety around you at all times.

MORETZ: Perfect.

BARRYMORE: Okay. If you could go on a date with anyone, who would it be and where would you go?

MORETZ: Oh, no … This is hard! In my age range there’s not many people to date, so …

BARRYMORE: A lot of women would say the same thing!

MORETZ: [laughs] My date would have to be with … Maybe Ryan Gosling.

BARRYMORE: Oh! No kidding.

MORETZ: Yeah. We could just drive around …

BARRYMORE: High five. Good choice.

MORETZ: Yes!

BARRYMORE: If you could blink and be anywhere at any time of the world, or in history, where and when would you be?

MORETZ: I really love the Elizabethan era, so probably I’d be in Elizabethan England—like living in the countryside. Either that, or in France or something. Or Renaissance Italy.

BARRYMORE: Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to meet up in great old Italy? We’ll have to make a date to do so … Maybe we’ll be in a boat with Ryan Gosling in Italy, the two of us.

MORETZ: Yes! It’s happening!

BARRYMORE: Freckles or gap teeth?

MORETZ: Well, I already have a gap in my teeth—and I like it, actually, because it’s awkward and fun! So, I’d probably say gap.

BARRYMORE: Okay, you’re playing air guitar right now with a tennis racquet and a pair of striped socks, standing in front of the mirror. What band is playing on the stereo?

MORETZ: I don’t know … I think a pretty good air guitar sort of thing would have to be, like, Aerosmith or something, where they’re really going at it.

BARRYMORE: Any particular song? Or just anything by Aerosmith?

MORETZ: What’s the song with the music video that Alicia Silverstone did with Liv Tyler?

BARRYMORE: Was that “Crazy”? Oh, god … Here goes my ’90s brain. You’re picturing Alicia and Liv dancing around and driving—that’s what you’re picturing in your head as you’re listening to Aerosmith, playing air guitar in your striped socks with your tennis racquet.

MORETZ: Obviously.

BARRYMORE: If you were to do some other occupation in life, what would you do?

MORETZ: Hmmm … I don’t know if it’s exactly an occupation, but I’d probably, like, fly helicopters and airplanes, or something fun!

BARRYMORE: I did not expect that answer.

MORETZ: It sounds so fun.

BARRYMORE: Would you want to fly helicopters with Ryan Gosling?

MORETZ: Obviously. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

BARRYMORE: So, what woman makes you want to fall to your knees and bow in respect and awe?

MORETZ: Um … Drew Barrymore!

BARRYMORE: [laughs] All right, fine, I’ll play that. But if there was another woman?

MORETZ: Another woman?

BARRYMORE: Another woman who was as lucky as I get to be to be put in that category. If there was another woman on the planet who would be as graced …

MORETZ: I’d have to say probably Audrey Hepburn. I think she’d be the one where I’d just be like, “Uh, I love you.” So … Yep.

BARRYMORE: On the other side of the coin, what male figure would make you fall down onto your knees in respect and awe?

MORETZ: Ryan Gosling.

BARRYMORE: You know, in storytelling, we call this a payoff. [Moretz laughs] A payoff or a runner.

MORETZ: Ryan Gosling.

BARRYMORE: Five people at your dinner table, dead or alive. Who would they be?

MORETZ: Yay! Okay, it would be you, Audrey, and then I’d probably put Marilyn [Monroe] there, just for some giggles and some funness. And I’d say Natalie Portman, too. And … How many is that? Three or four?

BARRYMORE: That’s four. Drew, Audrey, Marilyn, Natalie.

MORETZ: And Grace Kelly.

BARRYMORE: That’s a pretty fabulous group of women—me notwithstanding. But I’m thrilled that I would be invited. So I’ve been lucky enough to direct you—I got you to wear red lips for the first time. You looked so pretty. And you kissed a boy on top of a roof!

MORETZ: Shut up!

BARRYMORE: So there were lots of firsts. But I wanted to ask you: What was one key sentence or a key moment or a key phrase or a key piece of advice that you’ve learned from some of the other directors you’ve worked with. Let’s start with Mr. Tim Burton.

MORETZ: Oh, Mr. Burton … Well, that’s hard because no one actually, like, sits you down and gives you advice or anything, you know what I mean? But the thing with Tim is definitely the way that he really just focuses on his actors. If the actor says, “No, I don’t feel that’s right for the character,” then he takes that so seriously—and not many directors do that in the same way. So that was a very special thing, working with him.

BARRYMORE: That nice to hear, that he’s so honorable to actors.

MORETZ: Oh, yeah. Very much.

BARRYMORE: Okay, Mr. [Matthew] Vaughn, who directed you in Kick-Ass.

MORETZ: Oh, I love Matthew. I really appreciated the way Matthew was able to shield me from a lot of the crazy stuff in Kick-Ass—because that movie was pretty crazy. And, of course, I was a lot of the craziness. But he definitely shielded me from the stuff that was above my head, you know what I mean? If something was too much, he would be like, “Don’t do it. I want you to be comfortable and be able to do what you need to do.” So I definitely really respect him for that. He was really caring about my age.

BARRYMORE: Okay, then … Mr. [Martin] Scorsese.

MORETZ: Oh, Mr. Scorsese. You’ve probably never heard of him before.

BARRYMORE: Yeah, he’s an obscure director. I thought that people might not have heard of him, so if you could just illuminate one moment of your time in the private world of Martin Scorsese for everybody, it might be helpful.

MORETZ: Oh, gosh. I mean, there were so many moments. Mostly, I think Mr. Scorsese looked at me a lot as a daughter figure because he has a daughter who is, like, 12 years old. So he was very fatherly towards me.

BARRYMORE: Okay, finally, Mr. Marc Webb, who directed (500) Days of Summer [2009].

MORETZ: Oh, Marc! I mean, I was, like, 11 when I did the movie with him, and I didn’t know much about boys and relationships and stuff, and my whole character was really about just stressing out with her brother, trying to help him out in his relationship—and that is not me at all.

BARRYMORE: That’s interesting because you do have four brothers. So he helped give you insight into the male mentality?

MORETZ: Kind of, yeah. You know, he started in music videos, so the way he was able to really bring this feeling into the scenes where the characters didn’t have to speak but everyone knows what’s going on. So that was cool.

BARRYMORE: What are some of your favorite films—both new and old?

MORETZ: A new film I love would have to be Black Swan [2010] probably, and an old one would have to be either Gone With the Wind [1939] or Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1961].

BARRYMORE: [sighs] Such a romantic.

MORETZ: I so am … Oh, and I loved Drive so much!

BARRYMORE: If you had to get a tattoo today, what would it be?

MORETZ: Oh, my gosh. That’s so … Okay. [deep breath] Well, I used to have a sister, but I never got to meet her because she died after two days, I think. So if I got a tattoo, it would probably have to be something to do with my sister. I actually want to get a tattoo when I’m older of something about her. So it would probably be that.

BARRYMORE: That’s a beautiful answer. What was the moment where you said, “I have to do this—I want to act”?

MORETZ: I mean, I always had this really strong inclination. My brother Trev went to the Professional Performing Arts School in New York, and he used to do his monologues and stuff and rehearse in our apartment. So I used to hear him all the time doing these things over and over and over. And when I was a little girl, I used to soak up everything—like anything anyone did, I soaked it up. So I would soak up like these huge, dramatic dialogues and start spewing them all the time. I loved it so much. Then the minute I got in front of a camera for the first time—like, a big, full-on camera, in The Amityville Horror [2005] when I was 6 or 7—I think that was the moment when I was just in it. I didn’t know how I was doing it, but I was doing it.

BARRYMORE: Okay, magic wand time. Fantasy clothes by any designer made especially for you right now. Go.

MORETZ: Oh, no! It’s like a ball gown or something amazingly huge and beautiful. It would probably have to be either, like, Valentino or Oscar de la Renta. And then if it was something beautiful that Audrey Hepburn might wear—you know, just perfect and cute and special—it would probably be either Givenchy or Chanel. And if it was crazy—like, amazingly psychotic—it would have to be Vivienne Westwood.

BARRYMORE: What is the best thing about having four big brothers?

MORETZ: The best thing about having four big brothers is you always have someone to do something for you. [laughs] No, no. I think number one would be that they always protect me. There’s someone to turn to. It’s like having four fathers, basically, because they all super-duper take care of me.

Ellsworth Kelly

Gwyneth Paltrow

 

This fall, Ellsworth Kelly has two monumental shows in Munich—one museum retrospective of a lifetime of plant drawings, and another a collection of his black-and-white paintings and reliefs—as well as an one exhibition in Boston of his natural wood sculptures. These come on the heels of a number of other shows featuring Kelly in 2011, including a display of recent two-panel relief works at Matthew Marks Gallery this past spring (Kelly is also designing the facade of Matthew Marks’ first Los Angeles gallery space, set to open in January.) That’s a lot on the plate of any artist, let alone an 88-year-old one who has been pioneering abstraction since the 1940s.

Kelly is perhaps the only contemporary artist who has consistently produced great work for seven decades, and not just in one medium or one surface either. He is mostly known for his bold, charged, monochromatic color panels absent of a frame to emphasize their sculptural possibility—works that not only openly fought the popular “dance of dripping” of Abstract Expressionism when Kelly first created them in Paris after World War II, but works that have actually changed our aesthetic understanding of how color and shape penetrate the eye and inform the space around it. His artistic practice has also included figuration in black ink portraits, self-portraits, and nature studies, which he’s sketched ever since he was a teenager; large-scale industrial sculptures that flare out and cleave the air, almost part flower petal, part space ship; and his most recent relief paintings, which stack panels of competing colors over one another to create planes, grounds, and explosive juxtapositions. But in whatever genre Kelly is working, there is an aura of poetry and mystery to his work—something that can’t quite be pinned down, but suggests its foundations in observations of nature, personal relationships, religion, feelings about conflict and geopolitics (Kelly has, in the past, suggested that the Iraq War inspired some of his canvases and even famously proposed his own memorial to 9/11, in which he envisioned a mound of planted green grass at Ground Zero) or just a simple obsession with color waves. He is one of America’s premiere masters of form. He’s also a great storyteller. Having left New York City behind him in 1970 for fear his social life was overwhelming his creative life, Kelly moved three hours north to his current rolling-hilled compound in Spencertown, where he lives and works with his partner, photographer Jack Shear. Architect Richard Gluckman designed his current labyrinthian studio—it serves not only for painting, but as storage space, an office, library, and archive, and will eventually comprise the artist’s foundation. Kelly hurries through the rooms with extraordinary energy, even though he is often on oxygen, with a clear cable trailing behind him. The sky was bright blue on the July afternoon that collector and admirer Gwyneth Paltrow visited Kelly to take a tour of his headquarters and ask him questions about his life in the arts.

