MEN AT WORK PT1

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In June 1988 City Limits magazine ran a cover story titled Fashion’s New Mafia. It featured five male fashion journalists/stylists – Mark Connolly, Simon Foxton, Hamish Bowles, Marcus Von Ackermann and myself – described by writer Jessica Berens as ‘[the] new style arbiters…their power will grow’. In the first of a series I talk with Simon Foxton (pictured second from left), influential menswear stylist, fashion consultant and Visiting Professor Fashion (Menswear) at the Royal College of Art.

IRW. Where do you reside/work?

SF. I live in Ealing, West London, in the same house that I’ve lived for the last 30 years with my lovely partner Donald. My office is in the wonderfully brutalist Brunswick Centre near to Russell Square.

IRW. What is your first fashion memory?

SF. Possibly my sister, who is ten years older then me, wearing a very ‘mod’ Mondrian-inspired dress. This would have been in the mid-Sixties. It looked so different and exciting. I think my own first conscious fashion purchase was a long sleeved T-shirt that had different coloured sleeves and body with sewn-on embroidered patches. I was about 10 so this must have been around 1971. I can still feel the thrill of wearing it to school and the shock and awe that it garnered from my friends and the disapproval of the headmistress.

IRW. What made you choose fashion as your medium?

SF. I grew up in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a fairly small coastal town in North East England close to the Scottish border. My parents owned and ran a hotel. In the early Seventies a young knitwear designer, John Ashpool, came to stay at our hotel whilst he set up his own knitwear factory in Berwick. He and my family became close friends and I got to meet a lot of his visiting friends and colleagues and models that came up from London. All terribly weird and glamorous people, at least to my naive eyes. I think that first sparked a flame. Also I was allowed to explore where he worked, (a disused school), and enjoyed watching the yarns being dyed in huge cauldrons, or rifling through his art books, or seeing beautifully intricate pieces of intarsia knitwear appear from enormous and noisy industrial machines. This all felt very magical and I think even then I felt a desire to be part of it. Also a few years later I became totally enthralled by Punk and that had a major effect on me. The whole DIY attitude and the deliberate rule breaking and the shock tactics were all meat and drink to me. It’s hard to now imagine, or even remember, how totally new and dangerous that all felt at the time.

IRW. Why did you choose to specialise in menswear?

SF. I guess the only truthful answer would be that it’s what I know and understand. It just feels very natural and instinctive for me whereas womenswear is something that I merely guess at. Of course there is a lot of women’s design that I can appreciate and find beautiful, but it rarely if ever gets me excited. That is why I don’t tend to style women, I feel out of my depth with the ladies. When I have done it in the past they generally end up looking like frumpy librarians. I always designed clothing that I would want to wear myself, and I guess with styling I am projecting an image that is an ideal, either as a fantasy figure or, more honestly, how I would like to be. Sadly the chasm between reality and fiction has always been pretty wide, but I can live with that.

IRW. When did you first realise you might make a career in fashion? How did you get started?

SF. I’m not sure I ever made that conscious decision. It was more the path of least resistance. I did my foundation course at St. Martin’s School of Art (1979-80) and most of the way through it I still wasn’t that clear on what degree course I wanted to apply for.  I eventually applied for the fashion BA as I was better at that than any of the other things like graphics or painting, but it was never a burning desire. I got on to the fashion course at St. Martin’s and had a great time. I don’t think I did much work but I made a lot of good friends and seemed to go out clubbing a great deal. That was a particularly good time and the place to be for anyone interested in style; pretty much the epicentre of the Big Bang in terms of the multitude of ideas that are still today being disseminated. My degree collection was featured in both i-D and Blitz (thank you Iain) I left college in ’83 and started my label ‘Bazooka’ with two friends, and we had a certain amount of success (more PR than financial). I was doing a bit of freelance designing for Fiorucci as well, but then Caryn Franklin, who was the fashion editor at i-D and I had known at college, asked me if I’d like to do some styling for the magazine. I did a Bazooka shoot with the seminal photographer Mark LeBon. It was a kind of style-off with Body Map, Ray Petri and Caroline Baker. Later that year Terry Jones, i-D‘s owner, asked me if I’d like to try a bit more styling. He hooked me up with Nick Knight, who was also quite new at the time, and we clicked.

IRW. How would you describe what you do for a living?

SF. For my editorial work I would say I generally dress up handsome young men in strange and implausible outfits. For my commercial work I try and make clothes look the best they can so that you may hopefully choose to buy them.

IRW. What do you see as your role?

SF. Instigator and Facilitator.

IRW. Is there a moment during your career that you felt like you were part of ‘Fashion’s New Mafia’?

SF. No, I have never really felt close enough to the centre to wield that kind of title. Power isn’t something that interests me greatly anyway. I’m quite content to carry on doing what I enjoy and if it occasionally is picked up by the mainstream then all well and good.

IRW. Where do you find your inspiration?

SF. These days mostly from the Internet. I’m a huge Tumblr and Pinterest fan. Check out my blog – simonfoxton.tumblr.com (NSFW!)

IRW. Do you have favourite clothes that make you feel fabulous?

SF. ‘Fabulous’ isn’t really in my repertoire, and these days I’m just happy to find things that fit.

IRW. Who were/are your role models/inspirations?

SF. Roxy Music, pornography, The Rezillos, WWE wrestlers, Bootsy Collins, Oui Magazine, Brian Eno, Chris Eubank, tropical fish, car-boot sales, Francis Bacon, the colour green, Twin Peaks, the illustrator Moebius, Bodybuilders, Krazy Kat, Cereal boxes, the sea, Sauvignon Blanc, etc…

IRW. Is there a photograph/look/image that you wished you had styled/art directed?

