The Man in Black.
by Dean Mayo Davies
Panos Yiapanis is the stylist who injected subculture and emotion into high fashion during the late 90’s and early 00’s, building him into a cult for both pensive teens and insightful, progressive designers such as Raf Simons and Helmut Lang in the process. Ponystep was privileged enough to engage in an email dialogue with the Camden-dwelling, globe-trotting creative. The end results are bathed in honesty, incisiveness and humility, showcasing how Yiapanis’ mind is every bit as sharp as his eye.
Having worked with every major label that matters - yes, including Chanel haute couture - Panos today occupies a further cult: that of the stylist’s stylist, respected (and demanded by) the editors that matter, including Jefferson Hack, Stephen Gan, Jo-Ann Furniss and Katie Grand. As well as designers like Rick Owens and Riccardo Tisci. And that effervescent icon, Courtney Love. It’s no surprise to learn then that his work, whilst retaining its vital intensity, has pushed forward consistently to develop into something more complex. Put simply, the iron fist is now free to play with a velvet glove. And sheathed or not, it packs a punch.
Dean Mayo Davies: Your work has a very precise vision. Instead of doing shoots which look dramatically different from each other every time (like some other stylists), you have an agenda which you mould your models to - they all look like part of the same gang. You make fashion uniform, make it work for you to tell your story. Was this a conscious choice from the beginning, or was it something that evolved?
Panos Yiapanis: Nothing was conscious, especially in the beginning. If anything, it was naïve, in that I came into this job not really knowing what it was I was doing. The images, especially in the beginning, were more a reflection of myself and my surroundings. So if that resulted in creating a sartorial uniform, it did not originally stem from some sense of visual integrity but more from the fact that, in all honesty, it’s all I could do. I never had that wealth of knowledge of fashion history to draw upon or reference. It’s almost taken me the better half of a decade to fully embrace and come to terms with the fact that my limitations and inexperience were my biggest assets. Obviously as my career progressed and evolved I found myself searching for external sources of inspiration, outside my personal experiences and to this day that probably has been the hardest challenge. Finding that ability to develop and expand your vocabulary without drastically changing your aesthetic.
Rest of the interview
DMD: Do you have your own uniform? What clothes do you normally wear?
PY: I don’t know if I would necessarily call it a uniform but there is definitely a correlation between what I wear and my work. I would consider it absurd if the one didn’t inform the other. I really believe in fundamental principle of having the conviction to merge my work and appearance, even if the consequences of adhering to that result in me parading around in lace boxers and cropped kilts. Otherwise it all seems quite pointless.
DMD: I first remember seeing your work in i-D, on a shoot with Corinne Day. It was one of several things that made me realise it was OK to like fashion: fashion could have an agenda, a realism and that there was another way, another viewpoint that was artistic. Have you always had a fascination with clothes? Since this mindset didn’t exist until your generation of protagonists - yourself, Corinne, Venetia Scott, Juergen, Terry Richardson...
PY: Well, it was the people you mentioned above who paved the way and forged the necessary change for me to have a career in fashion. With regards to styling, no one more so than Melanie Ward who, in my opinion, through her collaborations with photographers such as David Sims and Corinne Day truly redefined the perception of beauty and the charm of imperfections. My life, not just my career, has at certain times been marked by individuals who have in some way left an indelible mark on me. My friendship with Corinne provided me both with the impulse and impetus to become a stylist. But it was the dialogue we shared and the way we fed off one another’s thoughts and ideas that really impacted my method of self-expression. We had the luxury of spending 6 months doing an editorial, talking all week about one picture and spending a whole day shooting it. We always shot the same people over and over and with a few exceptions they were our friends. This approach is a luxury that is no longer viable, but the core desire of nurturing a bond of loyalty, consistency and friendship with the people you work with is so valuable in an industry that is so driven by change and the pursuit of novelty.
DMD: Who were your style icons growing up? In our age of mainstream vacuousness, are the anonymous teenagers on the street the only thing left to believe in?
PY: Well growing up in Athens, my early teenage years weren’t really informed by any notions of style or icons. I was more preoccupied with pathetic attempts at fitting in with a very conservative society. My first understanding of a style icon was seeing pictures of Amanda Harlech. She conjures up all these images of Dickensian heroines, this extinct breed of women who unwittingly inspire and bemuse. She’s that rare example of a woman whose style is impeccable and yet so inconsequential in comparison to her beauty, intellect, charm, and the life she’s led, I can go on and on.
DMD: Your work is very much rooted in subculture and an attitude, which gives it an authenticity often lacking from fashion, especially at a very high-profile level. It’s something you’ve managed to maintain consistently throughout the best part of a decade now. Is there a pressure to dilute your idiosyncrasy from people that don’t get it but want to buy into your ‘brand’?