ELLSWORTH KELLY: [standing in the exhibition room of his studio] Here are some new works I’ve done. The blue in front is the form and the black is the ground. [Blue Relief With Black, 2011] Except the wall is the ground. So it’s a form on the ground on the wall. This way my paintings become more like objects. People are always trying to do something different, but I feel I’ve been doing this kind of work for quite awhile!

GWYNETH PALTROW: When did you first start making three-dimensional paintings?

KELLY: In Paris in the late ’40s, I started making my first reliefs. They are separate panels. I wanted to do something coming out of the wall, almost like a collage. I did a lot of white reliefs when I started because I liked antique reliefs, really old stuff.

PALTROW: Like what?

KELLY: Roman and Greek reliefs. And then the Romanesque works in the 12th and 13th centuries, where they did a lot of relief sculptures of figures. I had liked Romanesque art from the very beginning of my studies … And here is another work [Black White Black, 2010]. It’s three panels, black, white, and black. When you stand in the middle and look straight at the white, something happens to the black in your peripheral vision, something happens to the edge. If you look closely, it’s not a painted edge, it’s a real edge.

PALTROW: It’s very sculptural, almost architectural.

KELLY: That’s what I’ve done in my paintings mostly. I want each color to have its own area of itself.

PALTROW: Why did you start painting on panels in Paris?

KELLY: It meant I could move things easily! [laughs] I started in the South of France, and when I went back to Paris, I put them all in a box, like 64 panels. I don’t remember how I did it, but I got them all in the back of my car with all of my other paintings and went back to Paris with them. [walks into studio, where a number of drawings are propped on the shelf] Here are some works from my own drawing collection. This is a little Matisse from 1913 in Morocco. And here is a Bonnard. And here is Picasso. And this is a little Jasper Johns.

PALTROW: Beautiful.

KELLY: Jasper gave it to me when he came for Thanksgiving. He said, “Here is a little present for you.”

PALTROW: How is he doing?

KELLY: I just saw him the other night over at Aggie [Agnus] Gund’s house. He always has a very interesting shirt on. This one was brown, orange, and black. Almost like a tapis from New Guineau. Oh, I want to show you the façade of Matthew [Marks]’s new gallery that I’m working on. [walks farther into studio] I haven’t shown it to anyone. I haven’t been allowed. [He removes a piece of fabric from a model of the L.A. gallery façade, white with a metal strip across the top of the edifice.] You’re the first person who has seen it. Matthew suggested I do something for the wall. First I thought he wanted something like a medallion. Then I had this idea for this bronze sculpture. I think I may be the first artist who has actually done something like this, changed a building. But that’s still an ornament. I suppose Frank Gehry did something close to it in Venice [California] when he installed the big binoculars by Claes Oldenburg [and Coosje van Bruggen].

This isn’t an ornament. It’s part of the architecture. Renzo Piano told me, “You know, architects now are doing buildings like your paintings.” Do you like it?

PALTROW: I love it. It’s so you. Has Matthew already started building the new gallery?

KELLY: Yes, and he tore down the old building. Not only that, he got rid of the trees in front and the telephone poles. He paid to have the lines run underground. He’s really dedicated to this idea. [moves into another room of the studio] And here is the work for a show I’m doing of my wood pieces in Boston. I don’t put any veneer on the wood because I don’t want to make it into furniture. These are from ’87, I think. This wood is padauk, which is famous for being poisonous. And this is zebrawood.

PALTROW: Was it the quality of the wood that inspired you?

KELLY: Yes, and I wanted to do as little as possible to the wood. So there’s this wonderful curve. When you’re standing in front of it, the curve is swift, isn’t it? The eye takes it in in a second. But the marks on the wood took a hundred years or more to be made. The marks are a given. The swiftness of the curve versus the marks that took so long to be made—I love it. I will never paint this way. It’s like a chance situation. Anything that grows like this is chance. The markings look like fire sweeping up.

PALTROW: You are making this juxtaposition between the cleanliness of the line and the organic material. What do you think you are communicating?

KELLY: It’s about perception, to feel it somehow. It’s a special way of looking. I have trained my eye over and over ever since I was a kid. I was a bird watcher when I was a little boy. My grandmother gave me a bird book, and I got to like their colors. I said, “Jesus, a little blackbird with red wings.” That was one of the first birds I saw in the pine tree behind my house, and I followed it as he flew into one of the trees—like he was leading me on. In a way, that little bird seems to be responsible for all of my paintings.

PALTROW: One of the things I’ve always loved so much about your art is the ruthless efficiency of your work—your color, your lines. But there is a tenderness to your work at the same time. It’s pristine and efficient and yet deeply emotional. That’s how I see them.

KELLY: I was taught to draw very well when I was in school at Boston. And I grew to enjoy drawing so much that I never stopped. I think all of my work comes out of drawing. [turns to a table in his studio] Here are some studiesI’ve done, drawings of rectangles. They are ways for me to see how structures work.

PALTROW: This is how you are able to find out the way in which one shape overlaps another and brings a sense of emotion.

KELLY: Yes. Like layering one hand on another, or anything to do with the body touching. We’re always aware of it. It’s something we as humans do a lot and it ends with kissing and then … going to bed. We’re always conscious of the curves, and I want my works to be sexy or voluptuous. People will say, “Oh, well it isn’t so voluptuous. Your work is very simple.” They say, “You are taking too much away.” But I say, “No, I don’t put it in to begin with.”

PALTROW: You edit before you begin. I see. Well, I find your work very sexy.

KELLY: Today before you arrived I thought, “What is she going to dress like? How do I see her?” I always foresee people. And I’m glad you wore gray. I was thinking, Oh, she won’t want to wear color.

PALTROW: Gray is my favorite color. And I didn’t want to compete with your work.

KELLY: Gray goes with gold. Gray goes with all colors. I’ve done gray-and-red paintings, and gray and orange go so well together. It takes a long time to make gray because gray has a little bit of color in it. I can’t remember what I mixed in to my gray-and-orange painting. I keep a little source diary on my colors. I get so excited when I finish a painting that I forget about the work of doing it. And I have to wear a mask now when I paint, because my oxygen level is low. My lungs are not so hot. I’m not a smoker. The doctors said, “What the hell is going on?”

PALTROW: Is it from the chemicals from painting?

KELLY: Yes, I think it was 60 years of turpentine [in the paint] that messed up my lungs. But actually now I feel better than ever and I can paint. [returns to table, looking at drawings] Here are some plant drawings. This one is a banana leaf. See the way it overlaps? You don’t have to put shading in. I don’t like shading. Just the line. As I say, the line is the excuse. And it’s fast. It’s always fast. [turns to book of drawings] These are portraits I did in Paris. And this one was done in the war, in 1944. It was done in a tent with a candle.

PALTROW: Did you keep drawing supplies in your army bag with you?

KELLY: I bought them where I could. And I did a painting like this one, holding a bugle. I actually showed a photograph of that painting [Self Portrait with Bugle, 1947] to [Fernand] Léger when I went back to Paris after the war because he had a school there. When he saw the photograph, he said in front of his class “This guy should go back to America and blow his bugle.” [laughs] I left. I never went to him again. [opens another book of drawings] Here are self-portraits. I was visiting a sculptor in Spain, and his bathroom was all mirrored. So I went in to take a shower and shave and I said, “Oh my god, I have to draw this.” [turns page] And I drew this portrait of me at the Mayo Clinic, getting a heart treatment [Self Portrait at the Mayo Clinic, 1987]. I was very worried because they said there was a percentage of people who didn’t make it through the operation. I was so upset. But what I did was take this little piece of paper that was in my wallet and drew this self-portrait and then I felt better.

PALTROW: I wanted to ask you about your time serving in the army. You went overseas for World War II. Did you volunteer?

KELLY: I went to Pratt [Institute] right after high school. I was there for a year, and I read an article in the paper about the Army working with camouflage in Fort Meade, Maryland. I didn’t want to be in the infantry, so I wrote them saying, “I’m an artist and I’d love to be in your outfit.” They said, “Get in the Army. We have your name. We’ll find you.” And that’s what they did. Life had been peaceful up until high school, but the business of the Nazis and Pearl Harbor was very strong, and I guess I wanted to insist that I could live a man’s life.

PALTROW: Did you design camouflage while in the army?

KELLY: I did posters. I was in what they called the camouflage secret army. This was in 1943. The people at Fort Meade got the idea to make rubber dummies of tanks, which we inflated on the spot and waited for Germans to see through their night photography or spies. We were in Normandy, for example, pretending to be a big, strong armored division which, in fact, was still in England. That way, even though the tanks were only inflated, the Germans would think there were a lot of them there, a lot of guns, a whole big infantry. We just blew them up and put them in a field. Then all of the German forces would move toward us, and we’d get the call to get out quick. So we had to whsssh [sound of deflating] package them up and get out of there in 20 minutes. Then our real forces, which were waiting, would attack from the rear.

PALTROW: So in a way, it was just like an art installation! That’s amazing.

KELLY: One time, we didn’t get the call and our troops went right by us and met the Germans head on. Then they retreated, and they saw our blow-up tanks and thought they were real and said, “Why didn’t you join us?” So, you see, we really did make-believe.

PALTROW: It’s the perfect job for an artist in combat.

KELLY: We even had the tank sounds magnified because tanks would go all night long.

PALTROW: You must have loved France, to stay there like you did and study after the war.

KELLY: I loved Paris. My best friend in the army, Griswold, from an old Lyme, Connecticut, family, he met Picasso. This guy looked like one of Picasso’s blue period models. In fact, there are a couple of drawings that Picasso did of Griswold. You see, we were stationed about 10 miles outside of Paris for a while. There was one train that took us in at four in the afternoon, and then we would have to walk back. We’d get back at five in the morning and have to go directly to work. But it was wonderful. Anyway, I went back to Boston after that and stayed for a while. I remember I went into the bar downstairs from where I was living. This was in 1946 or 1947. It’s the bar where I’d have a beer with friends, and I saw this little box moving like a movie. I said, “Oh my god, what’s that?” The guy said, “It’s a television.” I said, “I’d better go back to Paris.”

