In the midst of all the routine craziness, I’ve hardly had a free moment to puzzle over the cosmic significance of all the cats that descended on me recently. But here’s a shot.
First off, you can’t imagine what was going through my mind when I heard we were doing a shoot for Hello Kitty, only to find out moments later that Lady Gaga, (of all people!), would be our model. How was I going to blend these totally dissonant images into something coherent and meaningful? I quickly realized I needed to find a way to incorporate Hello Kitty directly into the wardrobe, but it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do. A week later I found myself standing in a room full of boxes exploding with Hello Kitties—and I had just a few hours to figure out how to turn the stuffed animals into a dress before the most important shot of the day.
I should have sensed that something strange was going on a few days before, when Indrani and I decided we needed to bring out Naomi Campbell's "feline" side. Even though I knew it was Bastille Day in Paris, I rushed across the Atlantic to see if I could find the perfect element to tie together everything I’d been working on—to bring my vision to life. Fortunately, I’d already pulled together a strong collection of fashion from New York, London and Milan, because when I arrived in Paris it was looking more than ever like a museum—everything was closed—except I did find a few amazing accessories by my friend Yazbukey, which later became presents for Gaga to keep.
So I returned to London, reviewed what I had and then added some finishing touches. In the end Indrani decided that the style I chose made Naomi resemble a "wet, radioactive, Egyptian cat."
The "radioactive" part may have been more of a projection—we’d been wondering all day whether the rumors about her temperament were true, and if her claws were going to come out for the shoot.
I want to give my subjects the respect and space to express themselves fully. Naomi is an amazing person to work with because she has such a clear sense of how she wants to present herself. At the same time, a photo shoot has to be a collaboration.
Because of my role as a stylist, which is getting the talent ready beforehand and keeping them looking and feeling good throughout a shoot, I often end up as the intermediary between the artist and the photograph. Of course, that sometimes leaves you in the line of fire.
To make it out alive, you have to be like a cat—seductive, but fierce.
This gets even more complicated when you have two artists behind the camera. Add the talent to the mix and suddenly you are acting as a translator between three foreign languages. But the old saying about having “too many cooks in the kitchen” doesn’t have to be true. It’s not easy, but over the years I’ve found that it’s possible to channel all this creativity and emotionality—the trick is to see how everyone is really saying the same thing in their own way. And what they’re saying is: give me the space to be myself. I try to create that space. I try to be nimble.
Flash-forward again (if you’re still with me through all this time traveling) to the weekend of our Hello Kitty shoot with Lady Gaga. Before the shoot even begins, I’ve created a diverse selection of styles for Gaga to choose from. I’ve tried to anticipate her needs but I also want to give her a chance to express them. And in the end I’m there to help guide her towards a decision that ultimately is her own.
If you give people enough creative space, they will surprise you—like when Gaga shocked us by wearing the Hello Kitty necklace as underwear. For this to happen, you have to be willing and ready to recognize a good idea. In this case, Gaga’s personality really had a chance to shine through—and the result was that the whole juxtaposition reached it’s full potential.
Anyhow, there I am at the end of the day putting together my most ambitious piece of the day: a giant dress constructed from nothing but Hello Kitties, a bust and part of a kimono. I’ve rolled the dice knowing that this project would require a large investment of time but that it could be a showstopper and possibly the culmination of the whole shoot. But I also know that it’s the one piece that Lady Gaga hasn’t gotten to see yet.
But when I show it to her, she reciprocates the open mindedness I’ve shown her. She puts the dress on, ascends her throne and we are both blown away. The Hello Kitty queen is majestic.
And I smile like a Cheshire cat.