Peter Lindbergh: Interview with an Icon

6th August, 2015

Last December I secretly got to play fly on the wall as Peter Lindbergh shot model Andreea Diaconu for the new Donna Karan Cashmere Mist campaign. I’ve worked with the house for several years now, collaborating on all sorts of stories and experiences ~ but this project was really extra-special. It was an incredible memory and honor to watch a modern master at work, and an awesome opportunity to see his singular vision melded with that of Donna Karan, another legendary creator and career icon of mine.

Cashmere Mist was first introduced in 1992 as a body collection, and its intoxicating combination of Moroccan jasmine, bergamot, sandalwood, amber and musk has long made it one of my fragrance favorites. The perfume and its sensuous bottle were developed in 1994 by Donna Karan’s late husband, the sculptor Stephan Weiss, and the new campaign was conceived as a distillation of all of the essential elements of Donna Karan’s illustrious career ~ from her countless collaborations with Stephan to her devotion to New York City and her luxurious urban lifestyle.

Andreea Diaconu perfectly embodies the Donna Karan ideal and continues a great legacy of famous faces that have represented the scent ~ following in the footsteps of Milla Jovovich and Annie Morton (pictured below in past campaigns). In the new images, Andreea is seen emerging from the city’s mist wearing the quintessential New York uniform: a black cashmere jacket. To Donna Karan, that’s what the Cashmere Mist experience is all about: the sensuality of cashmere against bare skin. The city is hard but you can feel her softness. DK_archiveOf course, no one could communicate this feeling as well as Peter Lindbergh, who shot the first-ever Donna Karan campaign back in 1992. The two creative titans have continued to collaborate ever since, and it’s a perfect artistic match. Donna has always addressed the essential needs of women with her clothes; only Peter can masterfully distill that essence into a single photograph. He also has a reputation for being the nicest fellow in the business, and indeed I found him to be open and affable, charming and funny and incredibly generous. It was a great gift to sit down with him between takes on set, to learn about how he got started in photography and how he feels about everything from Photoshop (hates) to Kate Moss (loves!!) to Instagram (on the fence). Below, the transcript of our tête-à-tête…
PeterLindberghKelly: I’d love to just start at the very beginning and ask you briefly about how you began as a photographer? 

Peter: I went to art school, then I worked as an artist and then I became interested in photography — but that was not until I was 24. Then I was an assistant from age 24 to 25 and then I opened my own studio very quickly in Germany. Most people assist for 7, 8, 10 years before they go out on their own. I was totally innocent. And then 5 years later I grew bored in Germany, so I went to Paris.

Is the best light in the world truly in Paris? 

No. The best light is everywhere, you just have to look for it! And then you have to wait sometimes. Light is everywhere!

Who is your favorite subject?

Photography!

Your work is very much tied to location and to storytelling. Did you discover that style in Paris or has that focus on narrative been important since the beginning?

I went to Paris in 1978. About 12 years later, in 1990, the narrative thing started with a little story: a Martian and Helena Christensen. People always put models in front of something and shoot it, but you never know why they are there. I said, I’ll do a Martian story! I’m going to tell how Helena drives to the desert and there is a little crashed UFO. The Martian is there with his pistol, just trying to recover. So she picks him up and brings him home. She lives in a trailer home. It’s a whole little story and it’s really fun because you can do 40 pages if you have story. Why would you do 40 pages without a story, you know?

Since New York obviously has so much to do with this campaign, what do you love about New York City?

I started with Donna Karan when DKNY was new. I remember standing on rooftops saying, ‘wow that is beautiful, that is New York!’ and others were saying, ‘what are you talking about, they are just roofs?!’ New Yorkers have to get re-excited about the city from someone who is not from New York.

For 20 years, I’ve been staying in the Soho Grand penthouse whenever I come here.  It is wonderful because on one side you can see all the way up to the Empire State Building and on the other side you are looking at the Freedom Tower. That area is exploding, it is amazing.

You’ve worked with DKNY for a long time now. Who do you think is the Donna Karan woman?

The Donna Karan woman is always the woman who is very comfortable in her clothes ~ comfortable and intelligent. She doesn’t make too much effort.