PALTROW: So the invention of television made you return!

KELLY: Yes. But for an artist going to Paris was an old tradition by that point. I was so poor, and France was cheap, and I had a G.I. Bill. I didn’t come back from Europe until I was 30, and by then I already figured out my style of painting. In France, they thought I was too American. And when I came back, people said, “You’re too French.” I just stuck to my guns and continued painting. I thought I had something really important that came to me in France. That was hard, though, because it was right at the moment of the breakthrough of the Abstract Expressionists.

PALTROW: I know you shared a studio with Agnes Martin for a while. Will you tell me a little bit about your friendship with her?

KELLY: We lived in the same building, two buildings right next to each other that had the same stairway. I was on the right, she was on the left. It was down by the Staten Island Ferry dock on Coenties Slip. She had a higher ceiling than my studio because she was on lower floor, so sometimes I’d say, “I have a painting I want to do that’s bigger than my room. Do you mind if I do it in yours and you can take off for a while?” We became friends almost immediately when we met. I remember I’d sit on the couch in her place, and in front of the couch was a wood plank, and Agnes would pick it up and you’d look down and see water.

PALTROW: Really?

KELLY: Yes, because we were on the East River, literally. We were one block away from it.

PALTROW: You and Agnes were really close?

KELLY: She was like an older sister, a buddy. When I was finally able to buy a car, a Volkswagen, we used to drive to the beach a lot together. We talked about poetry and reading and all of that. There were lots of artists down near Coenties Slip—Bob Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, who used Rauschenberg’s studio when he got started. This was in the ’50s. Rauschenberg was something of a mentor to him.

PALTROW: I would have thought it might have been the other way around.

KELLY: No, Bob had a great influence on Cy. I eventually moved away from Coenties Slip up to Hotel des Artistes on 67th Street. I was on the ninth floor, the top floor. The elevator wasn’t big enough, and I’d have to stand on the top of the elevator and get my paintings down that way. Finally, I thought, I’m not going to paint any more pictures here. It was just too much. And they were turning it all into a cooperative and wanted me to buy it.

PALTROW: Is that when you moved up here to the country?

KELLY: Yes, in 1970. And another reason I moved was that I was doing too much social stuff in New York. I wasn’t painting anymore. Also in ’69, Bill Rubin at the Modern [MoMA] had offered me a show and I thought, “Geez. I’d better get busy.” I started doing sculptures up here. But when you go away, you miss New York. When I go down now, I feel the energy again. But it’s like Bob [Rauschenberg] went to Captiva [Island], and Jasper Johns moved up near here a couple of years ago. He used to have a place in South Carolina. And Roy Lichtenstein was out in Long Island. You’re out in Long Island now, in the Hamptons, but just for the summer, right?

PALTROW: Yes. I’m in London for most of the year. I married a British musician, so I live there for the most part now.

KELLY: I don’t watch very much television, but Jack and I saw you on Glee. You were so good in that.

PALTROW: Oh … ? Thank you!

KELLY: You really looked like a teacher to those kids. You sang and danced like crazy, and you looked like you were having a lot of fun.

PALTROW: I had a great time. And I love picturing you two watching Glee.

KELLY: You also did a movie where you sang.

PALTROW: That’s right. My father always used to tease me and say, “You can imitate everyone else’s singing, but you don’t know what you really sing like.” This past year, I feel like I finally found my voice in a way—my own voice—just because I was doing so much singing, doing so many different styles, performing in public. It’s a position I really didn’t expect to be in. It’s very vulnerable.

KELLY: It’s like what Jasper is famous for saying. How do you explain your paintings? He said, “Well, you do one thing and then you add something else to it.”

PALTROW: Yes, you just let the truth emerge.

KELLY: With painting, it’s all in the eye. My eye is very impersonal. It can say what is good and what is bad right away.

PALTROW: I have always seen a lot of horizons in what you do. I wondered about that in connection to Agnes Martin.

KELLY: She’s wide open. She painted the desert. She loved the desert.

PALTROW: When she moved to New Mexico, she brought her works down in size, five-feet-by-five-feet from six-by-six. But it’s funny, she shares with you that sense of efficiency. But your work is more emotional, where hers is more spiritual. But it’s interesting how much can be expressed in a single line.

KELLY: I came up against that a lot with people who don’t think my content is visible. Or find it lacking. I always say, “It’s not a Marilyn Monroe.”

PALTROW: I think, for me … Obviously, everyone has different tastes, but I find your art the least kind of narcissistic because you’re presenting something that a person is able to feel. I get why Andy Warhol was a genius, but for me, it’s a bit too self-aware. It’s too all about him.

KELLY: Well, that’s why he’s so famous, I think. A lot of young painters even now love to incorporate celebrity. One idea of being a painter is to use what’s happening at the time. Velázquez was painting of his time. And so was Rembrandt. And Francis Bacon was painting his time in London. He was a real mover, but he saw the insect in the rose. But yes, when I do a painting, I want to take the “I did this” out of it. That’s why I started using chance, like the markings on the wood. I never wanted to compose. I didn’t want to say, “I do curves this way, and make this a square, and that a rectangle.” I remember when I was a little kid, the teacher gave us a piece of construction paper. It had bumps in it. She said, “Today we’re going to do a drawing of springtime. Choose a drawing that you want to do of springtime.” I decided to do a flower, a purple iris with green leaves. I drew it very quickly in a pale outline, and I noticed when you put your crayon on this paper, it only hit the top. It didn’t go all the way down—or through. So I pressed down in order to get rid of the bumps in the paper. When I pressed down I realized I could get a really solid color. I couldn’t stay within my lines. I thought, I’m just going to cut this out and glue it on another piece of paper, and I’ll do the stem and leaves the same way. Then when my teacher came over she said, “Kelly, we’re not here to make a mess. Go stand in the corner.” You know, here was my first collage. But all kids probably do this, don’t they?

PALTROW: Absolutely. Mine do.

KELLY: This was my first collage, building up blocks of solid color. And everyone else was drawing so palely. So I get up and I nervously got in the corner and said, “Jesus, adults just don’t get it.”

PALTROW: Weren’t you right …

KELLY: I had that feeling with my parents, too. Especially about religion.

PALTROW: Are you very religious?

KELLY: I’m not even a doubter. I’m an atheist.

PALTROW: Do you believe in anything?

KELLY: Nature. What this is.

PALTROW: You’re a pantheist then.

KELLY: Yes. I want to paint in a way that trees grow, leaves come out—how things happen.

PALTROW: It’s funny because I’ve always felt there was so much god in your work.

KELLY: I feel this earth is enough. It’s so fantastic. Look up at the sun. It’s millions of years old and still to be millions more. And there are all the spaces we can never see. But my parents sent me to Sunday school. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the whole ceremony of church. One night, I remember I had to sleep in my parents’ bedroom. I can’t remember why. They had three boys, and I was the middle one, so maybe there wasn’t room. Anyway, that night I wasn’t asleep yet and I heard my mother say to my dad, “Ellsworth asked me a question today that I couldn’t answer. He asked me, ‘If heaven is so great, why don’t we just kill ourselves?’ ” Of course, you’ve heard this kind of story. Kids think these things. She told him that she couldn’t answer my question. At that moment I thought, “They don’t know. They don’t know it all.” I think that’s the moment that I became an atheist. Who wants heaven? I want another 10 or 15 years of being here. When you get to age 90, you have to accept it. This has been my life. It is what it was. I put everything into it that I could … Does it alarm you that I’m an atheist?

PALTROW: No, not at all.

KELLY: I think America should get rid of this fundamentalism in order to think straight.

PALTROW: My feeling is, if you’re talking about something you believe, you can say, “This is what I feel” or “This is what it’s like for me.” But if you have any self-awareness, you can’t say what you believe to be true is true. And in that respect, religion causes a lot of the problems in the world. I personally believe in some sort of divine order—or energy. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do think that when something bad happens to someone it’s with the purpose of awakening them. I do think there is some force behind that. I don’t think there are accidents. But it’s interesting to have small children like I do who are starting to ask these kinds of questions.

KELLY: What do you tell them?

PALTROW: One thing I love so much is getting out of their way. I’m so aware of how powerful a parent’s words are. I try to encourage them to think for themselves, and they are completely without prejudice. It’s the most incredible thing. There is no difference between black people and white people. They see [Paltrow’s friends] Michael and Thomas as a couple the same way they see their father and I as a couple. They have absolutely no sense of what is considered “normal.” They’re open and receptive.

KELLY: But there are outside influences coming in, aren’t there? On television. I feel TV is only built on money, on advertising, what they are selling.

PALTROW: A lot of it is.

KELLY: I guess some of it isn’t. PBS is good to watch. For example, I’m so interested now in what is going on with the Republicans. And I watch Rachel Maddow, who is really young and tough. She gets you worked up by telling you things that you didn’t know about, and thensays, “I’ll be back in one minute.” Suddenly you’re watching a bunch of stuff you don’t want to look at. You don’t want to think about buying a car or about shaving cream. [Paltrow laughs] I mean, this is them trying to grab your brain, to sell you something, to hypnotize you with advertising. But, really, I just can’t understand these politicians, especially Republicans. They want to not have Obama get anything done. I think it has something to do with race.

PALTROW: They were like that with Clinton as well.

KELLY: Yes, but now even Democrats are saying that he isn’t strong enough. That he is acting like a Republican and they voted for a Democrat. He’s strong enough for me. I can read an honest person and someone who really wants the best thing to get done. I look at Boehner and I say, “He’s not straight.”

PALTROW: Did you ever have a mentor or someone to guide you?

KELLY: I think those six years in Paris I had of freedom is really what allowed me to keep my original ideas. But before Paris, I did meet a woman who was a faith healer. I had a stammer as a child and she sort of took it out of me. My time in the Army was difficult because of my stammer—I sometimes felt inadequate. So I’d come down from Boston to see her in New York. She stayed in that all women’s hotel, the Barbizon. She taught me to relax and self-hypnotize. I eventually had this catharsis, all this built-up emotion that I finally let out. But I continued to play with self-hypnosis after that. I could tune sounds in and out and control my blood flow. I probably entered some dangerous worlds. I tried to go back to this woman six months later for a “rejuvenation,” but she had found religion. She was magic, though.

