“Acting was my first love,” says the Spanish born, Parisian bred performer, model and muse, Violeta Sanchez. “But fashion came into it immediately.” She’s recounting the pivotal moment over thirty years ago when she made an appearance at the premiere of her first play, Succès wearing a Le Smoking tuxedo ordered from a tailleur in the eighth arrondissement. “My thoughts were from seeing Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo dressing this way. And I had seen some images a few years before of the YSL images by Helmut Newton but it was very subliminal. I had no idea who he was.” Nonetheless, both Saint Laurent and Newton who were at the premiere were enraptured, and she’s arguably had the same effect on a generation of creators, from Thierry Mugler, Gaultier, the illustrator, Tony Viramontes, choreographer Guy De Cointet and now Alber Elbaz at Lanvin.
On Helmut Newton
But it all started with Mr Newton who saw in the feisty, opinionated actress a kindred spirit. “He was very cinematographic and was influenced by actresses and cinema. I also was well informed and we communicated very easily on that and I knew how to give him what he needed to start themood” explains Sanchez. Together they created some of the most sublimely erotic images of the times, typified by his print of a naked Violeta dreamily smoking a cigarette. “When you faced a photo shoot with him it really was a challenge and you didn’t want to disappoint him for many reasons, one of which was he had quite a temper,” she admitted. “But if you were on the same wavelength and if you gave him something that excited him, then it was a dream.” Through Newton, Sanchez learnt about the camera – “ You had to convey everything that was not going to be in the image – you had to convey much more than what was on paper.” It was Newton who cast Sanchez as a brothel madam in a Saint Laurent 1981 campaign, inspired by seeing her and the other in-house models at work in the Saint Laurent cabine – “perched on the makeup tables, chatting, smoking, making calls on the phone on a wall. It was almost this perfect image of a brothel with a lady waiting to be called.”
"If you were on the same wavelength [as Helmut Newton] and if you gave him something that excited him, then it was a dream" — Violeta Sanchez
On Yves Saint Laurent
Her first show with Saint Laurent (“where I had this incredible Lady Macbeth look”) is still her favourite but she would go on to work for him on-and-off for over twenty seasons, during which she would also model for Moschino and Mugler. “To be honest, the one that revealed my potential was Saint Laurent and then what I did with Gaultier or Mugler was more spectacular and adventurous because I could do all of that with the validation of Saint Laurent.” Sanchez sees the role of muse as something mysterious and hard to define but “when you move into the studio and you would get completely geared to his demands and expectations and vision. It’s almost like a transcendence of sort and you got invested by a spirit. There was an alchemy.”
On Olivier Saillard
And over three decades later, she’s still working that magic. Her stellar year started with her collaboration with curator, Olivier Saillard on a theatrical production, Models Never Talk that premiered to widespread acclaim during New York Fashion Week. Enlisting six other iconic mannequins, (Anne Rohart, Axelle Doué, Christine Bergstrom, Charlotte Flossaut, Claudia Huidobro, and Amalia Vairelli) Saillard staged re-enactments of their anecdotes of working with legendary designers. For Sanchez, the experience of getting on stage in front of a roomful of strangers clad in a black tights, black leotard and pumps was testament to the amount of energy and attitude in the all the models involved, “What was so specific to the runway girls of the 80’s and 90’s was that they were asked to show so much gumption and personality. If you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t be on the runway. Whereas these days it is completely the reverse and they want a blank slate.”
On Alber Elbaz
Little wonder then that she was picked to open Lanvin’s 125th anniversary show, one of the undoubted highlights of the season, distinguished not only by Elbaz’s rich mining of the Lanvin archive, but also a triumph of casting featuring Amber Valletta, Natasa Vojnovic and Kirsten Owen among the likes of Edie Campbell. “I think Alber wanted the clothes to be really inhabited by women. When I walk or when Amber walks out; it was like we were paying homage to Lanvin by bringing our past and our lives into it.” So enamoured was Elbaz by this, he’s now cast Sanchez and her 15-year old daughter, Luz in the S/S15 Lanvin campaign. While mother-and-daughter have modelled together before (for the French tuxedo atelier, Pallas), this time was a particularly special experience. “She has seen me all my life modelling and acting and curating. She knows modelling doesn’t have to be restrictive. She knows it is something she wants to do but not only. It’s also how you survive.” And if she’s anything like her mother, she might also become a muse of her own.
Words by Kin Woo