“It’s very much the calm before the storm,” Fashion Director Nicola Formichetti says of being backstage before Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball. “Everyone is super zen and relaxed, but also ready to explode for the audience.”

Tonight at Miami’s Hard Rock Arena, said storm will drip its last drop after a total of 18 shows and over half a million tickets sold across North America, Europe, and Asia. As the “Rain on Me” singer’s 6th headlining tour, this odyssey thrust Gaga in front of 76,000 fans for her Paris show at Stade de France—her biggest live audience to date. Hours earlier, as thousands of little monsters poured into the stadium, Gaga, V Magazine’s Stephen Gan, Hedi Slimane, and Formichetti came together backstage over a decade after they’d first begun collaborating. 

Slimane, Celine’s Creative Director and one of fashion’s most renowned photographers, took out his camera and began an impromptu photoshoot of Gaga as her team applied Haus Labs makeup and her concert wig, transforming the singer into the larger-than-life executant who treats arenas as if they’re her personal playground, her fans (and friends) playing along with her. These new photos, a documentation of Gaga before playing the biggest show of her life, come 13 years after Slimane first met and shot the superstar for The Fame Monster’s album art in 2009. 

It’s not strange for these full-circle moments to happen on tour. Tor in Old French meant a turn, a round, a circuit. Old English’s turnian meant to rotate or revolve. And so while Gaga travels the world to entertain it, the fact that she would return home at some point was a given. That the tour brought back together her entourage was something special. 

“He’s watched me go through so many modes of life,” Gaga says about Slimane over the phone. It’s a few minutes after 3:30pm ET. The previous night, Gaga and her Chromatica Ball tempest erupted on stage in Houston, Texas. “Him being at the Chromatica Ball was an especially proud moment for me because I’m so much healthier now than I’ve ever been. So to be photographed by him and to be healthy, that felt like a real milestone for me as a person, and as an artist—an artist that always believed that if I was suffering, I was doing it right. You know, he’s photographing a different person now.”  

The idea of “a different person” is reminiscent of the past as well, when Slimane shot two covers of The Fame Monster. Like yin and yang, the primary artwork presented Gaga in a dramatically-cut blond wig, her face partially covered by a black rubber coat, whereas the alternative version portrayed the artist as a brunette with messy hair and teary makeup streaming down her face—a nod to Gaga (or Stefani Germanotta) before fame. In a way, these new photos are simply a continuation, a return to the beginning, as with all tours and circles. “It’s like an updated version of The Fame Monster,” Formichetti points out. 

Photographed by Hedi Slimane in 2009
Photographed by Hedi Slimane for V109 in 2017

“For him to photograph me in my essence, in that moment where I allow the animal in me to start to wake up and I tell myself, ‘Okay, the animal can be awake for two hours and then has to go back to sleep,’ it’s tremendously meaningful to me,” Gaga says. 

The artist remembers meeting Gan, who introduced her to Formichetti and Slimane, one fateful day over a sushi dinner. “We talked about fashion. We talked about art. We talked about New York. We talked about culture,” Gaga reminisces. “I had met this person that was, to me, the godfather of fashion…and I still managed at the end of the dinner to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to the Lower East side to meet all my friends, who are artists.’ I think in some strange way, Stephen seeing that side of me is part of why we understand each other and have the relationship that we do. He knows how much I value the artistic community.”

“She was in some kind of biker outfit with holes in the fishnets, and she had a bag full of wigs under the table,” Gan recalls. “Every time a new sushi roll was served, she’d put on a different wig. I thought she was some kind of Warholian character from the factory like I had read about in art school.” 

Gan then set up Formichetti to meet and style Gaga for the then-burgeoning pop star’s first photoshoot for V Magazine, which Gan founded in 1999. On the beach somewhere in Malibu, this pairing led to one of pop culture’s most powerful and influential duos. “I think back to that very first shoot,” Gaga says, “and you know, these were things that a girl like me…well, I never thought anyone was going to view me as someone that could model fashion in that way. But I think Stephen saw my extreme passion and vibrancy for life as art.” 

“There was total freedom,” Formichetti says about that day. “She created a space for everybody to be themselves in a way. And all the way up until today, she surprised me, even though we are very much in sync. There’s nobody out there like her.”

Only a few years later, Gaga would return to Gan in order to guest edit the magazine for its 99th issue. She later was named Editor of the Year for this issue by the Daily Front Row.

“Her first idea was to have Hedi shoot Karl Lagerfeld, and she wanted Karl to be shot by Hedi in return. I said, ‘That’s impossible. What’s your next idea?’” says Gan. “She said, ‘Please ask, I know it can happen.’ So every time I hear “So baby tell me yes” from “The Cure,” I think of that moment. They both said yes, and when Karl passed, Hedi’s portrait of him was all over the Internet. I always think that would never have happened had I given up so easily.” 