And how was it shooting Andreea today?

Well she’s good. Sometimes you have to give everything to make a picture work, and sometimes they just bring it to you and all you have to do is click a button. Like today. I mean, all you need with her is a little background mist. CashmereMist3Obviously on our set today, everything is very high tech and we’ve got these lights and digital assistants, and you’re shooting digital, but I assume you must have started on film? What was that transition like for you as a photographer? 

Photography has totally changed since Photoshop, because people don’t feel a responsibility. They just shoot and they know they have the tool to make the woman perfect. What they call perfect, what I call horrible. And suddenly you have robo-woman, where everything is like stretched, no skin anymore, everything washed off, every experience, every cell of her past is washed off because it’s easy.

We’ve forgotten what real skin looks like!

Because it’s easy. Before it was very expensive and difficult to retouch everything. In the 90s I retouched nothing!

I recently saw your exhibition in Paris by the way.

At Gagosian?

Yes at Gagosian Gallery. It was so cool to see those pictures in person! 

You see that picture of Kate, there is nothing retouched!

I’m glad you brought up that photo because it’s obviously so iconic to your oeuvre. Can you tell me a little about how that photo came to be made? 

I wanted to do a story for Harpers Bazaar. When Liz Tilberis was there it was a brilliant magazine. And Kate’s career was just beginning, so the story was ‘A Star is Born’. She was just coming up.

The story started in the countryside in Long Island on a farm. She was in a cabbage field in little rubber boots and a floral dress, with her legs spread and the cabbage all over. And then the second picture was that one ~ the country girl, boyish a little bit. Then the third picture was her sitting in the kitchen on the farm reading fashion magazines, which was her dream. And then you see her walking in NY into a big building that was like the Hearst Building with her portfolio. At the end of the story she was naked lying on a polar bear. It was like an old cliche from the 50s! In front of a fireplace naked, leg up on the back, which made it ridiculous and a little funny. It was like a Playboy, pin up girl. She finally came up to the top.

The entire arch, from country bumpkin to big city superstar.

From every story, there are maybe one or two pictures that make it to the top, that really last.

What is it about a photo that takes it to that next level? That makes it a great picture? 

It’s just, when you see it… I just did this new thing with Kate for Italian Vogue, and there is one picture I can tell you already, it’s going be…

This was a recent shoot?

That was a recent shoot. 2 ½ weeks ago!
PeterLindbergh3(Here Peter pulled out his incredible, custom-engraved laptop (which was a gift from Puffy, cuz that’s how cool Peter Lindbergh is!) and started scrolling through his now-famous, but at that time as-yet-unseen Kate Moss shoot for Vogue Italia’s January 2015 edition. I got chills, being one of the first people in the world ever to enjoy the pictures!)

So cool! I love that you can see her true age and feel the story of her life. Is that your favorite picture of the shoot? The one you just showed me where she’s on the floor

No. The iconic one is coming! I wont even have to tell you what it is because you’re just going to know.

(Looking through pictures…)

That’s the one!

That’s totally Kate. It gives me goose bumps; it’s so special! 

You know that thing in London with Nick Knight?

SHOWstudio? 

SHOWstudio! There is an interview with Kate that’s so funny and she talks about working with Penn, Avedon, Newton, and me. And she was like ‘Penn was this, and Avedon was this, and Newton didn’t like me.’ And then he said, ‘And how was it working with Peter?’ and she was like ‘Oh I love him so much! When I saw his work with Linda, that’s why I wanted to be a model.’

So her whole career was spent getting to this picture? (laughing)

Yeah. She wanted to look like she truly looks. And she really does, no?

Completely. What camera do you shoot on? 

I have always had a Nikon. My first camera was a Nikon Nikkormat. A small Nikon. It was mechanical. It could fall on the floor 5 times and nothing.

That’s crucial on location. And what do you think about the age we are in now with social media and all that? 

There are a lot of interesting things happening and a lot of possibilities opening up, but at the same time I see a lot of people thinking they are being social by sitting all day in front of the computer. I don’t know, I guess if you use it well, it can be good. I have an Instagram!InstagramDK
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