PY: I think the only real pressure has come from myself. It’s true that at some stage the annotation that you’re “a little too dark – eccentric” becomes tiresome and you find yourself thinking that in order to advance you almost have to degenerate. I spent the last 2 years trying to find what I thought would be an acceptable balance between creativity and commerce, only to realize that commerce is most successful when it is a by-product of one’s creativity. I’m often dismayed when I look at the standard of work in today’s publications which are often as exciting as Argos catalogues. I find that I’m questioning the motive and more so, the desire that drives someone to create an image. Whereas before I felt it was in search of a beautiful exciting visual I now find myself fearing that financial gain has completely taken over. I do not underestimate the huge billion dollar machine that we all are immersed in but disagree with the climate that we have created. The most prosperous periods of any business or industry are when they are at their most creative and willing to take risks. I feel it’s become a machine churning out blandness and banality and we have all just become lazy giving the least we can get away with.
DMD: Looking at your images, apart from being incredibly sculptural, they’re noisy, in terms of being passionate and kinetic. A kind of distilled violence. Music has informed your identity, yes? What records have shaped you and made you into the person you are today?
PY: Obviously music has both informed and inspired my work, not solely as an aesthetic reference point but also through its cultural and social impact. I don’t think I’ve made my musical references so obscure for me to have to list what those records and who those musicians are. And the few gems and embarrassing ones are best enjoyed undisclosed.
DMD: You’ve worked with - and continue to - some of the most definitive designers of our time. Could you tell us what have been your highlights so far?
PY: I’ve had to re-write this answer so many times as it’s really hard to clarify the relationship I have with Rick [Owens]. Aside from his work, he’s one of those rare creatures you come across in life that you grab and never let go. He’s like a brother, teacher, weird ex lover, bully and best friend – and you don’t often get to say that about someone you work with. Topping that would be a mean feat.
DMD: Which other creatives in the fashion industry do you respect?
PY: Answers to questions like this tend to read like one’s client-list. Though I must voice my admiration and respect for my agent/sister, Anya for the many creative routes she has to take in order for me to be at the right job, in the right country and almost on time and fully clothed.
DMD: You’ve been collaborating recently with Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy. Can you tell us a bit about how that started, your role/responsibilities and what this creative project means to you? There is a real buzz around the label at the moment and apart from beautiful clothes and inspiring campaigns what’s exciting is that the brand has a real attitude behind it...
PY: Riccardo, along with Helmut and Raf, was one of the first designers to send me a thank you note after seeing an editorial featuring his clothes. It’s difficult, now, to express how encouraging that is. This job is so hard, especially when you’re first starting out and constantly being reminded of how low you rank on the hierarchical system, that many times I would ask myself why I was even bothering. You’re over-worked, broke and strained, trying hard to build a name for yourself in an environment that isn’t very supportive and to have someone acknowledge your work with such gestures of kindness and gratitude are really precious. Even before our collaboration he always maintained a very supportive and encouraging influence. I began working for Givenchy menswear in the interim when there was no creative director, and a year later Riccardo took over the men’s collections as well, so we began this collaboration. It was strange, because we both knew that we had a similar aesthetic, but it was the small differences in our vision that created an interesting contrast. We were lucky enough to create a friendship in which we can be honest enough to put forward our ideas and not shy away from the fear of making mistakes. Obviously it is exciting to be able to re-develop the vision of the Givenchy man and create a unified brand, being afforded the opportunity to re-address what has become the standard male silhouette and body shape. But we’re only one year into this project, there’s so much more we want to achieve and we know it won’t happen overnight.
DMD: Do you ever have days when you think about Helmut Lang? I remember a 10-year celebration of him you styled for Arena Homme + in 2003, photographed by Terry Richardson. His clothes are still so relevant, I can’t believe it’s 2009 and we’re without him - Lang was truly the first designer to orchestrate and encapsulate what is the very essence of modernism is before anyone. Do you have an archive of any of his pieces? What would be the one piece of clothing you couldn’t give away?
PY: Well, I like to believe Helmut is in a better place now, with fluffy clouds where pain doesn’t exist. No, of course his absence is evident, but it further highlights what an irreplaceable and personal perspective he brought to fashion. The most regretful thing regarding Helmut’s absence and legacy is the amount of foolish designers who think it is within their means and ability to replace him and torture us with endless dreary sterile attempts at filling the void he left behind. But at the same time I find that there a select few designers out there who are forging their own personal path and making fashion exciting. Unfortunately I am a hoarder by nature, borderline obsessive neurotic collector, so over the years I’ve archived a select choice of designers, obviously including Helmut. It’s a debilitating storage challenge and a constant battle with moths.
DMD: Which young designers do you believe in today? Do you have any favourites?
PY: I’ll pass on this one.
DMD: Have you ever thought about compiling a book of your work so far? Kind of like Raf did with his brilliant ‘Raf Simons Redux’. Your fans are fiercely loyal and would be really supportive of a Panos annual...
PY: Annual? I wish I was prolific enough for that to be an option, as it stands it would be a rather brief tome. But I think a time will soon come where I feel that I’ve said what I have to say within the context of fashion, and it would be nice to be able to indulge myself in some form of egocentric retrospective be it a book or exhibition of all the rotting clothes we’ve spent hours toiling over.
DMD: And the one ‘Smash Hits’ question at the end... What’s your favourite colour?
PY: Why, it would have to be Salmon or Cream.
Friday, January 1, 2010
(excerpted from Ponystep)