Posted by Stephan Moskovic | September 23rd, 2016

In-demand Italian stylist Sissy Vian (Management + Artists) has racked up an impressive portfolio of stirring imagery since her days posing in front of Helmut Newton. Her fearless embrace of both the new and the old guard of photography has allowed her to stylistically contribute to the work of Camilla Akrans, Albert Watson, Ezra Petronio, Roe Ethridge, Collier Schorr, and Ryan McGinley. As creative fashion director of Flair, she was able to bring a sharp shock of vitality to the Italian based magazine, melding the worlds of fashion and art as seamlessly as the couture garments she calls in. Now back as Editor-at-Large at the book that started it all, Vogue Japan, Vian and her steady curation of new talent continues to push for powerful and sensual female characters as she crafts visuals we can all dream about. As Milan Fashion Week heats up, we had a conversation about her fortunate start in the business, working at Flair and Vogue Japan, and thoughts on what is needed in the industry to bring the spark back.

Portrait by Bardo Fabiani courtesy of Sissy Vian
Interview by Irene Ojo-Felix and Stephan Moskovic
Photographs courtesy of Management + Artists + Organization (New York)

Aymeline Valade for Vogue Japan by Liz Collins

IRENE – I first would love to understand how you became who you are today. How was it for you when you first started?

SISSY – I might be a strange stylist because everyone says to me, “Oh! But you are so normal.” I don’t know if all of us are normal, but in the weird world of fashion maybe I’m more normal than others. Is it because I’m still based in Italy? I’m Italian – I’m not American, I’m not English. I have a different culture. I started as a model a long time ago and for me it was really about the art. I worked with photographers like Helmut Newton and he said to me, “Oh you have to take the camera. You should start to take pictures because you are a visionary.” For me, it’s not just about fashion, it’s more about the concept and to leave a signature. My goal is not to be on Instagram or to be like, “Oh, I’m here! I’m doing this!” I don’t care. It’s more about being in a book and that one day someone will look at a picture of my work and say “Oh, this is so gorgeous! How did she make it happen?” That is what is really interesting to me.

STEPHAN – It’s from the image making and the art side first. So you modeled for Helmut?

Yes! That was funny because I was modeling in the 80’s but I was short and skinny. At that time everyone was tall, but because of my body proportion and I knew my body I could make myself look like I was 5’11.’’ So, he chose me thinking that I was 5’11’’ and when I arrived, I was so small! **laughs** He says “Ah! I thought you were taller!” So they said “Okay, get naked” And of course….

He was a bit disappointed to see me but after I started assisting Anna Dello Russo at Italian Vogue. She started to work with him so I went back to work with him again. After when I left Anna, I began my own career but for me Helmut still is #1 as far as photographers go. It’s not nice to say I have a list, but for me he was really a god. I was not really interested in modeling to be honest. To me it was frustrating all of the time to be chosen because you are this or you are that. For me it’s always more about what you can say to people through your work.

“To me it was frustrating all of the time to be chosen because you are this or you are that. For me it’s always more about what you can say to people through your work.”

STEPHAN – Did you have an interest in art and photography from the beginning?

Si! I started a long time ago to mix the two. I was able to do this project with Francesco (Vezzoli) because he came to me a long time ago when nobody knew him. He said, “I’m just an artist and I would love to do this project with you.” It was with Marianne Faithfull, Catherine Deneuve – all of those classic actresses. He said, “I’m dying to work with you as a stylist, but I have no money – could you do for me?” And I said, “Yes! Of course!” I always tried to make different choices. If the project is interesting to me, I just do it.

STEPHAN – That’s great to hear because I wanted to talk to you about how do you assemble such a great variety of artists and photographers?

When it came to Francesco, he had just finished this big project for the MOMA, which they did a book for and he was always asking to do something together that involved great people, to get hair and makeup teams at that good level. He knew I was working with Catherine Deneuve at that time, Juliette Binoche too. Since forever I’ve been trying to mix cinema and fashion, and I was always interested in doing different things. If not, I get bored. It’s not just fashion, fashion, fashion for me.

Jessica Miller for Flair #8 by Inez & Vinoodh and Francesco Vezzoli

STEPHAN – And now especially I imagine that the brands have so much influence on shoots and try to impose their priorities. It’s got to be difficult creatively.