Upon seeing Hedi’s new portraits of herself, Gaga was not only nostalgic over the earlier days, but also grateful to be somewhat at peace with who she is, finding something not unlike that “calm before the storm.” While tour’s tend to be cyclical, one can also turn from one thing into another. 

Frederic Aspiras, who has been my hair designer since I was about 20-years-old…to see a cover with him applying my wig,” Gaga says, her voice heavy with gratitude. “I mean, he handmade the hairline for months. I watched him stitching it in the corner. I wore another wig for every single rehearsal, and I just didn’t say anything to him about the one he was making, but I knew it was going to be like poetry. I waited for the last second and then I said, ‘Can I try that one?’ And he goes, ‘Okay, fine.’” She lets out an appreciative laugh. “But what I’ll say is, when he saw the photographs, he just cried. He compared my eyes to some of the earlier photographs, and he said, ‘Look at your eyes here, and look at your eyes here, and look how different they are.’ He said, ‘Here, you look lost, but here you look passionate, you look free, you look happy, you look like you’re longing for life.’”

Toward the end of our call, I mention an interview Gaga gave with Zane Lowe in 2020 as she was gearing up to release Chromatica, telling the radio host, “I can’t wait to dance with people to this music. I can’t wait to just go into any space with a whole bunch of people and just blast this as loud as possible, and just show them how much I love them.” I ask her if she satisfied this urge once the tour, two years delayed thanks to Covid, actually manifested. 

“You know, I’m so grateful that I got to deliver Chromatica to the world in this way, because the biggest discovery and the biggest gift I could have given myself in becoming healthy is that when I’m on stage now, I’m not blasting the music and getting lost,” she says. The artist has been vocal about her struggles with mental health and fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes widespread pain and fatigue. “I’m not in a nightclub wasted, getting lost in the record…Now I’m inside my dance routine. I’m inside my vocal technique. I’m inside the artistry of the fashion and the imagery. I’m clear about where the cameras are. I’m always thinking about the image that the audience is seeing. It’s a real performance. It’s a performance that honors the craft of my musicianship. When I’m playing piano, I can hear what I’m playing. I care about every note. And I can’t tell you how much suffering is not worth it if it means it’s going to compromise your talent.” 

Moreover, Gaga has a palpable sense of pride for pushing through this pain and embarking on a physically grueling show that lasts nearly three hours and sees the star dancing, singing, joking, and crying her way through her greatest hits, her newest additions, and, uninhibited pyrotechnics that left even the audience sweating, myself includedlet alone Gaga in full leather. 

“My last show for Chromatica is coming up, and to know that I’ve performed every show with clarity, with purity, and sober on stage. I mean, to know that I gave myself that and gave the audience that—it makes me feel like I’m honoring the privilege that it is to be an artist that’s watched by the world. And I want to give that to the fans too. I want them to know that it’s okay to heal. Healing doesn’t make you less talented. It doesn’t make you less of a badass. It doesn’t make you less committed to your art. It just means that you’re able to experience life with more clarity. I think sometimes as artists, we get caught up with the escape of it all, right? The fantasy of it all. And if we escape too much, we stop valuing things about life. There’s more to life than just escaping it.” 

Circling back to that evening backstage in Paris, Gan reflects on Gaga’s growth, both as a friend and an artist. 

“There was a black backdrop being put up next to the makeup table,” he recalls. “Hedi was chatting with Gaga as he snapped away, and Nicola was trying different looks on her. In meditation, they teach you to shut the world out for a few minutes and ‘be present in the moment.’ This occasion felt like a class reunion. I felt at peace, like it was a group meditation. The girl I met in the East Village with holes in her stockings 13 years ago now had 76,000 cheering fans waiting to see her come out and perform. Her manager Bobby came into the dressing room to say it was showtime. We all posed for a last group photo and were just ‘present in the moment.’”

About the storm Formichetti alluded to, it’s less that Gaga needs to escape it for calm; instead, she’s found peace beneath the downpour and lightning. 


“You know, this interview in a lot of ways came at a perfect time,” Gaga mentions before we hang up. “What I’ve been wanting to do the last few days is just reflect on this whole time. I never thought I was going to be able to be on stage again,” she says in reference to her health concerns. “I feel like I’m on another level of gratitude that I know the importance of reflection. And I just want to soak up this moment and in this interview as a way of reflecting on this whole thing and reconnecting with a friend and saying, you know, not goodbye to this show but just welcoming a rebirth into a new chapter of my life, where I can be the artist that I always wanted to be. I can finally stop running away from myself and start running towards myself.” 

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