Ryan Chappell on Creating Art Through Movement

Behind the Image is an ongoing MODELS.com series taking a more personal look at both established and emerging creative talent.

Ryan Chappell 

Ryan Chappell, Movement Director

Hometown: Tweed Heads, Australia
Based: Paris
Representation: self-represented

How would you describe your work? What’s your trademark?
Always a hard question to answer and have a genuine perspective, but I guess my trademark as a movement director is my ability to sensitively adapt and cross over many different styles, taste levels, and brands.

How did you get into your chosen career?
I was a professional dancer, then a choreographer working in music, TV, theatre, etc and I later did a BA in Fashion Design and Fashion History at London College of Fashion. My first internship was at Celine under Phoebe Philo, and then designed menswear for a short period of time before deciding to move into the movement direction, bringing both my skill sets together.

What other jobs have you had?
Menswear designer, choreographer, dance teacher, model coach, and a long list of odd jobs along the way.

What inspires your creative process and influences your artistic vision?
That’s always changing as I change and evolve myself. Externally speaking, all the usuals, films, music, art, photography, design, performance, traveling, etc. Internally speaking, which for me is where the genuine source is, I would have to say my close group of friends, who are all incredibly talented and bring so much to my life through endless conversations, support, and exchanges, really influence my artistic vision.

What have you watched/heard/read lately that has inspired you?
I was really taken away by Jonathan Glazer’s new film ‘Zone of Interest’ on so many levels. I’m really interested in subtleties at the moment, seeing that the world is so noisy. The power of gesture over spelling everything out.

What do you love about what you do?
I genuinely like people and helping others remember how great they are, and leading them to their potential is something I absolutely love. The job for me is a facilitator role, so it’s less about me and more about others. Also, the magic that is created when a whole team feels involved and inspired onset and how connected we can feel creating together.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced professionally?
As a movement director, the beginning was challenging doing editorials to build a book and a reputation that doesn’t generate an income, it was a test to see how committed I was. Also the personal transformations to be able to remain confident in uncertainty.

What’s one thing outside of your work that you would like people to know about you?
I have always been passionate about smell and perfume. To me smell can be one of the most magical, transformative things that is so personal and sensory. I love it even more because it can’t be imitated digitally, and the emotional recall is so powerful.

What do you hope viewers take away from experiencing your work?
A sense of hope, joy, inspiration to be more of yourself, and a place to dream. Basically, all the things I got from looking at fashion imagery as a teenager.

Who do you think is one to watch?
Adrian Gonzalez-Cohen is one to watch as a photographer. He’s an established art director, but he has such a fresh approach to classic fashion imagery with a totally new and unique modern spin. Also, model Sara Caballero, we recently worked together, and she is incredible for being so new to modeling.

Selected Work

Maryel Uchida by Hugo Comte | Image courtesy of Ryan Chappell

Dior Heritage, Vogue Japan, January 2023
This image I absolutely love, it’s elegant, modern, and illustrates my love for playing with unexpected body shapes. In this case, a broken foot silhouette shows the shoe’s beauty and line, which also gives the body an interesting sense of balance and weight. The subtlety of the hand gesture that feels in conversation with something unknown and the interpretation of my direction to ‘ask the camera a question with your jawline.’ All of these elements came together to make a great image.

Bente Oort by Vito Fernicola | Image courtesy of Ryan Chappell

CR Fashion Book, 2021
This was a fun shoot and my first time working with Carine Roitfeld. It was an Armani special, and figure skating was the inspiration. I wanted the image to look like it was gracefully gliding on the ice, but it had to be a static pose for lighting reasons. I got Bente to cross her legs standing, bend her knees as much as possible, lean forward, and really swing her arms with strength. Add a bit of wind, and I think it somehow felt like a dynamic gliding image totally transmitted from a static pose. I really love finding trompe l’oeil solutions in images.

“I usually dislike dance in fashion imagery unless it really is appropriate and serves a specific need to facilitate an image. I find it lazy and a lack of imagination to tell some one to ‘dance’..To me, a successful commercial image is when the product, composition/pose, and atmosphere are aligned.”

Image courtesy of Ryan Chappell

Loewe x On: Cloudtilt Campaign, 2023
I usually dislike dance in fashion imagery unless it really is appropriate and serves a specific need to facilitate an image. I find it lazy and a lack of imagination to tell some one to ‘dance’. In this campaign for Loewe, it needed to be active and dynamic. Not Sporty, not dance, but a movement language that felt effortless, confident, and aligned with the elevated nature of the Brand. This is a challenging space for a movement director to sit in, and it is such a fine line to get it right. This campaign was really well received, and I like the graphic, almost weightless feeling of this image and the product looks desirable. To me, a successful commercial image is when the product, composition/pose, and atmosphere are aligned.

Kendall Jenner by Drew Vickers | Image courtesy of Ryan Chappell

Jacquemus Fall 2021: La Montagne
This image for Jacquemus went viral, and many memes have been made about it. It was my second Jacquemus campaign and my first time working with Kendall. I had her holding onto the rope in the picture naked, hanging in a hammock, throwing balls, and doing sit-ups, and she was so brilliant, considering she was jet lagged and had just met me. We have now worked together many times, and she’s a great person and I always have a good time with her on set. We somehow create great images together and it’s been great to collaborate with her over the last few years.

Malick Bodian & Khadim Sock by Rafael Pavarotti | Image courtesy of Ryan Chappell

In The Mood For Nobility
Renaissance art inspired this image, the poses, and compositions. For me, the brilliant combination of Raf and Jacob K and their strong visual identities within image-making gave me the perfect space to explore the subtleties of gesture. I always research both the photographer and stylist and sometimes the hair and makeup artist prior to working with them so I can gauge how I can best compliment their work. In this image, with the volume of clothing I made the models stand very close together in order to close off all negative space creating a black background to bring the contrast gloves and jewelry jump forward. Also, the addition of a shoe for each model peeping out helps ground the image. This, to me, is an example of working with considered gestures and subtleties and playing with negative and positive space in an image.