It’s really hard for us. Because also with my experience when I was a Fashion Director, you’re scared when the magazine goes out because you know that there is at least one shoot where a brand will call you and start screaming at you over the phone that you didn’t do this or you didn’t do that. It’s never enough, you know? I think it’s not just the small magazines I think for everyone it is like this at this moment. They have so much power because they have money.

IRENE – And you don’t want to make them mad because if they’re mad they don’t give you looks…

No, but at the same time I really believe in freedom…

STEPHAN – Creative freedom?

Si. Creative and journalistic freedom. I mean our point of view has to be safe. If not, it’s just a catalogue. So, I try always to defend and publish young designers that have no money. I try to support them through interviews. Push them to do editorial. It’s what makes it all believable and makes people like the magazine. I try to support people, young people. I look at young models, young photographers, young designers because I think that they need support much more than before to be honest.

“I always tried to make different choices. If the project is interesting to me, I just do it. ”

IRENE – It’s funny that you mention the new generation because you collaborated with Paul Sinclaire and he’s been a contributor of ours. He really has an amazing story but how did you first link up? He’s part of the old school.

I remember I started in the 80’s as a model but there was one time in the early 90’s, I was just starting as a little assistant. [At that time] there was Joe McKenna and Paul Sinclaire – it was just about those two and nobody else. Really, he left a [mark]. There was a period that he was really big, big, big. It’s nice to come back after all those years and to meet again in a different place. I said to him yesterday that it was such an honor to collaborate.

What I think is really missing because all of this pressure from clients is the fun in this business. When I started as a model you could work until 2 AM in the morning and you enjoyed it because at the end of the day you did an amazing picture and if it didn’t work you could just do it another time. There was no drama. Now, everything is dramatic. Like, oh it’s too late we have to stop, oh you have to run, oh it’s too early oh it’s…

STEPHAN – It’s true. You work a lot with Camilla Akrans? Is there a group of photographers that you work with frequently?

Yes, Camilla we started working together a long time ago. I brought her to Japanese Vogue, I just worked this past week with her. But it depends on the moment in my life. The time that I started with Vogue I worked with other photographers and now I want to go back to work with them like Sølve (Sundsbø) and Peter (Lindbergh), those kind of photographers. I enjoyed working with the young ones, the Flair experience made me more in tuned with the younger generation.

Mariacarla Boscono for Vogue Japan by Camilla Akrans

STEPHAN – Yes and you’ve shot with so many different photographers at Flair as well.

Si. Because you give them a chance and now most of them are at Interview or Vogue so for me it’s good because that means also I have a good eye. Today it’s much more difficult. But at the same time they give you a new energy and they push you. Sometimes old photographers they give you something wonderful in one second, but they don’t have any more passion. So you need both.

IRENE – And now you said you’re back at Vogue Japan where it all kind of started for you…

I’m the Editor-at-Large at Vogue Japan now. I’m more involved with them in terms of what I can bring to the table. Anna is still there, she’s my biggest teacher and Fashion Director. But, she asked me to bring in the new blood.

STEPHAN – You have a very long work relationship and you trust each other…

Si. I spend more time with her than with my husband. *laughs* It’s true! When I look back I think, “Oh my god it’s a really long time that we’ve known each other.” She was really tough, I was her assistant for 5 years at Italian Vogue but I learned that I could do what I am doing and what I did because of her schooling. She was really intense. At that time when I was assisting, Italian Vogue was #1 in the world. American Vogue has the power but all the creativity was at Italian Vogue. For me it was a really good time and I had the chance to work there with big photographers. It’s something that you can’t replace. You had to just shut up and work, you know? There was no 2nd, 3rd, 4th assistant… it was just you with 40 pieces of luggage, 3 suitcases for you, flying around the world. I was sleeping I think for 2 hours. There was so much to do and it had to be perfect. The Flair experience was really good for me, for a different level also because I wanted to bring back something fresh in Italy. Italy was really stuck and now there’s new blood.

When I first left Italian Vogue, my choice was to be international. I didn’t want to stay Italian. Italy needed international support. It was old and everything was old. It was so tough to make things happen. It’s still not easy. At least in France I think there’s some sensibility. Not the advertising agencies that are older than in Milan, but in terms of magazines. Where is the new generation? Where is the new point of view? New stylists, new photographers, new hair and makeup?