SF. Jean-Paul Goude’s series of dancers, i.e. Blacks, Gays, Wasps, etc. I love everything about that shoot and its aesthetic has had a long-lasting influence on my own work.

IRW. Is there a piece of clothing that you wish you had invented?

SF. No, not really. I’m not like that about individual bits of clothing. I see them as a means to an end.

IRW. Most stylish men/women?

SF. The Tuareg, The Nuba, The Masai.

IRW. Which aspect of your work do you find most rewarding?

SF. I totally enjoy the process of putting a photo-shoot together. The research, casting, art direction, props, finding all the right bits and pieces. It’s very exciting and great fun. Also the collaborative aspect is extremely gratifying. If you put the right team together it is great to share ideas and so often you collectively come up with an idea more exciting than if you’d just forged ahead alone. The shoot itself can be quite intense and hard work but rewarding in its own way too.

IRW. Which aspect of your work do you find most challenging?

SF. Trying to sell myself and talking about money I am particularly poor at. Also trying to include certain credits into stories because the magazine ‘needs them’ can be quite an ordeal.

IRW. What would you say to someone who believes fashion to be a frivolous career choice?

SF. Well, maybe they’re right, but a life devoid of frivolity is no life at all.

IRW. Do you think being a man has had an effect on your career in the fashion industry?

SF. Yes, sadly I think it’s a lot easier for a man to get ahead, even in this business. Women have to work twice as hard or be twice as talented. I feel things are getting better but we aren’t close to parity yet.

IRW. What advice would you give a young man who aspires to a career in fashion?

SF. First of all be absolutely sure it’s what you want to do (I’m talking about styling here). People often confuse the end product with the job. We produce glamour but the process is distinctly unglamorous. Most of the time it’s either pestering PR’s for the looks you need, chasing credits, steaming outfits and hanging around studios until 2am BUT, you get to work with some of the most beautiful people on the planet and, if you’re lucky, transform them into your idea of perfection. So it’s not all bad.

IRW. What are the most recent projects you have been working on?

SF. I’ve just shot the next Stone Island advertising campaign with my business partner Nick Griffiths (Our sixth year working with Stone Island (#perfectclient). A VMAN editorial I shot with Nick Knight has just been published also. I’m very happy with it. I wanted to do something totally unnatural, unreal and digital-screen based and I feel we have achieved that.

IRW. What’s next on your to do list?

SF. I’m not a great one for planning so, to be honest, I have no idea. Something exciting or interesting usually turns up.

SIMON FOXTON PORTFOLIO:

PUNK – The Face, 1986

Photographer – Nick Knight

Model – William Faulkner

Hair – Kevin Ryan

Make-up – William Faulkner

“A fashion piece about Punk, celebrating 10 years since it’s beginning. William was a talent and a beauty, I’d love to know where he went, I haven’t seen him for decades.”Image

STRICTLY – i-D, 1991

Photographer – Jason Evans 

Model – Edward Enninful

“We shot this all around the streets near my home in Ealing using my then assistant, Edward, and his family and friends. It’s still one of my favourite shoots. The Tate bought the series of which I am very proud. Edward went on to be fashion director of i-D and is now fashion and style director at W Magazine.”

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BEASTING – Arena Homme Plus, 2007 

Photographer – Nick Knight

Model – David Epstein

Body make-up – Florrie White

“This was a fashion feature on Galliano Menswear. The collection was pretty visceral and we chose guys with bodies that reflected that. David is a personal trainer and one of my favourite models. I’ve worked with him a lot and he never complains however outlandish the outfit. This shot is David with two other guys standing behind him linking arms.”Image

WTF-FRILLAZ! – Arena Homme Plus, 2009

Photographer – Nick Knight

Models – assorted

Make-up/Tattoos – Georgina Graham

Hair – Johnnie Sapong 

“I had come across these bizarre frilly dresses on eBay for guys into the adult baby scene and wanted to find a way to use them. I felt the most striking and incongruous mix would be to use really hard looking black guys. The models were mostly street-cast and the tattoos were expertly done by Georgina Graham. The guys were all briefed beforehand and were totally cool with it. It was a right laugh!”Image

SEAGULLS FLYING BACKWARDS INDICATE A VERY STRONG WIND – i-D, 2012

Photographer – Daniel Sannwald

Model – Jordan

Make-up and body art – Isamaya Ffrench

“Apart from the title I really love this shoot. Really great team and models, it was a joy.”Image

TRANSHUMAN AFTER ALL – VMAN, 2014 

Photographer – Nick Knight

Model – Oisin Atiko (Models1)

Hair – Matt Mulhall

Make-up – Bea Sweet 

“For this shoot I wanted everything to be very unnatural and unreal, the kind of images that could only exist on a computer screen. With Nick’s amazing eye and his team of specialists I think we achieved that.”Image

DREAM THE WORLD AWAKE – GQ Style, 2011 

Photographer – Nick Knight

Models – various 

Hair – Matt Mulhall

Make-up – unknown

“This was a shoot for GQ Style and a film for Walter Van Beirendonck’s retrospective exhibition in Antwerp. I was given access to Walter’s total archive. I can’t tell you how exciting that was. Rather than shoot it chronologically he allowed me to mix it all up and create something different which was very brave and generous of him. I am more than happy with the results, and this shoot was probably my favourite one ever to work on. It was fantastic fun from start to finish.”Image

 

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