Natacha Ramsay-Levi and David Sims

In early April, we sent the following request to a broad range of fashion designers.

Given the current situation, we would like System’s next issue to focus on long-form interviews led by designers – conversations recorded via video conferencing.

Now feels like a particularly relevant moment to focus on designers, as the industry looks to you to lead fashion towards the future, to capture the moment, and, perhaps above all, to enable us to dream.

What would you talk about? It’s not for us to dictate this, because we feel the project could have an inherent Warholian quality – anything that you say becomes valid when placed in the time-capsule context of this document
of the moment.

Many wrote back, saying they’d like to use the opportunity to connect with a friend, a colleague, a confidant, a hero, or another designer.

We’re extremely grateful that they did. And the least we could do to return the gesture is give each their own System cover.

Photographs by Juergen Teller
Creative partner, Dovile Drizyte

What do we talk about? Natacha Ramsay-Levi and David Sims - © System Magazine

In early April, we sent the following request to a broad range of fashion designers.

*Given the current situation, we would like System’s next issue to focus on long-form interviews led by designers – conversations recorded via video conferencing.

Now feels like a particularly relevant moment to focus on designers, as the industry looks to you to lead fashion towards the future, to capture the moment, and, perhaps above all, to enable us to dream.

What would you talk about? It’s not for us to dictate this, because we feel the project could have an inherent Warholian quality – anything that you say becomes valid when placed in the time-capsule context of this document
of the moment.

Many wrote back, saying they’d like to use the opportunity to connect with a friend, a colleague, a confidant, a hero, or another designer.

We’re extremely grateful that they did. And the least we could do to return the gesture is give each their own System cover.

‘I’m slightly worried that I’m just
going to lapse, like an addict, back
into the hyperactive.’

Natacha Ramsay-Levi and
David Sims in conversation,
30 April 2020.

Natacha Ramsay-Levi: Where are you?

David Sims: I’m in London. I don’t mind being here. We are very lucky; there are enough rooms for us to escape from one another if needs be. People in London don’t appear to be tied to an official lockdown. There are lots of people in the park and I can go cycling. I’ve only just started to get… boredom isn’t the right word. I’ve got this sort of anxiety that is a bit inert. I think I might be suffering from not having answers. It’s this control trigger I have.

Natacha: We are so used to having structure and to thinking that the world will always be the same. It’s challenging, but interesting. I’m starting to be positive about it.

David: I’ve resorted to becoming a gardener, which I never thought I’d do. It’s not necessarily my favourite pastime, but its rewards are so clear. I’ll never have the time to do it when I start working again, so it’s an interlude.

Natacha: Who knows? I don’t believe that we will go back to work the same as before.

David: Let’s do one of these questions that System submitted. ‘What does a typical day look like for you during this period of uncertainty?’

Natacha: At the beginning, it was not fun at all. It was military, in order to deal with this uncertainty. Now I’ve really settled into it, and I love doing classes with my kid. I’m cooking a lot, and working… Just trying to think. I can’t draw or start to cut fabrics or anything like that, but I try to think about what the next collection will be. That to me, is the light at the end of the tunnel. Then there’s how we are going to do things, how the industry will change, and how I want my life to change.

David: I just feel like I’m going to have to be reactive. I can’t think that broadly. I can think of an idea that maybe I want to photograph, but they’re just whimsical ideas; they’re not related to anything in particular.

Natacha: That’s good. I have a friend, a writer, who told me she’s finding things in herself that are really wild, and were hidden by all the structures of life.

David: It’s the sudden cessation of distractions. I enjoy my work. There’s a compulsion to it that’s a little bit fraught, a sort of ego phenomenon that makes me think I’ve got to prove something, that I’ve got to be great at doing something in order to matter.

Natacha: Another question, then. ‘What are the benefits, if any, to the disruption to your creative practice?’

David: Space and time. An unobstructed view of the inner thought process. I don’t have to be on the phone very often; not that I’ve anything to talk about!

Natacha: For me, it’s taking time to find something very personal. We now have time to think. We are usually all action all the time, and there is something nice
about having space to think and for the inner self.

