Bête de La Mode: Steven Meisel

There’s an expression in French for someone who is really crazy about fashion and totally immersed in the world of fashion: Bête de la mode. I love this expression because it’s not common or slightly derogatory like fashionista. Instead bête de la mode describes someone who is passionate and knowledgeable. To my mind few people in the fashion business possess the depth of passion and knowledge that the photographer Steven Meisel expresses in his work. His photos can be sophisticated, brutal, mysterious, vulgar, strange, and just plain beautiful. Every photo demonstrates Meisel’s expertise, not only with photography, but with style, fashion, history, form, art, light, hair, makeup, cloth, silhouette, expression, gestures, and communication. He communicates on so many levels it can be baffling, channeling Diane Arbus, Brassaï, Weegee, any number of iconic photographers, but then also making the image his own through his exacting standards. As a journalist, I dream of interviewing Meisel, but he won’t talk. I respect him for that, but I often wonder why. Is it a let-the-work-speak-for-itself stance? Or is he so immersed in his craft that he can’t explain himself in mere words? The auction house Phillips has just announced a traveling sales exhibit of Meisel’s work, beginning in Paris on November 20th and going on to London December 16th and New York on January 23rd.