Mysterious, alluring, divinely decadent, sometimes a little bit cruel and androgynous, yet always entirely in control and defiant – these are the qualities possessed by the women of Helmut Newton’s provocative, erotically charged photographs...
“I had the great chance to work with a phenomenon like Mr Newton. I met him when I was fashion editor at Vogue Italia and had the chance to work with him on a story. I remember he was watching me during the shoot and he felt my obsession: he said to me, 'You are a fashion maniac! If you are a fashion maniac, you will be a professional'. He was right – I cannot sleep if I can’t find the right thing for a shoot. This kind of obsession makes a difference in our job – it’s a 24-hour job. He was obsessed with everything, he noticed every detail. If he didn't like the clothes, he would send them back; he was so demanding. He would say, “No way, this is not the story I was talking about.” But with me, luckily, he was always so, so happy. Because before each shoot, I would research for two weeks. I remember for a silver story, I came with a silver bed, a silver motorbike and he thought it was pretty good. One day, he wanted to take a picture of me. He said, 'Go back home and get the long, black coat'. I went home, got the coat by Yohji Yamamoto. Then he told me to smoke. That was the first picture of me – it was an androgynous moment. I would always wear flat shoes and androgynous clothes. I learnt so much from working with him. He was fascinated by the two extremes – androgynous, fierce and severe but also camp. He was obsessed by this touch of crassness – long red nails, he loved tacky things. I like this mix of fierce, tacky, fashion – sometimes it was so elegant, and sometimes it was elegant and trashy.”
"Newton said, “Go back home and get the long, black Yohji coat'... he told me to smoke... That was the first picture of me – it was an androgynous moment"
Mysterious, alluring, divinely decadent, sometimes a little bit cruel and androgynous, yet always entirely in control and defiant – these are the qualities possessed by the women of Helmut Newton’s provocative, erotically charged photographs. But they can also apply to the Italian fashion editor and internet celebrity, Anna Dello Russo, who not only worked with the legendary photographer, but was a subject for him. Nowadays better known for her high-octane theatricality and straight-from-the-runway looks; when she first met Newton working as a fashion editor at Vogue Italia in the nineties, she was by her own admission, “dressing like a man". Working together on fashion shoots, Newton was struck by her dedication to her craft, describing her as a “fashion maniac”, a quote now proudly displayed on her blog. She may be prone to gnomic pronunciations like “You need to take a fashion shower and then you’ll wake up” or “Fashion is a muse – you must seduce her”, but there’s no denying that Newton hit it on the mark with his comment – her overriding passion comes from a heartfelt place. This image of Dello Russo taken by Newton in 1996 represents not only the first shot of Dello Russo (preceding the blogger explosion by a decade) but also shows a different aspect of the fashion icon. Following a talk at the V&A hosted by Peroni Collaborazioni, she shared with AnOther her memories of working with him.
Anna Della Russo spoke at the V&A last week for Peroni Collaborazioni.
Text by Kin Woo