Fabien BaronLa petite Histoire

Interview Christopher Michael


Fabien Baron by Mert & Marcus



Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for Fabien Baron, it has been the great force behind endless creative accomplishments. The man, the myth, the legend, and his petite histoire.

CM Let’s start with Dad. I assume that played a role in what you chose to do as your profession?
FB Definitely. I’m just an intrigued and curious type of person, but I do know that I became an art director because he was an art director.

CM His was a little bit more of a journalistic form of art direction in comparison to what it is that you do, no?
FB It gave me a good base on how to understand. How to play with and use information, to make it relevant or not, depending. Ultimately, that helped me by pushing the boundaries of graphic design in fashion magazines and the type of information they’re trying to pass along.

CM At what age did you really decide you were going to do this?
FB Very early on, I was 17, when I left to art school. I moved to New York when I was 20. In the 80’s, it was all about New York. I was young and ambitious and wanted to be far away from my father, the teacher, and to be myself. The only solution was to leave.

CM Did you have a plan when you arrived in the Big Apple?
FB No, I didn’t. I had 300 dollars in my pocket. I got lucky though, and found a small job right away with Johnson and Johnson. When I had left Paris, I had already been working as an art director for different types of magazines but no fashion at all at that point. Then I moved here, and went to Conde Nast and met Alex Liberman. All of the stuff I loved from French Vogue, the Guy Bourdin, that I was looking at when I was younger, it was from there.
Alex asked me to go meet Self Magazine and to go work with them for a bit. “You have to stick around Conde Nast.” I was there for about 6-8 months, and then I was hired at GQ magazine which was the time of Bruce Weber. I was there for 2 years, and left to start New York Woman with American Express, where I was the sole creative director.

CM It must have been quite thrilling to suddenly have your own ship.
FB Yes, that’s where I brought photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Jean Francois Lepage, and Max Vadukul. The magazine started to get a lot of recognition and Liberman called me again to ask if I wanted to work at American Vogue. Grace Mirabella was the editor then. He wanted me to be the design director but I didn’t want to work for an art director again. Then, two weeks later, I received a phone call from Joan Juliet Buck. She’d just taken over as the editor-in-chief of French Vogue. She asked me if I wanted to go and make over French Vogue. I had just moved to New York, I didn’t want to go back to France and so I turned it down. A few days passed by and I found myself thinking what a crazy mistake I’ve made. Two Vogues in such a short period of time! Suddenly, I got a phone call from Franca Sozzani who asked me if I wanted to do Italian Vogue. I told her I was on the plane! I stayed with her for two years, traveling back and forth between New York and Milan.



French Vogue (Spread)
Issue 860 (September 2005)
photography by David Sims


CM At what point did you and Steven meet and start working together?
FB I first heard of Steven Meisel at GQ. I looked at his pictures and at the time he had been doing pictures for one or two years, and I thought to myself, “This guy is absolutely amazing.” I went to the boss and said we had to work with this guy! “Oh no, we hear he’s complicated. Maybe one day…” When I left GQ to go to New York Woman, I tried to get Steven to shoot for the magazine, but he couldn’t because Conde Nast had already got on him. Barney’s called me, and told me they wanted an amazing new retail campaign. They wanted me to work with this copywriter Glenn O’Brien, which was the first time we met. I called Steven Meisel right away. He said yes, and that’s where we started with Linda, Naomi, and Christy. Then the call came from Franca.




CM At what point did the scandalous sex book project with Madonna arrive on your desk?
FB That’s all tied with Steven Meisel and with Interview magazine at the time. After leaving Italian Vogue, I get a phone call from Ingrid Sichy from Interview. Glenn O’Brien was there already, and I took the job. Ingrid and I ended up not getting along- we had two different visions and for her, she thought the visuals were overshadowing the copy and ended up firing Glenn and then me. But before I was fired, I had done a cover with Madonna and Herb Ritts. I remember we fought about printing the cover of Madonna grabbing her crotch and Ingrid was very much opposed to it, but she finally agreed and the issue was a huge success. We went our separate ways, and that’s when I decided to start my own office, which was in late 1991.