Anna Dello Russo for Vogue Japan by Luigi & Iango

IRENE – New designers even. In the past 2 years there is Marco de Vincenzo, Fausto Puglisi, and more but there wasn’t really a system set to support them so that they can get money. It can’t just only be Armani…

SISSY – Here [in NY] it’s like okay, let’s move on, more new! Which is super interesting because you feel the energy. That’s why I love to work here. I can’t move because I am married and because I have a daughter. So I am always on the plane back and forth.

I think with the internet it’s so quick that now the vision is slightly different. You have to be consistent and believable.

IRENE – I wanted to talk about specifically your work with Flair and Vogue Japan. When I look at their magazines they seem very celebratory of youthful spirits. They kind of take more risks, especially Vogue Japan in comparison with American Vogue. Were you always initially drawn to that sensibility of being fearless? Or was it a more organic connection? Did you seek that out beforehand?

I think fashion is about movement. Sometimes you have to have a different point of view. You have to evolve. I have to really understand what is the taste now and see what’s going on. It’s not just about having style or vision. What is really important is to have a point of view, which people recognize as a kind of signature if you want. You have to be consistent and believable.

The experience with Flair was to have a different point of view because I had no money and no support. So, how can we make it interesting and how can we do a project that is different, something new? I said okay, let’s start with new photographers that don’t have a chance to be in all the big magazines. That’s why I started with a new generation of people. And after they grow up, you bring them to Vogue.

“Every issue had a different idea about youth, about couture, dreaming, revolution. I was trying to give kind of a box where I could put all of my fashion ideas and choose photographers that were on top.”

IRENE – So what’s your take about the pace that everything is going now? How everything is getting faster? Do you find that they’re good or bad?

I think everything goes too quickly. It’s just about business and there is no more creativity. I think that we should go back to that creativity. I’m not interested in just shooting catalogs. This happened to me when I worked for a magazine, I don’t want to say the name, but I was so frustrated about it. We love your work but you can’t do this or that. The image it’s not mine, it’s not my point of view now and there are more and more magazines that do this.

STEPHAN – And what was the approach for Flair? Was each issue a specific idea? Or was it a collaboration with the artists and photographers?

That was basically my idea. It was more of an artistic approach. Every issue had a different idea about youth, about couture, dreaming, revolution. I was trying to give kind of a box where I could put all of my fashion ideas and choose photographers that were on top. Vogue, of course, you have more possibilities than a younger magazine but I tried to give a strong point of view. Thank you, by the way, because you always supported me!

Mariacarla Boscono for Flair #1 by Juergen Teller

STEPHAN – It really stood out as a magazine! It had a strong point of view which is unfortunately rare now.

I told you Italy is a really old place, and they didn’t really follow me. They are slow it’s always “maybe tomorrow…” with them. They just started now Instagram! It’s been 4 years that I was talking to them about social media. It took so much effort. The magazine existed before and was totally down and to make it believable again took so much energy. They didn’t understand the project. It was too modern for them. But they understand that people and designers loved the magazine and supported the magazine so they couldn’t believe it.

STEPHAN – What’s your take on Instagram as a fashion or Instagram’s place in the fashion universe?

It’s really important. It’s important for people in fashion for sure. What has really changed the vision and is really still powerful is Facebook, at least globally. We love Instagram because it’s quick and it’s your personal things but it’s just for our business. It’s not really outside our industry. If you want really to be worldwide and connected it’s still Facebook.

STEPHAN – Do you see a platform like Instagram or even now snapchat having a creative role? People use it primarily as a self promotion or even as a performance platform… and it has limitations creatively because of the format. So I was wondering what’s your take on that.

I don’t really promote myself in the sense that “Yeah I have this pair of shoes” or “I have this” I mean a lot of stylists they do that. But I try to publish pictures, nice pictures that I like or something that inspires me or can inspire other people.

IRENE – Do you find inspiration there? Or do you find talent there? Have you ever discovered something on a social media platform where it’s been a benefit to you?

Of course! I mean it’s a work to stay on Instagram and Facebook and I have no time to be honest. Just when I take my coffee in the morning or if I’m at the airport I can take the time to play with it.