PALTROW: Have you ever taught art to a student or been a mentor to a younger painter?

KELLY: I knew a young painter who liked my work and wanted me to be his teacher. I said, “I can show you the way to do certain things that I know, but I don’t want to be a teacher.” Andy Warhol was a teacher without trying. He got a lot of young people interested in his way of life.

PALTROW: Sort of Svengali-ish.

KELLY: For me, I just want to make works that mean something. And I don’t know where it comes from or what it means all the time. How can you know what abstraction means? So much abstraction that I see doesn’t have any meaning. It looks like design, a set-up. I want something that continues over time.

PALTROW: But it isn’t your job really to create theories for your work. It’s the artist job to create from the purest point what they’re doing. It’s our job as an audience to go in and try to understand it or not understand it. I think I was about 16 years old when I fell in love with your drawings.

KELLY: Sixteen?

PALTROW: I went to school with Anne Bass’s daughter. I was in her apartment, and she has a lot of your drawings. Her daughter was one of my best friends in high school. They had a dining room full of Monets and a giant Picasso. But I was obsessed with your drawings. They made me understand something about myself as a teenager and put me on a whole other road.

KELLY: You have to be open to it, I guess. I believe people have to be open to what’s happening when they’re alive.

PALTROW: I’m proud to say I have a couple of your plant drawings. I love them.

KELLY: Some fellow recently had taken one of my plant drawings with a whole bunch of leaves and made a tattoo out of it. He came to me and said, “Here.” I said, “It’s great, but you did it without me, so I can’t number it among my paintings.” But do you know Carter Foster? He’s the curator of drawings at the Whitney. I created a tattoo for him, four panels—red, blue, black, green—going up his arm. At the dinner at Indochine after my last opening at Matthew Marks Gallery, I asked Carter to stand up and roll up his sleeve to show his new tattoo to everyone. I made him get in the light so they could really see it. It’s even got a number, so it’s just like a painting.

Dear Mariella

A 42-year-old man, happily married for 12 years, has suddenly realised he is not “in love”. Mariella Frostrup wonders what he thinks he’s missing

The dilemma I think I am going through this situation: you are married to someone you love and for whom you have true feelings. You are great friends and enjoy the same attractions, hobbies, points of view, etc. Sex is also great, but for some reason, deep inside, in silence, you know you are not really “in love”. Is this possible? I’m 42 and we’ve been together for more than 12 years (no children). Now I feel that despite all the great moments we share and all the things in common, I have to be honest. This is a very complicated situation because she has become part of my life and it will be devastating to me not to see her again and lose that soul mate, but on the other hand if I really feel the emptiness of not being really in love with her, I should let her go. Sometimes, on second thoughts, I want to hang on to our relationship, embracing all the good things we have and thinking that after 12 years, love mutates into some kind of friendship/companionship, but still the state of doubt and emptiness remains.

Mariella replies It’s a mad world, that’s for sure. Everywhere I turn couples are separating as they hit mathematical middle age and panic about what to do with the second half of their lives. You’re a good example of the malaise, although with a relationship that many of us might fantasise about, especially the great sex after 12 years! Could it be that simply because you have been so fortunate you fail to fully appreciate what you have?

Your dilemma is a salutary example of the human condition in microcosm. We have our ambitious, inquisitive restless natures to thank for all the amazing progress we’ve made as a species, but it’s also what makes happiness so terribly elusive. Most creatures on planet Earth will settle for a full stomach, a gang of their own kind and a spot of breeding. Not so homo sapiens. We want love and fidelity and excitement and contentment and to expand our horizons while creating a cosy nest. We want lovers to thrill us and spouses to support us and children to obey us and careers that inspire us and we want, we want, we want!

When I was a child my father, in austere Scandinavian style (he was Norwegian, before any of you get uptight about national stereotyping), used to quote his own mother’s words – “I want never gets” – when our clamouring for everything from chocolate to Lego got too noisy. On immediate gratification he was often proved wrong, because demanding did yield results, but on a more existential level you can’t fault the logic. I’m not for a second denying that your inner voice doesn’t deserve a hearing, but before you go making any rash choices perhaps you should look beyond your immediate environment for other possible causes of discontent.

For most of us, doubt and emptiness are occasional companions along the road, and it’s very easy to lay dissatisfaction on the shoulders of those closest to us. A partner is the most obvious target for our ire, and often deserving of it. Yet when it comes to those dark nights of the soul, my hunch is that our expectations are at least as at fault as the person we’re sleeping next to. The assumption that there are others with whom a bumpy road will instantly be transformed into smooth tarmac is also flawed. We may flatter ourselves that we are complicated creatures whose needs and desires are laced with nuance, but if my postbag has taught me one thing it’s how predictable we truly are. You may think your situation is unique, but you’d be surprised how many letters I get saying the same things in different ways and occasionally different languages.

As lives reach a halfway point the spectre of our demise puts the fear of death in us, so we start scrabbling around looking for ways to put off the inevitable. It’s not coincidence that long-term relationships are at their most vulnerable as midlife approaches. Kazuo Ishiguro captured our blind hope for a stay of execution very poignantly in his novel Never Let Me Go. I’d advise all those seeking eternal youth or sustained high-octane emoting to read his wise book.

My guess is that there are fewer second divorces than there are second marriages not because we “choose better” second time around but because we realise that some things really don’t change.

I can’t possibly tell you whether you “truly” love your wife, but I seriously urge you to look inside before you look out. Cherishing what we have rather than coveting what we don’t is a lesson we could all do with embracing more regularly.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Dorothy is an orphan raised by her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in the bleak landscape of a Kansas farm. She has a little black dog Toto, who is her sole source of happiness. One day the farmhouse, with Dorothy and Toto inside, is caught up in a cyclone and deposited in a field in Munchkin Country in the Land of Oz. The falling house kills the ruler of the Munchkins, the Wicked Witch of the East.

The Good Witch of the North comes with the Munchkins to greet Dorothy and gives Dorothy the silver shoes (believed to have magical properties) that the Wicked Witch had been wearing when she was killed. In order to return to Kansas, the Good Witch of the North tells Dorothy that she will have to go to the “Emerald City" or "City of Emeralds" and ask the Wizard of Oz to help her.

On her way down the yellow brick road, Dorothy frees the Scarecrow from the pole he is hanging on, restores the movements of the rusted Tin Woodman with an oil can, and encourages them and the Cowardly Lion to journey with her and Toto to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow wants to get a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, courage. All are convinced by Dorothy that the Wizard can help them too. Together, they overcome obstacles on the way including narrow pieces of the yellow brick road, Kalidahs, a river, and the Deadly Poppies.

When the travelers arrive at the Emerald City, they are asked to use green spectacles by the Guardian of the Gates. When each traveler meets with the Wizard, he appears each time as someone or something different. To Dorothy, the Wizard is a giant head; the Scarecrow sees a beautiful woman; the Tin Woodman sees a ravenous beast; the Cowardly Lion sees a ball of fire. The Wizard agrees to help each of them, but one of them must kill the Wicked Witch of the West who rules over the Winkie Country.

As the friends travel across the Winkie Country, the Wicked Witch sends wolves, crows, bees, and then her Winkie soldiers to attack them, but they manage to get past them all. Then, using the power of the Golden Cap, the Witch summons the Winged Monkeys to capture Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Toto, and to destroy the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.

When the Wicked Witch gains one of Dorothy’s silver shoes by trickery, Dorothy in anger grabs a bucket of water and throws it on the Wicked Witch, who begins to melt. The Winkies rejoice at being freed of the witch’s tyranny, and they help to reassemble the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. The Winkies love the Tin Woodman, and they ask him to become their ruler, which he agrees to do after helping Dorothy return to Kansas.

Dorothy uses the Golden Cap to summon the Winged Monkeys to carry her and her companions back to the Emerald City, and the King of the Winged Monkeys tells how he and the other monkeys were bound by an enchantment to the cap by Gayelette.

When Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard of Oz again, he tries to put them off. Toto accidentally tips over a screen in a corner of the throne room, revealing the Wizard to be an old man who had journeyed to Oz from Omaha long ago in a hot air balloon.

The Wizard provides the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion with a head full of bran, pins, and needles (“a lot of bran-new brains”), a silk heart stuffed with sawdust, and a potion of “courage”, respectively. Because of their faith in the Wizard’s power, these otherwise useless items provide a focus for their desires. In order to help Dorothy and Toto get home, the Wizard realizes that he will have to take them home with him in a new balloon, which he and Dorothy fashion from green silk. Revealing himself to the people of the Emerald City one last time, the Wizard appoints the Scarecrow, by virtue of his brains, to rule in his stead. Dorothy chases Toto after he runs after a kitten in the crowd, and before she can make it back to the balloon, the ropes break, leaving the Wizard to rise and float away alone.

Dorothy turns to the Winged Monkeys to carry her and Toto home, but they cannot cross the desert surrounding Oz, subsequently wasting her second wish. The Soldier with the Green Whiskers advises that Glinda the Good Witch of the South may be able to send Dorothy and Toto home. They, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion journey to Glinda’s palace in the Quadling Country. Together they escape the Fighting Trees, dodge the Hammer-Heads, and tread carefully through the China Country. The Cowardly Lion kills a giant spider, who is terrorizing the animals in a forest, and he agrees to return there to rule them after Dorothy returns to Kansas—the Hungry Tiger, the biggest of the tigers ruling in his stead as before. Dorothy uses her third wish to fly over the Hammer-Heads’ mountain, almost losing Toto in the process.

At Glinda’s palace, the travelers are greeted warmly, and it is revealed by Glinda that Dorothy had the power to go home all along. The Silver Shoes she wears can take her anywhere she wishes to go. She tearfully embraces her friends, all of whom will be returned, through Glinda’s use of the Golden Cap, to their respective sovereignties: the Scarecrow to the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman to the Winkie Country, and the Cowardly Lion to the forest. Then she will give the Golden Cap to the king of the Winged Monkeys, so they will never be under its spell again. Dorothy and Toto return to Kansas to a joyful family reunion. The Silver Shoes are dropped in the Oz desert during Dorothy’s flight and never seen again.