David: I grew up in and experienced an earlier time of being a photographer and working in fashion. We had a lot more time available to us, and there were nothing like the demands and range of outcomes that one image has to supply now. I wonder if that acceleration will change now. I like to think that this is a very meditative experience, akin to a stillness that I’d like to achieve, but I’m slightly worried that I’m just going to lapse, like an addict, back into the hyperactive.

Natacha: That’s what is going to be questioned, in general. And I think – and I’ve made a point of this over the past five weeks – I think it’s also about valuing creativity again. In the fashion industry, we were in a world where creativity didn’t have time. As you were saying, we needed to do so much with one image. There was much more marketing. In the future, I think we’ll do fewer images, fewer shows, fewer clothes, but they will carry more emotions, more authenticity and more creativity.

David: I hope you’re right. The underlying culture of fashion has always been ‘capitalistic’, but that was increased by commercialization, which seemed to grow exponentially, without anyone being able to stop it. Now this thing that was so virile suddenly seems to be so fragile. What I find really surprising is how much it is attached to my own sense of ambition, because the spaces and opportunities to get your work seen has grown as well. Imagining how our livelihoods are drawn from such a commercialized process is hard to… I’m bewildered thinking about it. Not because I want to make more money, but because I want to find placement for doing what I do. One of the problems I’ve always had – and I’m sure you’ve shared it, too – is just how many people there are on a set or a project. They don’t necessarily take anything away from it, but they don’t necessarily bring anything to it, either. You mentioned that word ‘authenticity’, and that neutrality gets in the way of that. I keep saying to people that the only thing I can photograph is a personality, so there has to be some kind of intimacy. I think what was lost in that growth was this kind of intimacy; this romantic notion about why we are doing this thing and what we are going to achieve.

‘I enjoy my work. There’s a compulsion to it that’s a little bit fraught, a sort of ego phenomenon that makes me think I’ve got to prove something.’

Natacha: Absolutely. It’s funny because I often think about the conversations that we started having before confinement and we were already saying, ‘Let’s
move on from the studio and having 60 people on a set.’ In your job I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to find the flame, the magical, emotional moment, with 60 people around you.

David: [Laughs] You can’t! I’d forgotten about those conversations. It seemed like fantasy at that point, trying to map out how we could track back and get into
some kind of state of intimacy again. I mean, when it happens, it happens, but sometimes it can’t because there are too many people and it is interrupted. I always end up having at least one element or moment where I feel like that channel suddenly flies open and you end up taking your picture of someone rather than something. But the something, if it’s there, is ephemeral, a moment. I think the big change to look forward to will be working closely in tandem with much smaller groups, maybe down to a maximum of four people. I’m really quite excited about that.

Natacha: Let’s do another question, shall we? ‘As things gradually return to some level of normality, do you think your impulse will be to explore notions of fantasy and escapism, or do you think you’ll be more inclined to double-down on realism, documenting the moment?’ I feel that it’s very important to put quietness, fantasy and eccentricity back into fashion. Because it was so commercialized and demanding before, I was always a bit against everything, so there was a sad underlying mood. I was trying not to push that side of myself, but there was always some kind of reaction. Whereas now I believe that fantasy has come again. I want to be eccentric again; I want clothing to be extravagant or flamboyant, something that blows you away a bit. I had too many demands; I was always struggling and you could feel that struggle.

David: I completely understand that. I go through those inner conflicts even in the short time that it takes to make a photograph. For you, working for weeks
and months in the build-up towards presenting your work, as an artist, you’re living on a sort of knife-edge of your own self-respect. That’s something I completely understand. My inclination is to go towards something that feels real, even though asking someone to sit for me is, by its very nature, a proposed moment rather than something that happens organically. I’m not going to spend a long time with another person and constantly photograph them throughout. That’s not really my shtick.

