Mario Sorrenti on Shooting Bella Hadid, Calvin Klein, and the Future of Fashion

Mario Sorrenti on Shooting Bella Hadid, Calvin Klein, and the Future of Fashion

The photographer discusses the inspiration behind his shoot for V's forthcoming March issue. Pre-order your copy.

The photographer discusses the inspiration behind his shoot for V's forthcoming March issue. Pre-order your copy.

Text: William Defebaugh

Your story with Bella Hadid in our March issue definitely recalls some of your earlier work such as your Obsession ads for Kate Moss. Was that a starting point for your shoot?

Yeah, it was definitely a reference. I've done a lot of shoots that are like that, but it always goes back to that [shoot].

A lot of your work for V is known for being colorful and shocking. Specifically, I always think about the "City of God" shoot based on [Alejandro Jodorowsky's] Holy Mountain. What was the decision to make this one more stripped down and natural?

It just felt right for the moment. It felt right for Bella, instinctively.

It's the first time you've seen Bella look like that. She's sort of stripped down and natural in that kind of way.

Yeah, I've photographed her a few times and that was my feeling: that every time we shoot or every time we see her we always see her being very glamorous. The photographs always focus on the fashion and less on the girl, and I think she's such a beautiful, sweet girl. I really felt like taking some pictures of her that kind of reveal a more sensitive and natural side of her.

What do you think makes Bella more interesting, both as a model and a public figure?

I mean, I don't know her as a public figure, but as a model, I think she's interesting because she's beautiful and she's very sweet. The thing I like about her is that she loves doing photographs and being part of making images and that's exciting when you're working with somebody that really gets the process and enjoys it. She's a beauty, so that's part of the reason why I enjoy working with her. You know, as a social media type of personality, I don't really know. I get it but I can't comment on that because I don't get it.

Well, that's good, it should be about her as a model.

Yeah, I work with her because she's beautiful and interesting, not because she's a social media personality.

How do you think the generation of models and future models today have changed from generations past, like Kate, and the era of models in the '90s?

I think it's always going to change. Our perception of beauty is always going to change. I think if you look at Linda Evangelista and Kate, they're two completely different types of women. I think Bella is an interesting new beauty and Gigi is an interesting new beauty. To me, it totally makes sense that we, as a group of people and society, are always going to change what we think is attractive. I think it's all linked socially; beauty and our ideas of beauty, art and all these things are linked. They make sense together and it makes sense to me what's happening today.

What about working in fashion advertising? Your Calvin ads definitely stand out as one of the most iconic in the last few decades. How do you think fashion ads have changed since then?

To be honest, if you think about advertising in the '90s there were a few interesting smaller brands that were doing really interesting campaigns. There was a sort of synchronicity about allowing something to happen and because Calvin was in control at the time, and allowed something to happen, I don't know if that happens so much in advertising today. Everyone is so concerned about different studies and what makes money and differentiability of advertising. That Obsession campaign at the time was definitely something that received a lot of criticism, as well, because it was so different from what was happening around.

I think that's definitely true. It seems more controlled today.

Yeah, there's a lot of studies and everyone knows what sells and there's a lot of people in control; there's a lot of voices that have input today in making a picture or campaign. Back then it was a lot more reduced—down to a few, very essential creative people. Whether it was me and Calvin Klein and that's it.

 

Speaking of Calvin, what are your hopes or expectations for Raf taking over the brand?

Yeah, I like Raf as a designer very much. He's amazing. His style definitely makes sense to me. I kind of think Raf has a very minimal style and reminds me a lot of what Calvin used to do, so I think he's going to do really well.

With magazines going digital, designers at houses changing so frequently, fashion schedule changes, it feels like more is happening now than ever. How do you see fashion photography, specifically, adapting to these changes?

I don't think fashion photography has to adapt to these changes at all. I think fashion in general is adapting to it in the sense that there's a lot more content that is requested from fashion photographers. As far as imagery is concerned, I think it's just more of the same. Maybe it has a lot more freedom because there are more platforms for it. Fashion really changed the way I do photography. I work a lot more; I shoot a ton more; I consume... my ideas are much faster. I get tired of things much faster, so in that way, I guess it changes things. But as far as the imagery and emotion, creativity, that go into fashion images, I think it's still the same.

That's comforting.

I like it; I like having more platforms to work for. I like technology. I like progress. I think it's challenging for everyone and I think a challenge is good. I think it's good to be challenged.

When you go to shoot an editorial project, where do you look for inspiration?

Wow, so many things. When you shoot as much as I do, you constantly have to replenish yourself and have to inspire yourself. They way I do that is that I spend a lot of time in books, movies, and I try to always find new interesting people, artists, creative people that can inspire me or new girls. It's kind of a constant, just trying to be fed with constant creativity and ideas and be stimulated.

When I think about your work, it always does a really great job in capturing this beautiful eroticism. It never crosses over as feeling graphic, in any way. How do you tread that line?

I think that's because I'm interested in that specific thing. I'm not interested in it being cheap and being pornographic just for the thrill of sexuality. It makes sense if something has value, depth. I think I try to recognize those qualities. There's a lot of pictures I've taken where I was like, "Oh I don't like that, it feels cheap. " The women or the man is cheapening my photograph and I try to stay away from that. I want to stay away from that type of thing. But at the same time, I like things that touch a nerve. I like things that sometimes balance between bad taste and good taste. Maybe sometimes bad taste makes sense at a certain moment. I think it's just a balancing of ideas and thoughts and editing. Also, respect, I have a lot of respect for the people I work with and the women and men I photograph.

 

What is your favorite type of subject to shoot? Models, fashion stories, or personalities like musicians or actresses?

My favorite thing is photographing women.

In this issue that Bella's story is in, we also have an essay written by Linda Evangelista about George Michael. A lot of people would be surprised that you make a cameo in his "Freedom" video. What was it like filming that and looking back at it?

It was kind of amazing actually. I was just a kid. I think I was 18 or 19 years old at the time I was modeling. I was asked to be in it and at the time George Michael was huge. I was into his music, so it was an honor to be asked and to be in it. It was great working with [director] David Fincher and even a couple of years ago I had a conversation with him on the phone and he remembered me being in that video, which was funny because it was 20 years ago or 25 years ago. I always thought that video was an iconic video that really captured the time and the supermodels. I never thought myself as a supermodel, ever. I'm not a supermodel and I don't know how I ended up being in that video but I was there!

PANTS CHLOÉ, EARRINGS (THROUGHOUT) LINN LØMO, ON EYES (THROUGHOUT) DIOR DIORSHOW KHÔL EYE MAKEUP IN SMOKY BROWN

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