How Working With David Bowie Changed My Career and Life
I worked with David Bowie only once, but I’ll never forget it.
The opportunity came from his wife, supermodel Iman, whom I have known and worked with many times throughout my long career in styling. Iman was taking charge of the Keep a Child Alive charity and had a vision, which involved bringing attention to the important cause by photographing her friends (who just so happened to be A-list celebrities) and featuring the images with the tagline “I Am African.”
Iman started off the project by assembling a stellar team, consisting of Michael Thompson (our frequent collaborator) as the photographer and me as the stylist. From there, we needed a concept to sell to potential participants, so Iman took charge and gamely cast herself and her husband as our test subjects.
We tried several different ideas and finally decided on stark black-and-white portraits with a colored streak of paint that would define the campaign. Iman was a sport and David was an artist, and the combination of the couple’s professional and loving attitudes produced not only beautiful (if I do say so myself) but pretty impactful results.
Bowie was incredibly gregarious, insightful, and collaborative. When the makeup artist ran a stripe of red makeup down his forehead and nose, I remember thinking, Oh, is he going to like this? I mean, it’s David Bowie. He knows his makeup! But he did, and a quick nod of approval later, we shot a stunning picture that would eventually become the blueprint for all the stars to come after, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Richard Gere. That was my only interaction with David Bowie, but I know how blessed and privileged I am to get even that.
Many years later, his inspiration resurfaced in my life in a very different, less direct (yet just as personal) way. I was in Toronto on a press trip, and the Canadian city was hosting the David Bowie retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario at the time. I went out of curiosity but left full of awe. The incredible costumes, the far-fetched and fun personas, and the unique metaphors and meanings behind everything he created defined him not only as an artist but as a person too.
This display took me back to when I was a teenager in the ’80s living in Toronto about a block away from that very museum. I remember wanting to wear Kansai Yamamoto, Bowie’s biggest fashion designer collaborator during his Ziggy/Major Tom years, because it was the cool, edgy name only those “in the know” were familiar with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford any of it, but I saved my allowance for a few months and splurged on a crazy cartoon T-shirt for $100. Worth it — for sure! — and the experience made me appreciate his designs even more. The piece remains a tangible memory in my life as to where Bowie had been in that phase of his career and how my life intertwined with that.
When I walked out of that exhibition, I said, “That is exactly how I want to shoot Miley Cyrus for one of my last covers at Elle.” In fact, I was so determined to do so that I even had Jean Paul Gaultier dig up an old bodysuit he had designed that resembled one of Bowie’s early costumes. Through some sweet-talking and finagling, I was able to circumvent the piece’s travel plans to a museum exhibition and had it make a pit stop at our shoot. The one-shoulder, star-covered bodysuit was shot on Miley, and I even made a cameo too!
The Bowie mystique is undeniable. Sunday night (or, more accurately, early Monday morning) I was at a Golden Globes afterparty when the news alert came through that Bowie had died and the entire room seemed to simultaneously abandon the celebratory mood for a few somber moments in memoriam.
I will always remember David and cherish the experience we had together. My love for Iman, their family, and those fashion memories — and so many more — will forever be a part of what I do.
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