Natacha: Another question: ‘Given that catwalk shows are so linked to triggering emotions and the senses, are you considering the realities of presenting
Chloé collections in alternative ways?’ It’s a bit early to say, but let’s say, ‘For sure.’ I don’t believe there will be any catwalk shows. There will be events, maybe, but… how to present things? I’m emotionally attached to fashion shows for many reasons, because it’s kind of like the concert at the end of a school year. This moment the whole team can embrace something. So I don’t believe everything will become digital. I think we absolutely need to have an event of some kind. I also know that having runway shows with women walking who aren’t able to show their personalities or having that ‘robot’ walk was already something I wanted to question for September. I was already there. I’m now pushing that idea of movement further in general and thinking about how we can show women, and their movement, their personality. It’s too early to share!

David: It’s really interesting when you say that someone walking on the runway or catwalking is already robotic, already mechanized. That it’s not a genuine or an organic event. Are you thinking about creating a more personalized image for the presentation then?

Natacha: I think so. The first step was about stopping that robotic side of shows, but I think for this September we will have to go further. I’m already trying to think of collaborations with a choreographer, but very abstract, and about trying to find a new vocabulary about movement in general. What can a movement be? What can a fashionable movement be other than a runway show? A question for you: ‘Fashion photography is a highly collaborative process. Are you considering the realities of shooting fashion in more insular, personal and stripped-down ways?’

‘I want to be eccentric again; I want clothing that blows you away. But I’ve had too many demands, too much struggle, and you could sense that struggle.’

David: I would like to strip it down as much as possible. Part of the problem for me now is that when I’m working digitally I have to work very closely with people whose technical abilities surpass my own, because I have none. I should probably take this time to learn how to use a digital camera or I could possibly go back to using film. There’s no reason not to do either of those things. I opted to use digital to the extent that I have because of its immediacy. It’s such a fast way of working, which seemed to line up to some of the expectations of the people I was working for. I kind of gravitated to that, not willingly at first, but I ended up doing it and making that decision suddenly meant that I was working for a bigger number of people.

Natacha: For example, the shoot you did for Vogue Italia in the countryside [‘Dance Vision’, November 2019]. That was on film or digital?

David: It was a mix, and that’s just down to my nervousness. I was afraid. I mean, my abilities as an analogue photographer weren’t too bad. I started out in the
dark room, so I had a pretty good grasp of how to expose and get a print from a negative, but it had been so long, so I decided to use digital as a backup. I think there’s something in the way film reacts to certain, let’s say ‘abuses’ in the process, that you won’t get digitally. You can imitate it, but it will always lose. Something about the way data is so compressed, you can get colour extrapolations. There are interesting ways to explore colour transitions digitally, but the film has a sound and a feel of its own. I wanted to do it that way, but I chose a digital camera just to be safe. Just shows what a fucking pussy I am, right?

Natacha: Let’s move on! [Both laughing] So, about the past: ‘Was there a defining image, reference, person or moment from your teenage years that, now you look back, was instrumental in you working in fashion?’

David: It wasn’t when I was a teenager, but I once took a picture of a guy called Grev. I was about 21, and taking the photo I suddenly realized that I had this thing going around in my head. It was inspired by something that I didn’t necessarily want to recreate, but I still wanted to take some kind of vibration from it and ask someone to perform in a similar way. When I was doing it, and this is going to sound really pretentious, it felt like an out-of-body experience. The camera has that power; it has a sort of hypnotic charm. I was aware that there was a big rock between me and the next level, and that sudden realization snapped me out of the magic, so it didn’t last very long, but I can keep looking at the picture as a way of remembering that feeling.

Natacha: That’s a beautiful story. Another question: ‘Is there an influence that’s always coming back in your work? Is having something like that to return to liberating or do you find yourself wanting to discover a new language?’

David: Why don’t you answer that one?

Natacha: It’s a tension between the two. I like to ‘reference’. Before doing fashion, I studied history, so it’s part of my way of thinking that we are part of something that has already existed. It’s not like we do a fashion revolution every year, far from it. It’s more what kind of values or qualities or beauty you want to show, which you’ve seen somewhere, and you want to show your way of seeing it. I have things that I always come back to, but it’s more a balance between something old and something new. Something that you dig up from the past. You have, between you and that girl, a vision of what it could be, and the work is only about finding that tension. I don’t think it has changed anything beyond that. I think the new language will be about being truer to yourself. Being able to have more choices and to listen to myself more, rather than being surrounded by lots of people who tell what I should do, what I should present, the way I should do things. For me that should be the new language – to be sharper and bolder in what I can say.