CM How big was the staff when you opened?
FB It was only me for the first two weeks, and then I had to hire an assistant. At which point I received a phone call from Issey Miyake asking me to do their fragrance and I had wanted to design a bottle at the time. At the same time, I received a phone call from Steven Meisel, and independently from the office of Madonna. They were working on a secret project, which was the book, and they wanted me to design it. We started to shoot everything, and then I get a phone call from Patrick Demarchelier who asked if I would be interested in redoing Harper’s Bazaar. Liz Tilberis was to be the new editor.

CM Was she already there?
FB No, it was still confidential that she was taking over.

CM How long did you stay at Bazaar for?
FB Until she passed away. It was a blast. I brought Peter Lindbergh over again, I was already there shooting with Patrick Demarchelier. I signed David Sims and Mario Sorrenti. Melanie Ward was there, Craig Mcdean, Inez & Vinoodh, Mario Testino.
Liz brought out the best in people and few people have that appeal. Calvin Klein has that ability; he’s unbelievable with that.

CM It sounds like an exciting time in your career…
FB It was. I was doing the Madonna book, Bazaar, and Calvin Klein called at that same time. He asked if I would do a logo for his new line CK. It started with a logo and some colors. Within three months, I was in every single CK meeting right down to what sort of chair we should put in the Fifth Avenue store.

CM You work with so many different mediums- which did you learn along the way and which did you study in school?
FB I learned everything along the way other than graphics and layouts.

CM Has the face of your muse changed along the way as well?
FB My first muse was my dad, because I looked up to him for the longest time. I wanted him to be happy and proud of what I was doing so I picked the same thing he was doing. Steven Meisel definitely and Franca Sozzani are both muses of mine. Calvin (Klein) has definitely been a muse.

CM What about models? Have any of them played the role of muse to you over the years?
FB Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell… Kate Moss… big time Kate. Madonna.

CM All of whom which we’ve seen grace covers of the publications you’ve been behind over the years. Where did your inspiration lead you after Harper’s Bazaar?
FB: After Bazaar, Arena Homme + came along, this was where I started to work a lot with Karl Templer. He was the creative director there. He had the same role he has today at Interview actually. He was the one that really encouraged me to start taking pictures. After shooting a few stories, the magazine asked if I would come on to do the magazine. I said, “I’m not interested in doing a magazine unless I’m the editor.” It turns out that was what they were proposing and I was there for about 2-3 years.

CM Next up was Vogue Paris?
FB Yes, Carine Roitfeld called me and said she was taking over. She asked if I would be interested in doing it. Initially, I refused the offer thinking that I did not want to go back to Paris. However, when Karl and I left Arena Homme + to focus more on women’s fashion, we decided to approach Jonathan Newhouse about starting our own magazine. “We have so many magazines that exist already. Why would we do that when I need you a block away from here?” (We were right by the French Vogue offices.) “Why don’t you do French Vogue and then we’ll talk about your magazine.” A week goes by and Carine calls me again so I went, and it was fun. Carine had quite a thing going there for her.

CM Yes, those years are still spoken about with a good amount of reverence…
FB Then, Peter Brandt was rebuying all the rights to Interview magazine and asked me to be the editor.

CM Historically, your work has been described as clean and modern. How have you managed to maintain such a recognizable visual language and yet remain sufficiently diverse in order to service such an array of clients over the years?
FB I think the photography part becomes more flexible. I don’t think what we do with fashion advertising is really about the graphics; that’s more for magazines. For the clients, I think that it’s more about the concepts, and that is very different than the graphics. Otherwise, it’s about the spirit of the photography. With Calvin, it’s quite clean and minimal. Conversely, you can’t go and work for Versace and bring the same philosophy. You have to adapt.

CM The role of the creative director has become a little bit more popular as a vocation for young people, so I would love to hear what is your definition of a creative director?
FB There are a lot of people taking that title, but I don’t think they are true creative directors. A creative director has skills in many fields. You have to have a history and a past. This job can be as complex as you want it to be or as simple as you want it to be. When it’s very simple, it shows on the page.



Interview Magazine, June 1990
photography by Herb Ritts

Arena Homme Plus, S/S 2000
photography by Steven Klein

Harper’s Bazaar, Sep 1992
Linda Evangelista
photography by Patrick Demarchelier