Sofia Coppola and Stephen Dorff

Stephen Dorff, Sofia Coppola

 

Sofia Coppola’s new film, Somewhere, stars Stephen Dorff as a burned-out actor named Johnny Marco who lives in a suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, wanders around in untied Red Wings, and appears to be drifting through an endless series of premieres, junkets, parties, and his life in general, with little in the way of meaningful relationships or tethers-save, perhaps, for the twin strippers (played by former Playboy Playmates Karissa and Kristina Shannon) who he routinely summons to his room to perform two particularly memorable (and noisy) synchronized pole-dancing routines. However, Johnny’s own routine, as empty-seeming as it is, gets interrupted when his pre-teen daughter from a previous relationship, Cleo (Elle Fanning), arrives for a weekend stay that unexpectedly turns into a longer one, forcing him to very quickly become the father that she very apparently has never had, and what emerges is a stark and, in many ways, unvarnished portrait of two people searching for something they’ve been missing, and maybe, possibly, finding it.

It’s difficult, though, to watch Somewhere without thinking about the biographical weight that both director and lead actor bring to the movie. The 39-year-old Coppola, of course, is the daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola, and grew up in the orbit of the film world. But if there is one consistent theme that runs through her body of work, from The Virgin Suicides (1999) to Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006), and now Somewhere, it’s her acute sensitivity to what makes young women tick and to the emotional forces that, at times, threaten to tear them apart. In some way, all of her films plumb the psyches of girls who are struggling to find both themselves and, as they struggle with womanhood, adulthood and their own independence-much like Coppola herself did so publicly when she was younger, after her famously (and some might argue, unfairly) savaged performance as an actress, stepping in to fill the role of Michael Corleone’s daughter in the elder Coppola’s film The Godfather Part III (1990).

Like Coppola, Dorff grew up in and around Hollywood, where his father worked as a music producer and composer. As a child actor, he appeared in a series of sitcoms and TV movies, but it was the double whammy of his starring role in director John G. Avildsen’s South Africa-set drama The Power of One (1992), and his appearance that same year cavorting alongside Alicia Silverstone in the buzz-binned video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’ ” that vaulted him to stubbled, grunge-y ’90s teen heartthrobdom. Dorff, though, had other ideas. After starring as original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe in the much-hyped but little-seen Berlin-era Fab Four film Backbeat (1994) and as a disaffected teen in the lukewarm slacker comedy S.F.W. (1994), he took a left turn to play the supporting role of transvestite superstar Candy Darling in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), and, in the ensuing years, struggled to balance a career hopping between big-budget thrillers like Blade (1998) and the quirkier fare, like John Waters’s Cecil B. DeMented (2000), to which he was more instinctively attracted. For most of the last decade, though, he fell into a rut, filling character slots in bigger movies like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009), and delivering powerful under-the-radar performances in films like Ric Roman Waugh’s prison drama Felon (2008).

If Dorff felt like he was spinning his wheels in the margins, then it was with good reason: In fact, one of his most zeitgeisty dramatic appearances in the last decade was as the guy who rescues Britney Spears from drowning in a bathtub in the video for her song “Everytime.” So when Coppola approached him with the script for Somewhere, it spoke to him on multiple levels. As a character, Johnny Marco is not dissimilar from the image of Dorff that seemed to manifest itself in the media in the early ’90s: as a hotel dwelling, perpetually unkempt, and unshaven mascot of young Hollywood, stumbling from party to party, by turns too cool for school and inarticulately tortured-all ratty T-shirts, ripped jeans, cigarettes, and fast cars. In reality, Dorff is the polar opposite (save for the clothes): enthusiastic, conscientious, and well-read and well-spoken-and, at 37, he appears more substantial on screen than he did when he was younger, burnished by a soulful gravitas that lends his performance an added heft.

Somewhere, which hits theaters in late December, premiered in August and the Venice Film Festival, where it took top honors, winning the Golden Lion. Like Lost in Translation, to which it will most likely be compared due to its setting, daughter figure-father figure set-up, and one particular goodbye scene, it’s a quiet movie, poetically minimal to the occasional point of murkiness. But if Somewhere is about anything, it’s not spectacle-it’s resonance. Coppola, who was in New York, recently reconnected with Dorff, who was at home in Malibu, to discuss the film, the roads they took to arrive at it, and, of course, their music-video moments.

SOFIA COPPOLA: Somebody sent me the Britney Spears video that you did-the David LaChapelle video. [Dorff laughs] It’s amazing. I hadn’t seen it.

STEPHEN DORFF: That was a body double in the bathtub.

COPPOLA: Oh really? Did you get to know the body double?

DORFF: No, well, it was just … I think Britney left, so I did the dramatic part of the video with the body double. I rescued the body double.

COPPOLA: I thought you were going to have a whole story about how you hung out with the body double or something.

DORFF: Yeah, no. But that video was fun because I had done a picture with David [LaChapelle], I think around the time I did that John Waters movie years ago, so he called and just asked me to be in the video. I think it was, like, six years ago. I don’t even know how long ago.

Somewhere, which hits theaters in late December, premiered in August and the Venice Film Festival, where it took top honors, winning the Golden Lion. Like Lost in Translation, to which it will most likely be compared due to its setting, daughter figure-father figure set-up, and one particular goodbye scene, it’s a quiet movie, poetically minimal to the occasional point of murkiness. But if Somewhere is about anything, it’s not spectacle-it’s resonance. Coppola, who was in New York, recently reconnected with Dorff, who was at home in Malibu, to discuss the film, the roads they took to arrive at it, and, of course, their music-video moments.

COPPOLA: Really? It looks like it’s from a different era. I actually want to ask you something about your career in general. I feel like the part you play in Somewhere is different from any part you’ve ever done before. It’s different than what people have seen you do before. Do you feel like that’s the case? When you first read the script, what did you think?

DORFF: Well, number one, when I first read the script, I immediately hooked into your style of writing, where not everything is all spelled out. You don’t put everything on the page, you know? You put the main movie there, and the characters there, and it’s all very clear. But I remember reading it and saying, “Wow, this is the kind of role my mom always wanted me to play.” And, in a way, I thought it was the perfect role for me to do at this point in my life because I felt like I was kind of going through a growth in my own life, you know? Just as a person.

COPPOLA: Your mother, she passed away a year before you read the script, right?

DORFF: Yeah, my mom passed away a year almost to the day before you offered me the movie. So it was kind of a double thing because I was so excited to get this opportunity to work with you and to play a father and to play things I haven’t gotten to play as a man. I’ve always played different kinds of roles, and I probably played more vulnerable parts when I was really young. Then I went through years of playing the more edgier parts, or just the bad guy or this and that …

COPPOLA: I never saw Blade. Are you the bad guy in that?

DORFF: Yeah. I was a bad guy in that one. [laughs] So to get this part, and then to also have it be something that I think my mom would have loved to have seen me play is kind of a double thing. Also, being in Paris with you, and after that week we spent together talking and meeting and stuff … It was pretty awesome to get that call on this day that I was thinking about my mom a lot. I just remember really feeling her in a way.

COPPOLA: I was really glad that you responded to the script in the way that you did. I got a message that you were going to jump on a plane and come out to Paris and see me, because I hadn’t seen you in a while.

DORFF: Yeah, I wanted to. As soon as I read it, I kind of felt like, “God, I want to go to Paris now.” Like, “Why wait? Let’s just go! Is Sofia even in Paris? Can we find out?” [laughs]

COPPOLA: I’m glad, because I was thinking about you early on when I was writing it, but I hadn’t seen you for a while. I loved the stories you told me of you and your little sisters-especially the youngest one, Kaitlyn. I think that had a lot to do with how you related to Elle.

DORFF: Yeah, I mean, obviously I don’t have my own child yet. But I remember telling you that I do have these two half sisters, and one of them, Kaitlyn, who is 10, has kind of this crazy attitude. She’s very sophisticated for her age. She will say things to me just to cause these reactions. And then whenever you have a young person, and you’re responsible, whether I take her to Disneyland or I’m kind of the parent because my dad is not around … So it was neat to be able to pull from that a little bit. And then I met Elle, who comes off a little bit older than Kaitlyn.

COPPOLA: Yeah.

DORFF: But I was still able to find that kind of thing in her. And then, obviously, having so many kids around-your daughter, Romy, was there—I was just surrounded by children. I don’t know if I’m getting older or what, but I’m really starting to appreciate these cool relationships I have with children. But I do remember the exact moment you offered me the part. I was on the top of this hotel with our friend Zoe [Cassavetes]. She was doing a commercial, and I was going crazy, wanting to know. I was anxious. So I was like, “Well, maybe I should leave Paris.” Zoe was like, “Just chill and hang out tonight.” And then I remember when I got the call. I was like, “Shit! Sofia’s calling!” And then I answered the phone and everybody was standing around me and I walked away and then raised my thumb up in the air. I remembered wanting to jump off the balcony and scream. Then I thought, “Well, if I do that, then I probably won’t be around to make the movie. So I probably shouldn’t jump off the balcony.”

COPPOLA: Didn’t you see the Eiffel Tower light up?

DORFF: Yeah, the Eiffel Tower was literally right off the balcony of this hotel, so I was very close. It wasn’t in the distance just the way you imagine it. As soon as I got that phone call from you it just started going techno—which I guess is what it does. Every hour for five minutes it goes haywire or disco. That’s when I really felt like my mom was a part of this, like she was looking down on me and really happy. It was a wild night. It feels like a long time ago, but it was only a year-and-a-half ago now—or maybe a little more I guess.

COPPOLA: I love that you lived at the Chateau Marmont like the character in the movie.

DORFF: I love that you guys allowed me to do that. I wanted to live pretty much like the character, especially in the early scenes of the movie. I also wanted to go a bit hard because, you know, the guy is sleeping late in the day. That’s why it was so cool that you let me actually live in the room. I think it was totally right to not have me live at my house in Malibu, and to not have me out in the sunshine, or waking up early to the sunlight.

COPPOLA: I remember telling you to drink more and get a baseball cap.

DORFF: Living at the beach, it’s hard to get out of the sun. I remember when we went to Italy, I was worried about getting any sun exposure before we started shooting there, so I walked around in a sweater and a hat. People were like, “What are you doing, man? Come swimming!”

COPPOLA: Do you usually think of other actors or roles when you start a movie? What do you do when you first start a part?