David: Will someone permit you the space to retain that sense of individuality, that independence that isolation has served up? There are a couple of tyrannies about what you do at play in social media and journalism: there are the critics and the people giving you false praise that can sometimes leave you with a pixelated version of your own identity. It’s not easy to know yourself when you have to see it through other people’s eyes first. Do you think you could find a way to put up a wall? My problem with this globalized, information-led age in which we are all trying to find our own voices is that we are sensitive people, yet we are driven towards having to be tough.

‘In social media and journalism, there are both critics and people giving you false praise. It can leave you with a pixelated version of your own identity.’

Natacha: I absolutely know where you are coming from. It’s a strange thing, because as everything has become so commercialized, we have had to be so tough, but at the same time, as things are faster, you have to be more intuitive. It’s a strange mix of ups and downs.

David: That kind of factory-led environment became about quantity and mass rather than any essence. Unfortunately, I think that makes us create ‘product’, and there’s less tangibility in what we’re making. I hope that I’ve got the wherewithal, you know, the sheer chutzpah to develop better filters.

Natacha: ‘Did you always strive to be different or more of individual from a young age?’ And here’s a quote from you: ‘What I’m trying to avoid is comparisons with my peers and my generation.’ ‘How do (both of) you strive to be different from the rest today? Is it a mindset or method?’ Clearly, for you it’s a mindset. I’m answering for you! You don’t want to work in fashion if you can’t be different or individual. Personally, I think this is the one reason why I decided to do fashion. I really felt it was a medium where I could show what I felt was different. I still think collaboration is very important, though. My job is a lot about teamwork. I’ve been trained to work in a big team and I miss that a lot. Collaborations with other designers, too. Being able to have a conversation all the time is very important to me.

David: I agree with that. I think that’s a big part of my nature as well.

Natacha: A lot of this is lacking in fashion, for me. In film, it’s a bit different. There are schools and people who work together or write articles together; there’s a kind of collaborative spirit about where cinema should go. Whereas, in fashion, it’s different. It’s very, very individual; it’s very competitive.

David: When I said that I’m trying to avoid comparison with peers of my generation, that was a long time ago, but I still feel belligerently the same. But I’m a lot less vexed by that sort of imperative. I am, weirdly, quite an obedient person, I think. I have a sort of need to fit in, but I’m also quite dissident. So, the next one’s for you: ‘What acts as a catalyst for your professional ambition?’

Natacha: I have this pretentious feeling that I have things to say, even if I don’t see myself as the most creative person. I know designers who are much more
creative than me. As a creative director, I like to show or put on stage not only my work, but the work of people who I love and really admire. I am almost acting as a fan: ‘I love that artist, how can we work together?’ To me, that’s what’s exciting. Next question! ‘Can you recall a specific look, design or collection (for Natacha) or image, shoot, campaign (for David) that you worked on early on in your careers that gave you the confidence to believe you could go on to create great work in fashion?’ Wow!

David: Hand on heart, my answer to the first portion of that question is the last collection you did.

Natacha: Ahhh, thank you!

David: You know, to some extent, every designer has a position of power and when I go to work with them I’m immersed in it and I’m bewitched by it, but I’m also beholden to it. I feel like it’s my job to supply a suitable visual. Understanding how is quite elusive sometimes, but when I saw some of those clothes, the way you put them out and the way you presented them, in that particular show, I was able to tap into it so easily. I didn’t have to create a sort of journalistic, smart answer for it.

Natacha: Thank you very much! From my side, it’s different because I’ve known your work since forever, and we worked together with Nicolas [Ghesquière]. Of course, if I have to recall one thing, it’s the campaign for Balenciaga. I was on the shoot and it was pretty amazing. To me, I couldn’t think of one image that was more important than another. What I can see in your pictures and what I love is how much meaning they have. It’s those moments you were talking about, that we can see and feel in your pictures.

