Simply put, there are some things the fashion world does plain better than the rest. One of those is collaborations. In this stylish orbit, friendships between creative giants are never just bonhomie and the occasional dinner in Milan – a duo can only remain non-collaborative for so long.
The latest friendship formalised? Dior Men’s Kim Jones, and the reportage and portrait photographer Nikolai Von Bismarck. They’ve worked together on The Dior Sessions: a book of portraiture that captures friends of the house, friends of Jones, as well as friends of the charity Teenage Cancer Trust, which is a beneficiary of the book’s sales.
“I was just joining Dior, and Nikolai was one of the few people that I’d told,” Jones explained in a sit-down with Von Bismarck. “I said I wanted to do a book of the first part of Dior – a document, in a timeless way. I love Nikolai’s work and it suited what I wanted to do – so I said let’s make a book together. That’s how it started.”
The book’s subjects are dizzying in their star power and diversity – the youngest still in their teens; the oldest in their eighties. For Von Bismarck, the photography project was an exercise in patience and precision. The working days, he said, stretched out for 14, 16, sometimes even 18 hours.
“I actually met with Sir Don McCullin beforehand, showed him my reportage work. His feedback was: ‘They’re great, but they’re a little all over the shop. You need to stay in London, and you need to do a portraiture project: it’ll teach you discipline, it’ll teach you patience.’”
Having worked with Annie Leibovitz for a few years, Von Bismarck couldn’t help but sponge up the process of the greats – and the greats research, a lot.
“I was actually doing a lot of the research for about a year of that. Researching angles that sitters had been photographed, working out their lighting, observing how they had been shot in the past – so as not to copy, but to gain inspiration. That’s the school of research I come from, and what I applied to this project. It was really heavily, heavily researched.”
Jones had admired Von Bismarck’s work for years – for reasons unreleated to the fashion sphere.
“I’d been to Burma, lived in Ethiopia, there were a lot of things I’ve seen in his work that I relate to completely. And then I saw some of the portrait work that he was doing, and I really thought that it is a way I’d love to portray Dior. It made sense to make a book to celebrate all these different people that were friends of the house, people we admire. It was something I didn’t even question: I’d always wanted to do something with Nikolai since we met, and it was the perfect thing to do.”
“She is very comfortable in that environment,” says Von Bismarck. “She knows her references before, she has techniques that she has in her mind where she’ll morph into a certain character.”
There’s friends of the house, and then there’s friends of the house. Pusha T is the latter. In 2018, he got married in a Dior dinner jacket, and the house threw a party for him earlier this year in honour of his Grammy nomination.
“She’s always great to photograph,” says Von Bismarck. “I’ve photographed her a couple of times in the past and initially she’s quite shy in front of the camera – then she brings it out of herself.”
The rapper’s relationship with Dior has bridged multiple artistic directors – solidifying his place in the house’s inner circle.
“He’s always been a great supporter of what I do – and a friend,” says Jones. “He’s just the nicest person in the world and he looks great in suits. He knows exactly what he wants to wear and how he wants to wear it.”
Campaign star. Brand evangelist. Batman. RP knows how to use his fashion clout for good.
The Dior Sessions: Portraits by Nikolai von Bismarck. Tailored by Kim Jones is out now through Rizzoli, with proceeds supporting the Teenage Cancer Trust.