DORFF: I don’t know. It’s different. The first thing that I like to do is figure out who the character was before—where he comes from, what his dreams were, and some of the early stuff we talked about. I always like to know who the guy is, his energy, his personality, his interests. If the character is a real person, like my character was in Public Enemies, where I played a criminal who was in the press, and was somebody known, then I also need to do a little bit more mimicking. You do a little bit more work finding the look of the guy and that stuff … But I think I just try to get an essence of who the guy is. I really enjoyed what we did with Somewhere, where we did these kind of relaxed rehearsals that weren’t about going over text or blocking scenes. They were much more like, where was this family five years ago? Where was this family when you first got to L.A. and got your first movie? We did those fake memory things, where we just kind of went out for a meal or I picked up Elle from school… . Those things immediately put me into Johnny’s head. I found those exercises really helpful. I’d never done anything like that. I loved that process.

COPPOLA: I learned that from my dad, doing all those kinds of preparation exercises.

DORFF: It was very helpful. I think there’s only one scene on camera, with my ex-wife, who is played by Michelle Monaghan, but we have phone calls with her throughout. In that scene when I meet her, even in those few lines that we have together, it feels loaded. It feels like there’s a history.

COPPOLA: Obviously, I don’t like a lot of dialogue, but I liked that there is all of this stuff between them that is unsaid and you can feel that it’s there without saying it. I feel like life is like that. So I’m glad we did those rehearsals, if you can call them that. I feel like it also helped to get all the big emotions out so we could be understated with the movie, but have them underneath it. Should we talk about Ed Ruscha? I’m glad that you told me about that piece of his. I’m looking at it right now: Cold Beer Beautiful Girls.

DORFF: That came from me, kind of. I was at the studio and I’d become friendly with Ed. I originally met him through Tony Shafrazi [the gallerist and art dealer], but I always loved his work. I was in Paris and at your apartment and I was checking out that room where all those photos are in there?

COPPOLA: Yeah, my little office.

DORFF: You have that awesome Dennis Hopper picture of him. I was close with Dennis and that’s one of the reasons I got to know Ed, too—kind of from that whole Dennis–Santa Monica scene and through some friends in the art world in L.A. So I met Ed again at one of his shows at Larry Gagosian’s gallery, and I was at his studio randomly when I had gotten back from Paris. I was excited about getting the part, but I couldn’t really tell anybody, because we were kind of a few months from shooting and we didn’t really want it everywhere. So I didn’t really tell many people, but at Ed’s studio, I did leak it to him. He said, “What’s been going on?” So I told him, “I’ve just come back from this incredible trip to Paris and I think I got the role of my lifetime so far.” So then I was walking around the studio as he was finishing up some business and I saw that he was working on a smaller painting called Cold Beer Beautiful Girls. He was working on the prints for it, doing his artist proof and touching things up. So I was like, “What’s this, Ed?” He’s like, “Oh, that’s just some work. I’m doing a very limited number of prints.” So I said, “Oh, wow. You know, it’s so weird, but I think Sofia is a fan of yours and she has this great picture. You know the Dennis Hopper one?” And he’s like, “Oh, really?” And I said, “Yeah. She has it in her Paris apartment and we were talking about you a little bit when I was over there, and it’s just weird to be here now and then to see this picture. I think this would be really cool as set dressing in his hotel room—you know, like the character went out and bought it?” Just hanging there …

COPPOLA: Unwrapped.

DORFF: Yeah, just sitting on the wall. And then Anne Ross, your production designer, did that bill on top of it.

COPPOLA: The label.

DORFF: Like he’d just purchased it and hadn’t opened it yet. So Ed was really jazzed about that idea. I told him that we would all have a beer at the Chateau. He was all excited. I think he and his wife are going to come.

COPPOLA: That would be so cool. I love that you’re friends with Ed, and you’re also friends with Jack [Nicholson], and you were friends with Dennis [Hopper] when he was around.

DORFF: I’ve always found, when I was younger, that the older guys—the guys who weren’t of my generation but were 20, 30 years older than me—were the cool guys. I always wanted to be around adults when I was young. So I guess when I became a young adult, all my friends kind of got older. As I’ve gotten older, they’ve gotten older. I’ve lost some of them, but a lot of them are still around. I don’t know. I just always found that the movies I got to do when I was younger, when I had this older cast around me—these iconic people, whether it was the Bob Rafelson movie I got to do, Blood and Wine [1996], which was probably when I was sitting on set with Jack and Michael Caine …

COPPOLA: Is that when you met Jack?

DORFF: It was around that time, yeah.

COPPOLA: Doesn’t he call you “Dorff”?

DORFF: Yeah. I don’t think Jack Nicholson has ever called me Stephen. He’s like, “Hey, Dorff. How are ya?” I called him after we won the award at Venice, and he was like, “Way to go, Dorff.” [both laugh] I can’t wait for him to see our movie. Jack has some incredible art, too. That’s where I think I learned about art: between Tony Shafrazi and Jack Nicholson.

COPPOLA: I didn’t know that Jack Nicholson collected art, too.

DORFF: He’s got an incredible collection. It’s unreal. It’s like the ultimate, coolest collection because he keeps it in his house that he’s lived in since the ’60s. The pieces are just thrown up against the wall. Meanwhile, each painting could probably buy the whole block of the house, you know?

COPPOLA: When you started to work, did you want to collect art?

DORFF: Yeah, I always wanted to, but Tony is the one who got me into the market. You live and learn as you go through it. I hope one day I can build a nice collection. But if you can collect these pictures at different times in your life, they become almost like tattoos. It’s almost like you remember the time in your life that you got them or what movie you were doing—like, “Oh, I got that one off Sofia’s movie,” or “I picked that one up in Italy when we were shooting.” It makes it neat.

COPPOLA: Yeah. I like having souvenirs. I’m happy I have that Ed Ruscha print from our movie. I love when you get to get something by someone that you love.

DORFF: I was going to ask you something: I think it was about four years between Somewhere and Marie Antoinette. You had Romy right after you finished that movie. At that point, did you just step back and take a break and then move into writing Somewhere?

COPPOLA: I took the year off after Romy was born. I’d been working kind of back-to-back before then, so I hadn’t really taken a break. I wanted to have the full experience of hanging out and being a Parisian housewife. [Dorff laughs] But after a while I missed working, and actually I did that commercial in Paris for a perfume.

DORFF: Oh, yeah—that Dior one, right?

COPPOLA: It was the commercial for the Dior perfume. I hadn’t worked in a year. It was also my first time working since having a kid, and I thought to try something that was only a few days, a smaller thing, to ease my way back into it … So my friend Anne Ross, who is always matchmaking, said, “You have to work with Harris Savides [the director of photography on Somewhere]. You’d really like him.” Because she thought that we’d work well together. I actually had met him years ago when I had my own music-video moment, where I was in a Black Crowes video [in 1992, for the song “Sometimes Salvation”].

DORFF: Oh right, yeah.

COPPOLA: And Harris shot it. So I had met him a long time ago, but just on that.

DORFF: Did he shoot that White Stripes video you did with Kate Moss [“I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”]?

COPPOLA: No. Lance [Acord] shot that. I love the way that one looked.

DORFF: I remember just staring at this Kate Moss thing going, “God. This is just so cool. She’s pole-dancing to the White Stripes.” We worked with the same choreographer on Somewhere, didn’t we?

COPPOLA: Yeah. Robin [Conrad]. [Photographer and director] Melodie McDaniel told me about her. I read that Robin was a modern dancer from CalArts. She would do dance routines, but to, like, Tom Waits. You know, she was more arty about it.

DORFF: She actually put the stripper poles in and taught the pole-dancing twins in the movie [Karissa and Kristina Shannon] how to do all those numbers.

COPPOLA: Yeah. I met up with them at the Playboy Mansion. Robin was rehearsing with them.

DORFF: And I once caught you … I think it was on their show [E!’s The Girls Next Door]. I watched the episode where you guys went to the mansion.

COPPOLA: Oh, god … Me at the Playboy Mansion. Me and Hef, hanging out. It was so funny. So many people e-mailed me. I didn’t realize so many people watched that show.

DORFF: It’s funny, because I recently met Melodie McDaniel. She shot the Immortals poster.

COPPOLA: I’m curious to see Immortals. I love that it’s just so different from what we did. And then you did that porno comedy, Born to Be a Star, with Adam Sandler. I love that the three movies you did back to back to back are so different from one other.

DORFF: I try to hit all the genres. I wasn’t going to find another one like Somewhere so quickly. I don’t think I’ll ever find another one like it again. And then I went back into the popcorn world with Immortals a little bit. But I think it will be cool. I don’t know—I guess I’ll see Immortals in a year, because it’s 3-D.

COPPOLA: I remember you had those hair extensions for Born to Be a Star. You were going around to premieres and stuff with those things. I remember you coming up to me and my friends somewhere, and you had your extensions and, like, a trucker cap over it. It looked … realistic.

DORFF: Yeah, and you kept saying as we got closer, “When are we getting the hair out of here?” But I remember the funniest was when you had me pick up Elle from school, and I still had that hair in. I went to go get Elle and she was like, “Why do you have that weird hair?” I couldn’t really tell her I was shooting a porn comedy so I was like, “Well, I’m doing this movie about surfers in Malibu.” [both laugh] And then she was like, “Oh, okay.” It was pretty funny because everybody looked at me even weirder when I picked her up from school. [laughs] Where were we?

COPPOLA: We were talking about Harris and that commercial.

DORFF: So you worked with him on the Dior thing.

COPPOLA: Yeah, and I was talking to him about a lot of the things I don’t like about making movies in general—like, I hate doing coverage. It’s just not fun. So I told him what I didn’t like and we started to talk about how simply you could do a movie, and that inspired me to want to do something—

DORFF: That went back to the intimacy of a movie like Lost in Translation?

COPPOLA: Yeah, because after Marie Antoinette, I wanted to go back to doing something more simple and intimate, with just a few characters and not all the fanfare. I mean, Marie Antoinette was fun, but there were so many people involved. To do all the incredible costumes and the whole thing was such a big production. I wanted to go back to doing something more simple, like Lost in Translation.

DORFF: I remember you were very concentrated on let’s go in with as few people as we have to and let’s limit the apparatus.

