Mario Sorrenti’s Unseen Photographs of a Young Kate Moss

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© Mario Sorrenti

The photographer recalls documenting the seminal 1993 trip to the Virgin Islands he took with his then-girlfriend, who was on the cusp of stardom

When I ask Mario Sorrenti what his favourite image of Kate Moss might be, he finds it impossible to choose from the hundreds he has taken throughout the 25 years they have known one another. “It’s very hard to say,” the Naples-born fashion photographer writes, over an email exchange. “There are so many that I love.” Indeed, it was an all-consuming love that brought the young Moss and Sorrenti together, when they met in the early 1990s; Moss was 17 at the time and Sorrenti just a few years her senior. Both were on the cusp of stardom. 

Their union was the kind that is unique to the artist and their muse, but without artifice or pretence. The candid nature of their relationship was extensively documented in 1993, during a trip that the pair took to the Virgin Islands. Sorrenti’s black and white film renders Moss in crisp chiaroscuro, either playing on a Game Boy in unbuttoned jeans or wrapping gauze round a cut on her foot, jokingly pouting at the camera in exaggerated pain. Some of these photographs would go on to become the inspiration for the iconic Calvin Klein Obsession campaign. But, there were many more intimate and unseen shots of that trip that are now the focus of a new book, published by Phaidon, simply titled Kate. “This is for you, Kate,” he writes in the edition’s forward. “I love you and thank you – Mario.” Here, he shares a few more of his memories. 

“I first met Kate in 1991 in London on a modelling job that we were both doing. I was immediately taken by her. She was so funny, sweet and beautiful. After the job I didn’t see her again for some time. I’m not really sure what she thought of me that day. You would have to ask her! I remember the first photograph I took of Kate. It was in the backyard of a flat where I was lodging. I hung a white sheet up with clothes pins and took her portrait. This picture is in the book. 

”Kate and I went on vacation to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. My mom found us a cool little place to go and take a break. It was very simple and on the beach. I think it had all of the right elements to create images; lots of textures and beautiful, puffy clouds. The light was perfect, and the water was so still and transparent. Time stood still. I took a lot of pictures on that trip, as I always do, and pasted them all into my diary. Fabien Baron and I were working together at Harper’s Bazaar during this time and I showed him the pictures. He thought they were the perfect inspiration for a Calvin Klein fragrance called Obsession, and asked if I would show the images to Calvin.

”Calvin loved them and asked me if I could recreate these images for him, and shoot a little film as well. Kate and I were sent back to the Caribbean where I found a dilapidated house on the beach. We took pictures and shot 16mm Bolex there for a week. I had one assistant that came with us to help me load the Bolex. It was an amazing place and a dream job. After that week in seclusion, we flew back to one of the larger islands where we had a huge black set built to finish the film.

”I think we both influenced each other quite a bit. She had incredible style and I had a lot of knowledge about art and photography. I like to think that we inspired each other. We are still close friends, and have worked together countless times over the past 25 years.”

Kate by Mario Sorrenti is out now, published by Phaidon.

Mario Sorrenti will be in conversation with Emma Hope Allwood at London’s National Portrait Gallery on September 14, 2018.