David: Yeah, there’s that chime. I don’t supply that with every picture any more, obviously. I’m so afraid of looking at my archives as I don’t want to see the
low points. The other terrifying thing, really, is that I don’t know if it’s ever as good as I imagine it to be. So it’s better to live in the fantasy of it all being good!

Natacha: But you have this balance between something elevated and something that is human and emotional. I think that’s something you’ve always kept in your work, whatever the picture.

David: I’m flattered to hear that. That’s very kind.

Natacha: ‘Can you give an example of what’s most intuitive for you in your work and what you overthink?’

‘I was given a famous Helmut Newton picture by a client. Rather than be given the task of interpreting this picture, I was being paid to copy it note for note.’

David: I think those things happen simultaneously.

Natacha: It’s funny, because I’ve been asked by Riccardo [Bellini, CEO of Chloé] to do creative DNA brand codes. I’m starting to do it now, and I have to look back on all the collections and see what is still relevant and what we want to push. Looking at the shows, I’m like, ‘OK, this was wrong, this was wrong…’ OK, next question: ‘How do you deal with criticism? Have you grown better at coping with this over time?’ I’ll go. It depends where it comes from and who it comes from. I mean, I love to read the reviews after a show; I’m obsessed. I think most of the people who write – and I say most of them – take a lot of time. I’m not sure if I’m better now at dealing with criticism. It can be soul-destroying, no?

David: I’ve found that the ‘craft’ of criticism has been affected by the tyranny of social media. I’ve sometimes felt like criticism of a work seems to be viewed in and of itself as a sort of unholy act. Yet some of my best decisions have been made as a reaction to receiving harsh criticism. It’s not always invited, but to have somebody hit me with a ‘no’ or find something objectionable in it, has sometimes pushed me somewhere much more important. I chose to work for a long time with people whose behaviour around me probably looked from the outside like a dysfunctional, collaborative relational thing. I think some of the best work comes from this collision of forces supplied by two people’s senses of invention. I’ve enjoyed that kind of collaborative thing, and some of the people that I’ve collaborated with have sometimes actually stood in front of my desires, and done it very knowingly. Sometimes that doesn’t work out and you’ve got to step back on it, but I’m not inclined to hear good things or bad things about my work unless I’m in a personal conversation. Unlike yours, my work doesn’t go out into a domain where people are paid to respond. I don’t get that.

Natacha: ‘Do you require the pressure of a deadline to achieve your best results?’

David: No.

Natacha: For me, it’s a bit more complicated. I don’t feel the pressure of a deadline in the moment, but the three last weeks before a show I become totally
animal. I feel like I’m an animal. I feel like whatever I think or feel, it’s going through my skin, through my eyes, through my ears. I can hear many conversations going on behind the wall. I feel like all my senses are so profoundly heightened and changed, and more sensitive. I like that moment. And, of course, the date arrives.

David: I’ve often seen that sort of chronic fatigue strike other designers after a show. It’s like they can almost hardly speak. You describe it so vividly. It does sound delightful, like a really powerful experience lived for three weeks. It must be bloody exhausting.

Natacha: But also energizing. You feel your creativity and that your inner self is at its strongest. ‘Would you consider yourself a well-organized person in your career and creative activity?’

David: Not organized in my career, but creatively, I do like to have systems. I’m obsessed with sequence in what I do because I want to create something
that ultimately I can pull apart, that I can deconstruct. That requires physical things to be in place and me to react in a certain way, so that ultimately I can find a certain escape.

Natacha: It’s the structure you need to be free. ‘Now that you’re both established in your fields – with teams and responsibilities – do you feel yourselves more affected by the business and commercial side of what you do?’ I can answer that because that’s really part of my job. I started in fashion at the moment where the business and commercial side was not really in place yet. I mean, you remember the Balenciaga era with Nicolas. Since then, the system has changed, and as we were saying, it became so much more commercial. Of course, I have to take more responsibility for that, and I really do hope that it will become less important!

