Simon Foxton: 'I'm not shooting hot new looks. It's more real than that'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Harriet Walker meets Simon Foxton, the stylist who helped define modern menswear

I hate magazines," says stylist Simon Foxton, surprisingly. "I hate the way they clutter up the house, so I rip out the pages I like and I keep them in a box under my bed." Foxton may not sound like your average fashion type, but he is responsible for some of the most innovative and important images to have been printed in those style pages that he professes to so dislike. His work is the focus of an exhibition, When You're A Boy, opening this weekend at London's Photographers' Gallery, and it's unusual in that it focuses on the stylist, rather than the photographer, to chart shifts and changes in male fashion portraiture. "This way you see the work of lots of photographers through the lens of a single artist," says Penny Martin, the Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Fashion Imagery at the London College of Fashion and curator of the show. "There's a sense of continuity across all of Simon's work, though it's tempered according to who he is working with. At the centre of his work is the collision of gay subculture with workwear and caricatures of masculinity. He balances grand gestures with delicate feminine details."

From a suave Adonis in a fuchsia suit via a Shane Meadows-esque youth in distressed skinny jeans, to a muddied and multi-limbed Minotaur, Foxton's work runs the gamut of male imagery, encompassing sex, silliness and sci-fi futuristic fantasy. He has worked with some of the biggest British names in fashion imagery, including Nick Knight, Jason Evans and Alasdair McLellan. "I'm not interested in fashion particularly," he says firmly, when asked about the genesis of his shoots. "It's not about getting the advertising credits in, or about this season's new hemline. I'm not shooting the hottest new looks. It's more real than that – it's about what feels right for that concept, there's a context to it."

The world of stylists – particularly those who deal with menswear – is all too often seen as an esoteric enclave for rich girls and bitchy queens, but Foxton is endearingly self-effacing about his own work, and idiosyncratic in his practices. "I do a lot of visual research and keep a lot of scrapbooks. I keep bits from National Geographic, from fashion shoots and ad campaigns, even pornography." Foxton famously works from a shed at the bottom of his garden, which is filled with remarkable objets that he has collected on his travels. It's an eccentric little den, quite befitting of one of the most imaginative stylists in the business. "He has a strong sense of historical portraiture," adds Penny Martin. "But his work is very friendly: it's vulgar and cheeky, but it's charming, like when you get a private joke."

Foxton graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1983 and initially went into design, setting up clothing label Bazooka with a friend from college. "It was around the time of the club explosion," he says, "so I'd be out all night, and designing and making samples all day." It was the era of the Blitz Kids, of conceptual artist and cult VIP Leigh Bowery and the avant-garde clothing line Bodymap, and Foxton sold his label from a stall at Hyper Hyper, opposite London's Kensington Market, as well as through boutique chains Joseph and Whistles. "We were so young, and had no business sense – we lost money hand over fist and we were ripped off by people who knew what they were doing. We certainly didn't." So it was through the failed label that Foxton got into magazines – when he was asked to style a model for a piece in fledgling street-style bible i-D.

The magazine's groundbreaking editorial policy of taking pictures of ordinary people wearing their clothes well taps into Foxton's own ideology of situationist and natural scene-setting, or as he terms it "honest imagery". But Foxton is keen to make clear that his styling is by no means hemmed in by realism; rather, it is framed by the idea of working within a scenario, towards a certain aesthetic end or vision. "It sounds so hackneyed now – 'the street' – but when I first worked at i-D, they'd just stop people after a club and take their picture. They had photos of people in their own clothes with their own look." In comparison to the studio shoots and soft- focus stills in the high-fashion press of the time, Terry Jones' i-D was something entirely different. "It's a lot more high fashion now," says Foxton, who is now Fashion Director at the magazine, "but it still has that street element."

Foxton is also a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art, where he teaches MA students learning the craft of menswear design. He's an inspirational figure to listen to, given that he's had such a huge influence on altering how the often-overlooked, poor relation to womenswear is perceived – after all, with the advent of street fashion, menswear became so much more than just suits, tailoring and the odd pair of chinos.

Young stylists and designers have much to learn from Foxton. "I tell them to be true to themselves, first and foremost, to build up their references and to know what it is they want to do. It's so important to have a vision of what you want; it's a very personal thing – but that's what gives you the edge over people who are only thinking one trend, one season, ahead." With his inimitable visual flair and prestigious anti-fashion background, Simon Foxton certainly is ahead of the pack – streets ahead.

When You're a Boy: Men's Fashion Styled by Simon Foxton opens today at the Photographers' Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1 (0845 262 1618; photonet.org). Admission free

Suggested Topics
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?