COPPOLA: That’s part of why I loved being at the Chateau. Shooting in a little hotel room, we could only be a small group, and I liked how it felt—it was like working on a student film or something. And I think Harris helped protect that it stayed small and intimate. He kept the crew small. Having that conversation with Harris on the commercial got me excited to write a script, and to do it in that style, and not like Marie Antoinette, because that movie was so ornate and frilly and girly. I wanted to do a movie from a guy’s point of view that was really stripped down and minimal in a way that there wasn’t a lot of action going on—that all of the interest could come from more of an internal struggle. So yeah, I was glad to talk to Harris about that—and I’m glad you didn’t scoff at my very short script. [both laugh]

DORFF: It was almost like a pamphlet when I got it. It just gave me a feel of the world, like photographs, colors, clothing, style. It was just a great way to work.

COPPOLA: I like making scrapbooks to get what we’re all doing, the style of it.

DORFF: I don’t know if you remember, but one day I was making jokes during the shower scene and you got really embarrassed because your dad walked in. In fact, every time your dad visited the set, I seemed to be naked.

COPPOLA: Every time he visited, you were naked. He was like, “What’s going on here?”

DORFF: You were afraid that he was going to start thinking that we were up to something, making some weird movie.

COPPOLA: Yeah, he asked a couple of times about the scene where you pass out on the girl at the party. When he saw that, he asked Thomas [Mars, Coppola’s longtime partner and the father of her two children] about it—like if that was a story that I knew something about. [laughs] He would never ask me.

DORFF: I remember calling out for Stacey [Battat, the costume designer on Somewhere]. I was like, “Can I get a robe?! Please! Francis Ford Coppola is here!”

Dressing Miss Gaga:
What happens when the style guru behind pop’s wildest looks takes over a storied French fashion house? David Colman visits Nicola Formichetti, the new man at Mugler.
July 2011 By David Colman Photographs by Terry Tsiolis 
IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A fashion stylist plucked from relative obscurity to take the reins of a storied French fashion house. Now imagine that, because of your reputation as costumer to the most Googled woman in the world, the entire fashion “editocracy” wants a seat at your first show. And that you have an ace up your sleeve: The fame monster herself, Lady Gaga, will be making her catwalk debut. What do you do? Do you go to any length to make sure your audience of über powerful tastemakers is instantly blown away? Not if you’re Nicola Formichetti.
Instead, when the newly minted creative director of Mugler unveiled his first women’s collection this past March in Paris, he lined the runway with a phalanx of Gothic arches that, from the side, looked like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast. However, for the fashion elite in the audience, the arches were an outright annoyance, obscuring their view of the clothes—a problem about which no reviewer failed to grouse. What they didn’t realize was that the effect was entirely intentional. Through the lenses of the cameras photographing and recording the show, the arches formed a fantastic frame. And it was the video—which has since been watched by some 120 million people, thanks in part to Formichetti’s savvy Twitter campaign—that the neophyte designer cared most about. “I wanted all the younger generation out there to have better seats than Anna Wintour,” he told me a few weeks later, fiddling with a cigarette in the kitchen of his loft in New York’s TriBeCa. As he sees it, the set was designed expressly for the most powerful people in fashion, and they saw the show perfectly.
THAT’S NOT TO SAY that the clothes he presented were beside the point. The lean and sexy collection of boleros, corsets, bodysuits, and sheaths was a smart balance of old-world refinement (wool, silk, fur) and futuristic fetish (neoprene, latex, silicone). Even the view-deprived critics had to admit that Formichetti’s designs—tough and tight, with perversely nipped waists and Mugler’s famous peaked shoulders—had the potential to energize a new customer base for the house, which has always been known for its glamazon silhouettes and outrageous presentations. (During his heyday, Thierry Mugler, who now goes by the name Manfred, routinely turned his models into cyber-vixens, otherworldly insects, and PVC-clad dominatrices.)
At 34, Formichetti doesn’t exactly qualify as a wunderkind, but he does represent a new breed of designer—one who realizes that 21st-century fashion success has less to do with what’s going on in the atelier than what’s happening on the Web. “It was Gaga who told me all about Twitter,” said the designer, who has 67,000 followers on the social-networking site. “She reads all her messages, and sometimes she sends ones back. She really thinks about what people say. Fans don’t lie. They just tell you what they really think, and they see details that even people in fashion don’t. I love the idea that you can talk directly to a designer or an artist in this way. We don’t need anyone else in between. We don’t need these marketing people. We don’t even need magazines!”
It’s comments like these that make it hard to get a handle on Formichetti. Is he a fashion outsider or insider? A naive genius or a shrewd operator? Where does he live? Where did he come from? The simple answers: both, both, all over, and all over. He has apartments in New York and London and spends about five days a month in Paris and Tokyo, where he serves as fashion director of both Vogue Hommes Japan and fast-fashion company Uniqlo. This globe-trotting lifestyle is nothing new: The son of an Italian airline pilot and a Japanese flight attendant, Formichetti was born in Tokyo in 1977 (“Gemini,” he said—“I’m a two-faced bitch!”) and grew up shuttling between homes in Rome and Tokyo. At age 12 he was shipped off to boarding school in Rome, which, he said, alienated him from his parents for the rest of his adolescence. “I just felt like they wanted me out,” he recalled. “I was very lonely there, and I was so naughty. I just wanted to escape.”
At 18 he did just that. Telling his parents he wanted to study architecture, he moved to London—and then quickly abandoned his studies: “I walked out after a few days. Really, I was just dying to move to London. I’d been reading The Face and i-D all through high school.” For the next few years, he said, “I don’t remember anything. I was a party boy. I just had jobs in shops.”
In 1998 Formichetti landed what he considers his first real fashion gig. The London-based retailer Yuko Yabiku hired him to help start her now famous boutique, the Pineal Eye. He pitched in with every aspect of the operation, from displays and sales to sweeping up. The instant success of the shop brought the fashion world into contact with Formichetti. “I met so many people,” he recalled. “Designer Hedi Slimane, photographer David Sims…”
One customer in particular—Katy England, a stylist at British youth-culture magazine Dazed & Confused—was particularly impressed with Formichetti’s personality and eye. In 2000 she hired him to contribute a monthly column of Polaroids and scribblings, and later that year he started working as a stylist for Dazed and other magazines. “It was around then that I remember thinking, Oh, there could actually be a career in this.”
In 2005 Formichetti was named fashion director of Dazed & Confused, and he began consulting for Uniqlo and collaborating with childhood idols like photographer, Benetton creative director, and Colors magazine cofounder Oliviero Toscani. But there were problems. “I hated the whole politics thing,” he said. “I would just tell people the truth, and I’d get fired. It was disaster after disaster.”
One shoot, which involved dressing a rock band, was particularly unfortunate. “I was only used to dressing models and skinny kids,” he recalled. “And I turned up and it was, like, three fat guys. I just left. That was the last time I tried to work with fat people. I think one of them was Ali G’s brother. It was so ghetto.”­ On another occasion he was hired to style a show for D&G. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t know I was supposed to Polaroid everything. I was calling friends, saying, ‘What do I do?’ So I just sort of put the stuff together and created this look that I thought was the coolest thing ever. And then after the show I got fired straightaway. I was so shocked! I found out later that this was supposed to be their show—not the Nicola show. It was supposed to be a collaboration.”
Still, Formichetti’s career continued to progress: In 2008 he was promoted to creative director of Dazed & Confused, but after more than a decade in London, he felt stagnant and decided to resign and relocate to New York. He picked up assorted styling jobs for magazines like V, and went to a psychic therapist to deal with problems that had dogged him for years. “I had this incredible fear of darkness, and [my therapist] helped me completely get rid of it,” he said. “I had the same thing with women. I was always more of a men’s wear stylist; it felt so natural. I wanted to make men look cool because that’s the way I dress. But he said, ‘Your true passion is women’s fashion.’ He made me remember how, when I was young, I was always drawing female characters and dresses. My mom was my muse—she would buy me Italian Vogue. I was this little fashion boy. Then it became that whole thing of not wanting to be too gay, so I had to try to become an architect and do something more proper. He helped me get rid of that, and a couple months later I met Gaga.”
HAVING SEEN A FEW of her videos, Formichetti thought Gaga had something special. He convinced V to let him do a shoot with her in Malibu, a futuristic take on Marilyn Monroe in the surf. “She arrived fully dressed, in hair and makeup, wearing shoulder pads and this leather dress and heels and shades—at 8 a.m. on the beach,” said Formichetti, laughing. “I was going, This bitch is crazy! She is the real deal. We fell in love with each other, totally. It felt really organic. At the end of the shoot, she said she was going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show the next day and asked if I could maybe help her with that. So I gave her this amazing Nasir Mazhar orb hat, and she wore it with this cool denim jumpsuit. She sat at the piano and did ‘Poker Face.’ I was completely mesmerized. I’d never really experienced the power of pop music and performance and fashion together like that.”
That was May 12, 2009. Over the next nine months, the two collaborated on dozens of costumes and appearances—Canada’s MuchMusic Video Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards (during which Gaga changed outfits seven times, including a red lace gown that covered her entire head and body, with a matching crown), and the Grammys (at which she wore four different looks, all designed by Armani). “They were custom-made, and they were so beautifully finished,” remembered Formichetti. “It’s usually not so glamorous—the outfit in the ‘Bad ­Romance’ video was held together with safety pins!”
It was just a couple of weeks after the Grammys that Formichetti got a call from Mugler chief Joël Palix, who was looking to revive the fashion label, which had been operating mostly as a fragrance business since 2003. (After nearly 30 years, the visionary but mercurial Mugler had little involvement with the label he founded, which was incurring heavy financial losses, prompting parent company Clarins to dramatically scale back the clothing division.) Palix saw Formichetti as a natural fit for the role of creative director. “We hired a headhunter, and we talked to a lot of designers who had headed up their own line or another house, and some were really interested,” he said. “But it’s such an unconventional brand, so we wanted to take some risks. And we wanted someone who loves the digital world as well as really understands fashion. When you start putting the names of people who fit both those descriptions down on paper, the list is pretty short.”
Formichetti, however, wasn’t so easily convinced. For one thing, he had neither training nor experience designing clothes. “I didn’t know what to say,” he recalled. “I’m thinking, I’ve never designed anything in my life! And when I was a teenager in ­Italy, Thierry Mugler was like a fashion god. How can you resurrect that?”
Palix told Formichetti to think it over and, seeking advice, he called Gaga, who didn’t share his hesitations. “She was like, ‘What the fuck? Hello?! There’s not even a question here, you’re doing it!’” And do it, he has—with some help. While Formichetti is responsible for the overall vision of the women’s and men’s collections, he’s quick to give credit to Sébastien Peigné, a Balenciaga veteran who designs the women’s collection, and Romain Kremer, who designs the men’s.
As Formichetti sees it, his job is less about physically making clothes than creating an image and cross-pollinating fashion with his many other obsessions. “I didn’t want Mugler to be about an It bag or an It shoe,” he said. “I wanted it to be about a bigger idea of fashion. I wanted people to think, It would be cool to have something from that house, without it being so much about product.”
And while Mugler the man is still working with the company on fragrances, Formichetti is keen to brainstorm about everything else under the sun: new store concepts, new avenues of retail distribution, new interactive website models—you name it. Clearly, and luckily, he won’t be doing it alone.

