Ezra Petronio: The Visionary.
by kate lawson
Ezra Petronio is both the founder and creative director of seminal Parisian fashion and culture biannual Self Service Magazine - first appearing in 1994 it’s become one of the most directional and influential publications with its experimentation in magazine protocol, from typography and styling to graphics and photography - a medium Petronio is more than familiar with, regularly documenting the world of fashion and celebrity from behind his lens.
Also creative director of the 'visual laboratory of advertising design’ - Petronio Associates, which was co-founded in 1993 with former partner Suzanne Koller - the Paris-based agency creatively serves a selection of the world’s leading brands in fashion, beauty, and luxury goods, including Chloé, Saint Laurent, Prada, Miu Miu, Comme des Garçons, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Jil Sander and more.
Petronio’s actively innovative and avant-garde vision has instigated a blurring of the boundaries, constantly shaking up how we see the world around us - we caught up with him to talk progressive thinking, inspirations and the notion of time.
What is your current state of mind?
Fortunately still very inspired!
You’ve had complete artistic independence with Self Service, what have you enjoyed most about that?
The privilege of infinite creative possibilities, the pleasure of creating inspiring contextual situations, the ability to nurture special encounters with such a wide range of creative thinkers and minds. Finally, the perpetual possibility to explore the intricacies and diversities of fashion, photography and the creative process.
And if you could choose your favourite issue of the magazine and cover, which would it be?
When I started the magazine over twenty years ago with Suzanne Koller, our dream was to provide a platform for creativity to flourish, to celebrate individual style, and, most of all, to represent a generation of progressive creative thinkers of both the avant-garde and the establishment. Our fall/winter 2000 issue, issue n°13 is one of my favourites and best expresses our willingness and commitment.
The issue was entitled ‘The New Establishment’ and featured Nicolas Ghesquiere and Veronique Branqhino on the cover. We produced a beautiful series of portraits with photographers Anushka Blommers & Niels Schumm which featured a big group of young aspiring creative talent who were already starting to define our industry and would do so for decades to come. Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, Jeremy Scott, Viktor&Rolf, Guido Paolo, Jefferson Hack, Melanie Ward, Sarah Lefers, Katy England, Joe McKenna and Steven Gan among others.
You’re always one step ahead, so what turns you on creatively and where do you seek inspiration from?
Reading about or seeing the work and creative process of other artistic minds regardless of the generation or artistic fields. Just last week my inspiration was fuelled by watching two films, the first being ‘Victoria’, a new film by German director Sebastian Schipper.
A thriller set in Berlin, shot in one single 2 hr take. And the second one is a newly released documentary by HBO on Robert Mapplethorpe entitled ‘Look At The Pictures’, in which we follow his creative journey. I was captivated and transfixed by how fearlessly voracious his desire and need to produce work was.
And what has been the craziest and most interesting shoot you’ve worked on to date that captivated you?
There were so many! My fondest memories are those cases when a fashion designer would express their desires and intuitions for a campaign, often so ambitious and seemingly unrealistic and yet with that conviction that you could manage to pull it through. I had the extreme privilege to work for Miuccia Prada and her great team for many many years and I must say that all the campaigns I did for Miu Miu with her and photographers Inez & Vinoodth or Mert and Marcus with celebrities ranging from Kim Basinger, Kirsten Dunst, Selma Blair, Vanessa Paradis or Lindsay Lohan were definitely the craziest to pull through. But the results were worth the months of preparation!
So when do you feel most pressured?
When pressured by expectations.
Talking of pressures - Demna Gvasalia, Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz have all recently talked of “fashion’s pace”, referring to the speed of the fashion cycle and the lack of development / thinking time for design and creativity. What new mechanism or system could be introduced to make it work better do you think?
The pace as well as the reduced timespan at which we are expected to conceive, produce and deliver things has increased over the past fifteen years. Inevitably, people, especially the newcomers are more and more formatted to perform in these conditions. If you add to that the development of social media and the various tools given to us with internet, we have access to, and need to process and assimilate a profusion of unfiltered information, images and references.
Even though some of us can rely on intuition and instinct, unless you are a creative genius, it will be extremely hard to keep up a constant and high level of quality at an extreme pace on the long term. I can only say by experience, that there is one thing that you can not really compromise with in your creative process, is the notion of time. So if one wishes to stay faithful to one’s own creative and artistic integrity, one needs to be extremely aware of all this and find a healthy balance in one’s work environment and methodology in order to give ourself the best chances to achieve excellence. At this, no one is equal.
“There is one thing that you can not really compromise with in your creative process, is the notion of time”.
Regarding “achieving excellence”, what has been the ultimate compliment about your work to date?
When people tell me that a lot of the work I produced over the years is part of the visuals that have inspired them to start working in fashion. That for me is the ultimate reward.
And the best piece of advice you’ve been given along the way?
Be grateful, be humble, be ambitious and make mistakes.
As a photographer, you’re used to bringing out people’s emotions - which medium do you recall first brought out strong emotions for you?
I think that in practice, the biggest emotions have come with the physical and manual relationship to the various creative mediums I have explored and used whether it be as a drummer or pianist, the printing process of my early pictures in dark rooms or the cutting and pasting of type and images in layouts grids in early pre-mac days.
Looking forward, there is a constant hunger for newness, a fresh and independent spirit that makes it a role model to others in the current fashion climate - what do you think about the industry’s new visionaries?
As I wrote in my editorial in the last issue of Self Service; “I feel there are signs that many are rising up to the challenge of provoking change. Fuelled by artistic intention and unpredictability, suddenly a loose network is emerging with greater confidence. They will increasingly start challenging all conventions and depart from what has become the norm, creating new networks, innovative forms of presentation, representation and communication, exploring and developing new forms of production and distribution.”
And who are your own personal zeitgeist-shifting heroes?
In non-chronological order I would spontaneously mention Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, Eric Satie, Chet Baker, Herb Luballin, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Yves Saint Laurent, James Brown,Charlotte Perriand, Martin Scorcese, Rei Kawakubo, Juergen Teller, Charles and Ray Eames, Alexey Brodovitch… the list could go on!
What about your most treasured possession?
With your life very much on fast-forward, do you find it easy to relax with your family, or reflect in your own time?
There is no way to productively and efficiently engage the extreme fast-forward pace that our work requires of us today without the necessary time of serenity, and appreciation of the moment.
And what is your obsession of the moment?
Room 11 at the Chiltern Firehouse in London.
What about if you could rewind to another era, which would you go back to and who would you be?
In chronological order I would like to be a student under Walter Gropious at the Staatliches Bauhaus in 1928, to write a book at the Cafe de Flore in 1946, to be the bartender at Birdland’s in 1954, when Charly Parker has made is nyc debut. I would like to load Andy Warhols’ Big Shot polaroid camera at his Factory in 1968, to be a store clerk at Fiorucci’s NYC store in 1976 and to be the fill-in drummer for the Clash’s March 1980 Paris concert at Le Palace!
What a great list! So coming back into the present, you always feature ‘the quote’ in Self Service - what is the quote that best describes how you see life?
“Stripping down the necessary so that the essential can speak”.