Venetia Scott: a fashion visionary

Venetia Scott's styling of models such as Kate Moss and Karen Elson has given birth to some of the most enduring images of recent years. Cat Callender meets a fashion visionary
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The Independent Online

Take the ubiquity of the current de rigueur dress code: elegantly dishevelled denim. Or even our continuing obsession with all things retro and vintage. Both are aesthetics Scott pioneered with her stark, naturalistic editorial shoots for The Face and i-D back in the early 1990s. Thanks to her consultancy work with Marc Jacobs (both for his eponymous mainline collection and Marc by Marc Jacobs label), these looks have subsequently become commercialised. So much so that the high street is now swamped with watered-down, cookie-cutter versions of a style that started out as a celebration of the idiosyncratic.

"Venetia is an enormous part of the collection and creative direction of the company," drawls Marc Jacobs, who is only too happy to pay homage to the woman whose rigorous, uncompromising vision encompasses everything from the detail of a vintage-inspired button to the casting of the models and ad campaign strategy.

"A lot of stylists are just concerned with the latest trends but that's not what Venetia is about," agrees Juergen Teller, Scott's former partner and the photographer with whom she created some of the most emulated images of the past 18 years. "Her work doesn't stop with the styling bit. In that respect she's a very rare thing."

"There are other stylists," says Scott, "who have a very strong fashion point of view that they want to put across." Instead, her calling card is making plausible fashion statements that revolve around a look tailored to a specific character and narrative as opposed to anything as banal as a must-have shoe. "But then I'm driving a mood more than a look."

Now a crucial component of today's fashion vocabulary, it's hard to imagine that Scott's seemingly "anti-fashion" aesthetic was once considered shocking. But in the late 1980s, her unconventional work (imperfectly beautiful models shot in nondescript locations, wearing clothes that appeared incidental) was dubbed, somewhat caustically, "grunge" and later vilified as "heroin chic".

"It wasn't about consciously not doing what people had done before. But I did want to get f away from a sense of hierarchy and status," explains Scott of her democratic methodology, which involved using second-hand clothes and vintage finds. "I wanted to create something that you could aspire to without it involving a lot of money. None of the stories I did was about having a nice bag or an expensive outfit."

These days, of course, the images she created with Teller have been cited as the antidote to the super-slick, power-dressed, glossy images of the previous decade. What's more, they've also been credited with changing the face of fashion photography forever.

"I still want the clothes to be almost the second thing that you see. I want you to see the girl, and the clothes tell you something more about her," says Scott of her cinematic approach, which nowadays can be seen gracing the pages of Italian Vogue, Another Magazine and W. To this end she not only develops a narrative and storyboards the shoots, but also selects key items or "props" - be it a pair of shoes or a hat - that the model then wears throughout the shoot in order to hint at her character's psychological make-up. "I also like to find girls who you look at and don't instantly recognise," she says. "If you do, they overshadow the narrative and the character. You end up thinking: 'There's so and so wearing blah'." The type of model that Scott is drawn to tends to challenge current perceptions of beauty. Still, it's testament to Scott's sixth sense that the new faces she casts often go on to become big names in fashion - from Nadja Auermann to Angela Lindvall and, more recently, Lily Cole.

As theoretical as all this might sound, Scott is in fact a deeply instinctive person. Part of the charm of what she does is that it's enormously heartfelt, not to mention autobiographical. While much of her work references her older sister Beelie's rebellious attitude to dressing, as well as her mum's wardrobe from the 1970s (a constant source of inspiration, most notably for Marc Jacobs' autumn/winter 1999 collection), two distinct characters seem to reappear time and time again.

There's no doubt that one of them is much more innocent and carefree than her sexually confident other half. According to Scott these "alter egos" are born out of her experience of growing up. The latter, she says, was the upshot of the three years she spent at Vogue in the mid-1980s, assisting its then fashion director, Grace Coddington. "Everyone was decked out in Azzedine Alaïa. It was incredibly disciplined and powerful." The former, sunny-faced character is arguably a product of Scott's boarding-school upbringing. f "She's how I wanted to be. She isn't how I was. I was not the free bird that she is," says Scott. "Having been at boarding school from the age of seven, the result was a degree of repression. It was the only way to be in order to get through it and survive. "

Her desire to capture an expression of unfettered, youthful innocence turned Scott on to the photographer Joseph Szabo and the film-maker (and director of 1995's Kids) Larry Clark - both of whose work is populated with liberated young souls.

"I think what appealed to me about these [Szabo and Clark] girls," says Scott, "is that they are American and there's just that sense of not being pent up or repressed." However, unlike Clark and Szabo's all-too-knowing subjects, Scott casts young models who are on the cusp of exchanging youthful innocence for knowing adulthood, but haven't quite yet. "It's using photography to record things that are not going to be there for much longer," she says. "Because in two years' time, that part of that girl's life won't exist."

Delving into her subjects' psyche to extract the desired emotional register, Scott says, takes time and involves a high degree of trust and intimacy. Which is something she regrets photographers and stylists no longer invest in. "Everything is done in such a short amount of time that there is no connection or relationship between the photographer and the model. And it shows. There is no emotion. That's what I hate about pictures now: they're all so hollow. Everything's so quick and throw-away."

Still, while many in the industry would acknowledge her influence on their work, Scott is preparing to move on. "I think I've hawked the same old look for a long time now," she says, admitting to suffering from both denim and vintage fatigue. "Because of the mainstream, it shifts you out of what you love. Now I think I'm going to become extremely chic." But then, in a way, she always was.

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