David: I never used to think – not one iota – about having to draw an income from what I did, and I kept that going for a really long time. Then I took a few years off work and when I came back I was suddenly aware, because I had no money left, how well-off people were. They were being amply rewarded, financially. I decided then that I had better start paying attention to that, except that led me off on a tangent that wasn’t, in the end, spiritually or creatively a good approach. I made another decision later that gave me an opportunity to approach the business differently. I’m being very oblique because it wouldn’t be kind to go into too much detail, but I felt like a pure focus on money was just a rabbit hole. This idea that more money makes more value is just an abstraction of the thing that I started out wanting to be. For some people, it’s great; it means they can go off and buy a boat, which would be lovely, don’t get me wrong. But recently, I’ve found that I keep saying to people that the only privilege I have, apart from being a dad, is the true privilege of being able to afford to be a photographer. It requires a certain amount of freedom. I have to have space, and I’ve made my own space, like a little bit of a Green space where I can test out ideas without being a burden to anyone else.

‘Criticism of a work seems to be viewed as an unholy act. Yet some of my best decisions have been made as a reaction to receiving harsh criticism.’

Natacha: What’s the next question? ‘What was the last instance when you are aware of your work being copied? Do you ever find imitation a form of flattery?’ I don’t think that it’s really a question of being copied. I like to be naive about it; I like to stay humble. I think that it’s a zeitgeist moment. Fashion talks about beauty, but it talks about the zeitgeist as well. I don’t think it’s about being copied, and, of course, in fashion we are copied, but that’s fast retail and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s OK. It means, ‘Ah, this has resonance.’

David: I have a difficult relationship with all of this stuff. It wouldn’t do for me to answer without owning up and saying I possess imitative skills. I can reproduce principles of some of the work that’s gone before and that’s had an influence on me. It’s a way, partly in my own heart, to celebrate the value of something and
what it means to me. Perhaps it’s too coded and not honest enough to be clear in a lot of those cases, but I think people are very well-educated, visually, and they know where I’m coming from when I do it. The only time I find it really irritating is when someone uses my work as a kind of reference point, and then their piece gets attention, rather than what I’ve done. Certain pictures can only ever really happen at, or exist in, or be an outcome of a certain time. When I copy one of my
own pictures, I no longer know who I was when I took those pictures in my 20s. I can’t really copy it, as I can’t recreate the reasons for wanting to take that picture in the first place. Sometimes it can trivialize the better work.

Natacha: Yes. It’s a noise, but I don’t think it devalues your work. I think it’s just a noise on the side.

David: I often feel that if I’m exploring something, I’m going off on a channel of my own where I feel the need to say something. So, if someone copies that picture very soon afterwards, it can really feel like that exploration has been bracketed. It ceases to be yours. I find that really irritating. It’s a complex thing. I admit fully that I do copy work, but I don’t look at a page and decide, ‘I’m going to copy that.’ I’ll go into my head.

Natacha: Of course, and that’s what we were saying at the beginning – it’s the references. Those beautiful references. Alors, some questions about femininity. ‘How did you see women when you were a kid – what did they mean to you? What does the word “woman”, with all its socio-political weight, mean to you today?’ I don’t think I had the chance to question that when I was a kid. I never felt less considered because I was a woman. Perhaps I grew up in a lucky environment. Of course, now I am much more aware, and it’s the same in my career. I never felt like I didn’t get the job I wanted because I was a woman, so I can’t say I’ve been a victim of that at all. What does it mean to me today? I absolutely believe that one of my roles as a female creative director is always to show the difference between
men and women, and to enhance the beauty of being a woman, because I think it’s such an amazing experience. I’d be very happy to try the experience of being a man, but I’m super-happy being a woman. I think we are different and this difference is meaningful. I think it’s a very interesting moment right now, because everything is much more open and equal. Not on every level, but at least in terms of the conversations. The other day I was watching TV ads from the 1950s that talks about the job of being a housewife, and how women are very resourceful about finding solutions for housework or cooking or how to hang a coat. I was thinking, ‘Wow, my mum was educated with that.’ It’s crazy, because I never felt that myself. My mum never educated me on how to be a housewife.

David: I’d like to get to a point where things are gender neutral, in that we are not having this conversation any more. What I want to do is be affected by somebody’s intellect, and I want to try to appeal to theirs.

