Brian Bowen Smith may not be a house-hold name but he has the force and vision to rival the more celebrated artisans in photography. A celebrity portraiture by day, Bowen Smith is the man behind the lens in the photo book, The Men and Women of Marc Jacobs which documents a selection of Marc Jacob's staff from marketing executives to store assistants. Speaking to Dan Hasby-Oliver on a whirlwind tour of the world, Bowen Smith lets 7th Man Magazine Digital into his world of sex, photo's and what makes a great employee.
Dan Hasby-Oliver: How did you come to do the book?
Brian Bowen Smith: I do celebrity portraiture, and I just go to the stores, particularly in LA and I would say to the guys, “You look so cool today, you look amazing – come with me”, So I got them to go against a white wall at the back of the store and just shot it. I knew it would be a cool, great photo which I don't get to do. So I did more, and then went on a trip to Savannah, Georgia where I spend Christmas and New Years with Robert Duffy (Marc Jacobs President) every year and showed him these pictures and said to him, “Look at these pictures of your employees, they are f******g amazing, how do you do it?” And it was he who suggested we do a book, so I tagged along around the world two or three times and just started shooting – just like that. I would say to someone, “I love your look” or, “Throw that dress on” then, “Come with me”, but they would be helping someone and I would wait until they were done and that was it.
I have to say that Marc Jacobs staff are hot, would you say that is an integral part of the business, like Abercrombie and Fitch?
I think the difference is that they are all hot, unique and very creative. But them as people, they are inspiring, they work their asses off and they are devoted to this company. Devoted. If they are told to work all night long to get the store done, they are not questioning it and that combination is unheard of.
They live the brand?
Yes, they live the brand. They look at it as an opportunity to do better in life, not like where you work at The GAP because you need a job. They all have aspirations and they are all creative, even if you want to be a rock star your going to meet a lot more musicians where you can swap and share ideas and experiences.
There is a guy in the book who must be a model, how do you think he differs from a guy from A&F?
The thing with Abercrombie and Fitch is that you could pick one of those guys or girls up from anywhere, but with Marc Jacobs you have diversity. You have a black girl, a Chinese girl, an American girl who can be a model, a singer, an actress and I think the depth of those people are far greater. At Ambercrombie and Fitch you got to be good looking and have some abs, I like that a Marc Jacobs person you would walk by the store and think, “That guy is cool as s**t”.
Where do you think you found the best models?
Every store had something great to offer, it was amazing but it wasn't a case of saying, “Oh, she is beautiful”, it's better as it was about the photo. Everyone is not beautiful but it was what they bought to the table. There was one girl who kept saying to me she wasn't beautiful but I told her she was gorgeous, but I wasn't there to tell her other wise but just to get the photo and judge after. I know what I'm going to get from it, but afterwards she was blown away.
I have been to many a store and found most of the staff incredible with a laid back attitude, do you think that is a common factor?
It's like that all over the world – Russia, same thing. Copenhagen, same thing. That vibe you describe, you get that everywhere. Each store has all the same people, but just different which is amazing.
Would you say they are hired on that basis?
No, you get hired because you are right for the job because you are interesting, can talk to people, be a good sales person and you're going to want to be there. And the truth is, for me as a photographer that is important.
I have always had a good laugh with the staff at this store and the stores in New York, do you find the same?
Yes, every store you go to I have found the staff super approachable, but at what other store can you walk in and tell them your a photographer, working with Robert and Marc, and tell them you are doing a book. Each store is the same, like in this store I asked a guy to pull his pants down and sit on a toilet and he did it unfazed.
I have a couple of the Dolce and Gabbana Calcio books of the Italian football team but it's nothing like this book, why is that?
It's different because it's all laid out also it's all done with lights professionally, but this is done just around the back of a store or in a field. Theirs is done the proper way which I love to do, which I do for my living but this was fun because you said, “Dude, just stand up there and this is going to be fun as we might get in trouble for running inside someone's back yard”, and if they came out we would run which was exciting and we would jump in the car like teenagers smoking cigarettes. It really was brilliant.
Has this been one of the most exciting projects of your career?
This is the best project I have ever done in my life and I find it hard to believe I am going to find a better one and this raises the bar not just for me but no doubt for other people. It's so hard to come up with an idea no one has ever done but I have never seen a book on employees done like this, I never have. Ever. And I hope that it does exist but to come up with something new like that was very exciting. I could do a bunch of nudes of celebrities or models but that's done a billion times.
'The Men and Women of Marc Jacobs' is self published in a limited run, and is available now from Marc Jacobs stores worldwide. Images courtesy of Marc Jacobs.
Words by Dan Hasby Oliver