Dressing Miss Gaga:

What happens when the style guru behind pop’s wildest looks takes over a storied French fashion house? David Colman visits Nicola Formichetti, the new man at Mugler.

July 2011 By David Colman
Photographs by Terry Tsiolis

IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A fashion stylist plucked from relative obscurity to take the reins of a storied French fashion house. Now imagine that, because of your reputation as costumer to the most Googled woman in the world, the entire fashion “editocracy” wants a seat at your first show. And that you have an ace up your sleeve: The fame monster herself, Lady Gaga, will be making her catwalk debut. What do you do? Do you go to any length to make sure your audience of über powerful tastemakers is instantly blown away? Not if you’re Nicola Formichetti.

Instead, when the newly minted creative director of Mugler unveiled his first women’s collection this past March in Paris, he lined the runway with a phalanx of Gothic arches that, from the side, looked like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast. However, for the fashion elite in the audience, the arches were an outright annoyance, obscuring their view of the clothes—a problem about which no reviewer failed to grouse. What they didn’t realize was that the effect was entirely intentional. Through the lenses of the cameras photographing and recording the show, the arches formed a fantastic frame. And it was the video—which has since been watched by some 120 million people, thanks in part to Formichetti’s savvy Twitter campaign—that the neophyte designer cared most about. “I wanted all the younger generation out there to have better seats than Anna Wintour,” he told me a few weeks later, fiddling with a cigarette in the kitchen of his loft in New York’s TriBeCa. As he sees it, the set was designed expressly for the most powerful people in fashion, and they saw the show perfectly.

THAT’S NOT TO SAY that the clothes he presented were beside the point. The lean and sexy collection of boleros, corsets, bodysuits, and sheaths was a smart balance of old-world refinement (wool, silk, fur) and futuristic fetish (neoprene, latex, silicone). Even the view-deprived critics had to admit that Formichetti’s designs—tough and tight, with perversely nipped waists and Mugler’s famous peaked shoulders—had the potential to energize a new customer base for the house, which has always been known for its glamazon silhouettes and outrageous presentations. (During his heyday, Thierry Mugler, who now goes by the name Manfred, routinely turned his models into cyber-vixens, otherworldly insects, and PVC-clad dominatrices.)

At 34, Formichetti doesn’t exactly qualify as a wunderkind, but he does represent a new breed of designer—one who realizes that 21st-century fashion success has less to do with what’s going on in the atelier than what’s happening on the Web. “It was Gaga who told me all about Twitter,” said the designer, who has 67,000 followers on the social-networking site. “She reads all her messages, and sometimes she sends ones back. She really thinks about what people say. Fans don’t lie. They just tell you what they really think, and they see details that even people in fashion don’t. I love the idea that you can talk directly to a designer or an artist in this way. We don’t need anyone else in between. We don’t need these marketing people. We don’t even need magazines!”

It’s comments like these that make it hard to get a handle on Formichetti. Is he a fashion outsider or insider? A naive genius or a shrewd operator? Where does he live? Where did he come from? The simple answers: both, both, all over, and all over. He has apartments in New York and London and spends about five days a month in Paris and Tokyo, where he serves as fashion director of both Vogue Hommes Japan and fast-fashion company Uniqlo. This globe-trotting lifestyle is nothing new: The son of an Italian airline pilot and a Japanese flight attendant, Formichetti was born in Tokyo in 1977 (“Gemini,” he said—“I’m a two-faced bitch!”) and grew up shuttling between homes in Rome and Tokyo. At age 12 he was shipped off to boarding school in Rome, which, he said, alienated him from his parents for the rest of his adolescence. “I just felt like they wanted me out,” he recalled. “I was very lonely there, and I was so naughty. I just wanted to escape.”

At 18 he did just that. Telling his parents he wanted to study architecture, he moved to London—and then quickly abandoned his studies: “I walked out after a few days. Really, I was just dying to move to London. I’d been reading The Face and i-D all through high school.” For the next few years, he said, “I don’t remember anything. I was a party boy. I just had jobs in shops.”

In 1998 Formichetti landed what he considers his first real fashion gig. The London-based retailer Yuko Yabiku hired him to help start her now famous boutique, the Pineal Eye. He pitched in with every aspect of the operation, from displays and sales to sweeping up. The instant success of the shop brought the fashion world into contact with Formichetti. “I met so many people,” he recalled. “Designer Hedi Slimane, photographer David Sims…”

One customer in particular—Katy England, a stylist at British youth-culture magazine Dazed & Confused—was particularly impressed with Formichetti’s personality and eye. In 2000 she hired him to contribute a monthly column of Polaroids and scribblings, and later that year he started working as a stylist for Dazed and other magazines. “It was around then that I remember thinking, Oh, there could actually be a career in this.”

In 2005 Formichetti was named fashion director of Dazed & Confused, and he began consulting for Uniqlo and collaborating with childhood idols like photographer, Benetton creative director, and Colors magazine cofounder Oliviero Toscani. But there were problems. “I hated the whole politics thing,” he said. “I would just tell people the truth, and I’d get fired. It was disaster after disaster.”

One shoot, which involved dressing a rock band, was particularly unfortunate. “I was only used to dressing models and skinny kids,” he recalled. “And I turned up and it was, like, three fat guys. I just left. That was the last time I tried to work with fat people. I think one of them was Ali G’s brother. It was so ghetto.”­ On another occasion he was hired to style a show for D&G. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t know I was supposed to Polaroid everything. I was calling friends, saying, ‘What do I do?’ So I just sort of put the stuff together and created this look that I thought was the coolest thing ever. And then after the show I got fired straightaway. I was so shocked! I found out later that this was supposed to be their show—not the Nicola show. It was supposed to be a collaboration.”

Still, Formichetti’s career continued to progress: In 2008 he was promoted to creative director of Dazed & Confused, but after more than a decade in London, he felt stagnant and decided to resign and relocate to New York. He picked up assorted styling jobs for magazines like V, and went to a psychic therapist to deal with problems that had dogged him for years. “I had this incredible fear of darkness, and [my therapist] helped me completely get rid of it,” he said. “I had the same thing with women. I was always more of a men’s wear stylist; it felt so natural. I wanted to make men look cool because that’s the way I dress. But he said, ‘Your true passion is women’s fashion.’ He made me remember how, when I was young, I was always drawing female characters and dresses. My mom was my muse—she would buy me Italian Vogue. I was this little fashion boy. Then it became that whole thing of not wanting to be too gay, so I had to try to become an architect and do something more proper. He helped me get rid of that, and a couple months later I met Gaga.”

HAVING SEEN A FEW of her videos, Formichetti thought Gaga had something special. He convinced V to let him do a shoot with her in Malibu, a futuristic take on Marilyn Monroe in the surf. “She arrived fully dressed, in hair and makeup, wearing shoulder pads and this leather dress and heels and shades—at 8 a.m. on the beach,” said Formichetti, laughing. “I was going, This bitch is crazy! She is the real deal. We fell in love with each other, totally. It felt really organic. At the end of the shoot, she said she was going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show the next day and asked if I could maybe help her with that. So I gave her this amazing Nasir Mazhar orb hat, and she wore it with this cool denim jumpsuit. She sat at the piano and did ‘Poker Face.’ I was completely mesmerized. I’d never really experienced the power of pop music and performance and fashion together like that.”

That was May 12, 2009. Over the next nine months, the two collaborated on dozens of costumes and appearances—Canada’s MuchMusic Video Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards (during which Gaga changed outfits seven times, including a red lace gown that covered her entire head and body, with a matching crown), and the Grammys (at which she wore four different looks, all designed by Armani). “They were custom-made, and they were so beautifully finished,” remembered Formichetti. “It’s usually not so glamorous—the outfit in the ‘Bad ­Romance’ video was held together with safety pins!”

It was just a couple of weeks after the Grammys that Formichetti got a call from Mugler chief Joël Palix, who was looking to revive the fashion label, which had been operating mostly as a fragrance business since 2003. (After nearly 30 years, the visionary but mercurial Mugler had little involvement with the label he founded, which was incurring heavy financial losses, prompting parent company Clarins to dramatically scale back the clothing division.) Palix saw Formichetti as a natural fit for the role of creative director. “We hired a headhunter, and we talked to a lot of designers who had headed up their own line or another house, and some were really interested,” he said. “But it’s such an unconventional brand, so we wanted to take some risks. And we wanted someone who loves the digital world as well as really understands fashion. When you start putting the names of people who fit both those descriptions down on paper, the list is pretty short.”

Formichetti, however, wasn’t so easily convinced. For one thing, he had neither training nor experience designing clothes. “I didn’t know what to say,” he recalled. “I’m thinking, I’ve never designed anything in my life! And when I was a teenager in ­Italy, Thierry Mugler was like a fashion god. How can you resurrect that?”

Palix told Formichetti to think it over and, seeking advice, he called Gaga, who didn’t share his hesitations. “She was like, ‘What the fuck? Hello?! There’s not even a question here, you’re doing it!’” And do it, he has—with some help. While Formichetti is responsible for the overall vision of the women’s and men’s collections, he’s quick to give credit to Sébastien Peigné, a Balenciaga veteran who designs the women’s collection, and Romain Kremer, who designs the men’s.

As Formichetti sees it, his job is less about physically making clothes than creating an image and cross-pollinating fashion with his many other obsessions. “I didn’t want Mugler to be about an It bag or an It shoe,” he said. “I wanted it to be about a bigger idea of fashion. I wanted people to think, It would be cool to have something from that house, without it being so much about product.”

And while Mugler the man is still working with the company on fragrances, Formichetti is keen to brainstorm about everything else under the sun: new store concepts, new avenues of retail distribution, new interactive website models—you name it. Clearly, and luckily, he won’t be doing it alone.