Natacha: But I believe the intellect of women has been framed by society as something different.

David: It’s a threat, that’s why! I don’t like it when it’s weaponized; I like it as a threat. I like women in photographs not looking like they are being objectified.

‘I’ve often seen chronic fatigue strike designers after a show. They can hardly speak. It sounds like a powerful experience, but it must be exhausting.’

Natacha: ‘Is femininity constantly evolving? Or is that a myth?’ Of course, it’s always evolving, it’s moving…

David: It gets deified. It’s elastic, I think. Look, if you go back to pre-Christian pagan societies, indoctrination often came from a feminine place. That got bent out of shape with the invention of Christianity. I mean, we’ve lived with something different for a long time, but it’s evolved… Since the Second World War, it’s evolved profoundly. We ought to go back to being pagan.

Natacha: Absolutely. You know the first thing I did at Chloé – because there’s always this question of femininity at Chloé – I used little femininity idols, which go back to pagan society. Women were goddesses.

David: It may sound a bit fluffy to say that I would like to see things be more neutral. At the same time, I would quote Malcolm X: ‘By any means necessary,
equality has to be achieved somehow.’ If there has to be a sort of conflict to get to that, we’ll take some of the collateral damage that comes with it. I’d like to see it achieved. I don’t know if we’re getting there anytime soon.

Natacha: ‘Natacha, when you think of David’s photography, what does it evoke emotionally and what does it bring out from a fashion-design perspective?’ Well, I have a question for you. Are you aware that in every collection that we’ve designed at Chloé, your pictures have been on the mood boards? I’ve worked with different teams and they always bring documents, and your pictures are always there – always.

David: When we all look at pictures, we’re reading a confluence of the signifiers that reach us from that picture. There’s no hierarchy; they’re all happening at the same time. But if it’s backstage and on a mood board and part of an inner studio, whether it’s my picture or another photographer’s, what is the directional value of having that picture around for someone like you who’s doing the work? What does it say? Are you saying ‘let’s make that mood’?

Natacha: It’s because of how much emotion your pictures carry – your pictures have meaning. They say something about the moment, about the period, about the energy of the person in your photograph. We have your picture on a mood board because we want to convey that energy and bring in something fresh and new. Your pictures have so much meaning and a sense of sophistication, of elevation. There is a sense of precision, of choice. They are distinctive and a great balance between something sophisticated and something emotional. When you start a collection, that’s very inspiring.

David: Once, as part of a creative brief, I was given a really famous picture by Helmut Newton. Rather than be given the task of interpreting this picture, I was being paid to copy it almost note for note. I tried to ask why we were copying this picture, and what made it so important. The person we were shooting looked nothing like the woman in the picture, by the way. She didn’t have long blonde hair and she was going to wear a dress, not be nude. The conversation kind of arrived at nothing, really. It was either take their money or don’t. So I said to the guys and girls who work for me, ‘When you look at this picture, what do you see?’ Unfortunately, their responses were really basic: it’s black and white; she’s got no clothes on; she’s in a room. The picture shows a sexually very questionable situation, and I could feel all of the layers of that slightly awkward situation, but none of those things was being discussed. Being famous gave it a kind of layer of camouflage, do you know what I mean? It meant that it was open season to copy, and it meant that people didn’t feel they had to investigate it. I do really appreciate that for you my photos seem to have some sense, that there’s a resonance to them, as you say. That’s ultimately what all great pictures should do, so if I’ve got anywhere near that, then that is very rewarding. I don’t want to dwell on that too much as it sounds a bit vainglorious. I don’t look at my work like that.

Natacha: But you can!

David: Well, I don’t, just for the record. As I said, I find it hard to look at them sometimes. I’m going to say this because we are near the end: it’s not very often that I can talk about the creative process as a whole with anybody in your position, because I feel that designers are under such a great deal of pressure. There’s this very pre-determined approach to what’s needed from this kind of collaboration. Going back to something we said earlier in this chat, the best thing about this work is the collaboration; the opportunity to share and to see what happens when ideas do cross over each other.

Natacha: That feels like a nice place to end. Thanks, David.

Taken from System No. 15.