You understand the approach people – take and how they think and what they like through Instagram. It’s so immediate and you will learn a lot. For example when you look at Glen Luchford, he’s always putting like inspirational pictures or something. It’s really interesting to see.

STEPHAN – Where do you see the magazine business going? Of course it’s in a crisis or transition right now. There also seems to be an explosion of independent magazines right now, like smaller ones.

IRENE – So many…
Too many. *laughs*. I mean it’s not difficult to make a new magazine or a new project if you have good people. The difficult things is to keep going a long time, go the distance, to do another. A lot of those people who don’t have space on a regular magazine, they disappear.

That’s the problem. And I don’t feel very much interested in projects now. I don’t feel many magazine I would love to work with. Everything looks a bit the same. I mean, when ‘Gentlewoman’ was popping up, after that, EVERYONE was copying.

Everyone has that as a reference. Just do something different, you know? Its not about copying someone else. Just a nice picture.

Fernanda Ly for Vogue Japan by Ezra Petronio

IRENE – Coming from a styling perspective what do you think will need to change in order for it to have that kind of, that new energy? I see a lot of designers now, I guess in a way to kind of balance the system, are choosing to show men and women together. Like, we want less shows so that we can be more creative.

A lot less shows! Everything is super fast, it’s the same problem. Look at this season, Hedi Slimane left, Raf Simons left, Alber Elba left. Before it was Galliano. I mean I feel that the designer comes in, they squeeze all the good out and are then it’s like, “next”. It’s like this, look at Saint Laurent. You know, I love Vaccarello. But, after Hedi, the message is really, really clear. I don’t think that all of the trends, all the ideas, will arrive at the final woman, or customer. They just stay in our little business. And this chain has to be broken. I think the designer needs more time to think. I mean once it was one collection in winter and one collection in summer, not all the seasons. Saint Laurent, Dior, Balmain, they became geniuses and icons but this took awhile. Every single collection was amazing! You know, take your time. And now we don’t have time, designers don’t have time, it’s just *snaps fingers*, you know? That’s why I understand people now want to produce. It’s a lot of money to make a good show.

IRENE – That’s what people remember, I would assume. Even the amount of time it takes for people to find inspiration and it not just be throw-away…the time to actually do the critical thinking. I didn’t know if in styling you feel that same pressure.

Yes, we have a pressure. Also, I work in consulting and I work on shows to I understand the maison and people ask us for new ideas for trend. But it’s always the same themes, it’s 70’s and 80’s and 90’s and modern and retro and the past. It’s so schizophrenic, you know? It’s so quickly that it’s not arriving to the real message to the customer and you burn through a year in one second. Like everything is old right after it shows.

It’s nonstop. You don’t even have time to think – your eyes have to travel to have a inspiration. You need to have the time to sit down, have a coffee, and see other magazines or other books. Go on a trip just for work.

IRENE – Cruise! Cruise just dropped yesterday for Chanel in Cuba so now it’s already…

It’s nonstop. You don’t even have time to think – your eyes have to travel to have a inspiration. You need to have the time to sit down, have a coffee, and see other magazines or other books. Go on a trip just for work. But these companies are like a vampire and they suck from you all your ideas and inspiration and right after it’s on to the next. That’s why I think that many designers want to slow down. But someone has to start. I think it’s really important.

STEPHAN – Maybe also the aspect of obsession consumption. What’s the point of fast-fashion when you’re constantly churning out all of these products?

IRENE – That people aren’t buying. The numbers are showing it’s still accessories, it’s still what everybody’s… Even if you can afford to buy clothes you only can afford to do it every like 2-3x per year. You’re not doing it 4,5,6x per year because you can’t consume unless you’re a celebrity only wearing something once and then donating to charity.

Yeah but that’s true. But this happened because of the internet. Globalization and the internet hit so quickly that everyone wants more. But I said to you that trends, aren’t even arriving to the final customer. The public doesn’t even know… All of my friends ask me all of the time and there are people that take what’s going on and also when you look at a magazine, there are few that understand fashion but a lot you don’t even know what’s going on.

And with that is the real challenge. I had this conversation with a new photographer and said that it’s good that you haven’t been in a magazine because you really push yourself, you have freedom but at the same time you need a big magazine like Vogue. An established book to make your images believable and strong. That doesn’t mean it’s commercial it means you have to do a super nice picture but in 10 year it’s still looks relevant “now.” Look at images of Avedon. Look at Lindbergh, Meisel. They shot fashion and they’re still modern, all of the images. So that has to be I think the challenge.

Teddy Quinlivan, Julie Hoomans, & Diego Villarreal for Vogue Japan by Albert Watson

STEPHAN – Is there anyone from the new generation that you think does it right? Or stands out?

Oh of course! I have to say that the level is really good on Luigi & Iango. They’re incredible. They’re really focused but they love fashion, they love women, they want to show beauty and all of the pictures are really strong. Greg Harris is another one that is on the come up super quickly. Harley Weir, 27 years old she’s like wow. Coco Capitan… I mean she’s young. She’s not perfect but you feel something. You feel the energy, you know? And of course after you have them beside all the big ones.

It’s an interesting time. It’s a bit of a challenging time but more and more I believe in this moment, I was talking these days that it’s really about big or new. I mean I did this project with Albert Watson and the new generation doesn’t even know who Albert Watson is! I said, what are you talking about? Albert Watson?! One time in my life I wanted to shoot with him so bad. He’s a legend for me.

IRENE – When I look at you book I notice the way you style women is focused on that feminine power. You’re not afraid to show skin or put them in lace and leather, but it’s still kind of this feeling of strength. I wanted to talk more about your sensibility and how you style. How you choose to style women…

It’s me. I love beauty. If you see what is strong in my work it is that you might have a naked woman but they’re never vulgar. This is real quality for me because of Newton and the power that his women had. I like all kinds of beauty in a woman. To transform a little girl like Peyton Knight.

IRENE – She’s so amazing.

Yeah she’s a super good model. She’s interesting to me. When I was a model, the first thing I was looking was the face. I want the girl to look beautiful and to be sophisticated. I love sensuality. It’s really I would say big part of my pictures for sure. All of the designers say to me, “oh your woman doesn’t have underwear. What do you put…?” **laughs**

Peyton Knight for Vogue Japan by Liz Collins

IRENE – But it’s good to see because like you said there are so many different viewpoints now as far as photographer style, but it still is cool to see someone who wants to make a woman look like a woman. To feel good and not be afraid.

Or you have to make a woman dream. Ok you represent a woman – for me it has to be beautiful. How much time do you spend looking at a page? It has to be so strong that you want to be the woman you see. Or you have to say “oh that’s so funny!”

I never thought I was beautiful, even when I was modeling, I would look at the other girls and think that they were always more beautiful than me, and I loved watching them. And through that I started changing roles – I started discovering what I wanted to do

I never thought I was beautiful, even when I was modeling, I would look at the other girls and think that they were always more beautiful than me, and I loved watching them. And through that I started changing roles – I started discovering what I wanted to do, to live through my characters, it’s a little bizarre and psychological but I thought it through a lot. Often as a model, it’s not that all stylists love the girls, for me I adore working with them, even during shows, to take them into a different world and push them where I want them to go.

It’s always a big collaboration with the girls. I was the one to first start shooting with Karen Elson. I brought Gisele to Milan. I was the one Karlie Kloss made the first trip with for Japanese Vogue. She was crying and said, “Come on. You will be a star!”

IRENE – How do you find the, or I don’t know if you do… Do you find this special thing within a model that makes you connected?

Well I don’t say this to every model but I try to have the best from every girl. I just did a job in China, and there was only one model that could talk a bit of English but I tried anyway to push her and to have from them all the best that they could give to me. The model is 8% of the picture and the rest is the light. But if you lose it and you don’t have the girl, you don’t have the picture. It doesn’t matter if you have the #1 model in the world. And you have to work for this. The girls feel that I love them and that I’m really there to make them even more beautiful. They’re like a flower and for me it’s really important as a part of my job to help them open up.

Milla Jovovich for Flair #8 by Inez & Vinoodh and Francesco Vezzoli

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4 Comments to “Sissy Vian”

  1. Radouane says:

    one of the kindest human beings in our business . such a lovely lady! <3

  2. Luca says:

    One of the most talented and deeply creative figures in the fashion world! Superb Sissy!

  3. pardisa says:

    A necklace with a snake would love

  4. Jamie lyn says:

    How do i become a sissy model