Monday, November 30, 2020

from behind the camera ... MEET Roberto Ligresti

 I never forget a gracious and unsolicited act of kindness as s was the case with Roberto when I was just starting out on the latest iteration of my life. Out of the blue he sent me something and said just because he enjoyed reading what I write and how I write it and so here, we are oh these many years later when I can properly say thank you!

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In the time that has passed I have watched Roberto’s work evolve from being just another photographer to what I consider a world class photographer. The images he is producing now are of the highest quality and when in a relatively short span of time he has proven himself to be “cover worthy.”  

 While he is much more solicitous to the advantageous side of social media when it comes to models and photographers, I am far more critical and disturbed by it. That in itself speaks to the demeanor of the man and how he works and what his mindset is in present times and by the way, I tip my hat to him for thinking as he does.

Anyway, I’d never have known the path that led Roberto to where he is today and this interview has been eye opening in terms of just how he is and who he is TODAY and how he had the grit, determination and well … the balls to do it!

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So now in his words and not mine Roberto will recount   some of his past his present and his future in his own words …

 Jeffrey Felner: Can you give us a brief run down as to how you started and your journey that lead you to being a photographer?

Roberto Ligresti: Growing up in Milan, I always thought I was going to become an artist. My drawing ability was appreciated  from a very early age. I needed a role model; my parents, both highly professionally intellectual, didn’t have a background in arts and didn’t really know what to do with me! It was up to me to look beyond my family and find my own heroes.

At first, I thought I was going to be a cartoonist when I discovered the trendy work of Guido Crepax, a great Italian illustrator who mixed art, politics and fashion. He created a character called Valentina.  A “fashion photographer” with a Louise Brooks haircut, who was either nude or wore St Laurent. Valentina was obviously Mr. Crepax’s alter ego and so I started doing all kinds of drawings imitating his style and creating my own version of his character.

Valentina ran in a large printed format Italian monthly magazine called LINUS, based on Peanuts. It was a satirical publication aimed at pseudo intellectual high schoolers, like me I suppose, or so I thought, and it was my first contact with American pop culture.  At the same time, I discovered the American Illustrator Annuals which only reinforced my desire to have a career in the United States since there weren’t any publications of this sort in Italy and against my parent’s wishes, I enrolled in a high school for the arts.

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At 15, I bought my first copy of Vogue Italia, and Marie Helvin was on the cover. That image completely mesmerized me. I became fascinated with models and photographers. Previously, the only model I “knew” of was Veruschka., but after discovering Vogue, a whole new world unfolded that included Vibeke, Dayle Haddon, Susan Moncur, Jeanette Christensen, Margaux Hemingway, Jerry Hall, and the lensmen Giampaolo Barbieri, Oliviero Toscani, Bill King, Guy Bourdin, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton who were added to my list of new heroes. Arrivederci Valentina!

I now desperately wanted to be part of that world but didn’t know how!! When I saw the illustrations of Antonio Lopez for Valentino, I found my next ambition! I was going to be the new Antonio Lopez which seemed to be an achievable goal given my artistic abilities. I was so confident of my unique talent, I decided to take matters into my own hands and to walked into the offices of Vogue Italia with a roll of bad drawings thinking they equaled the work of Antonio. The first person I saw while crossing the beautiful courtyard in Piazza Castello 27 was Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife).

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I was now entering a new unknown world. The staff of Vogue Italia was more than kind to me and the art director even gave me my first assignment on the spot! I thought I had it made. Sadly, my drawings looked like those of someone fresh from art school, so I was asked to match the style of the illustrators of Women’s Wear Daily… aha! ... a New goal found; Move to New York City and work for Women’s Wear Daily! Vogue Italia started using me every month for about 6 months that year and, being the immature kid, I began thinking of myself as an accomplished artist. I grew my hair long and wore super trendy clothes to get attention. I started spending my nights at the chic night clubs and sneaking into every fashion show in Milan and Paris. I spent 4 years at the Academy of Arts instead of going to a traditional college. All I cared about was to be part of the fashion world.

Having no sponsors or mentors, no one was there to tell me that fashion is a serious industry, and that at this stage of my life I was nothing more than an intern. My first assignment for Vogue gave me the childish confidence to think of myself as a fashion star.

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Before Social Media existed, you had to be “seen” in in all the right places but because of attending every fashion show (the field being a lot smaller back then) I became a familiar face of the fashion crowd in Milan and Paris even though no one knew who the hell I was or why I was there! 

New York was the next fashion capital to conquer and  armed with the excuse of enrolling for at the School of Visual Arts. Now, with a huge vinyl portfolio (no longer paper tied up with a rubber band) searching for a position at an American fashion magazine! I spent my days walking back and forth on Madison avenue with my big portfolio and barely managed to get 6 magazine illustration assignments in 6 months, so it was ciao New York City but still more intrigued than ever. Everyone was so friendly!

When returning to Milan at 22, I began my corporate experience at McCann Erickson working as an aide to star Art Director Raymond Gfeller who had worked in New York and Paris, most notably for Jardin Des Modes. The job was fun and interesting, servicing the biggest department store in Italy, and I enjoyed the experience of drawing the storyboards for the tv commercials. I even illustrated for a small campaign featured in national newspapers. I’m sure my boss thought I was a brat, since I wasn’t THAT helpful to him, but he liked me and kept me around.

Since I was aching to return to New York City, I jumped at the opportunity to work at a Manhattan Art Studio providing collateral material to all the major advertising agencies. I left my job at McCann Erickson, and made the Big Apple my new home.  Working for the Manhattan Art Studio provided me with all the discipline I never had in Milan. I worked hard, I worked nights and weekends and made good money. I bought my first apartment in Chelsea. I thought that I was fulfilled.  A few years later, during my first and only experience sharing a house in Fire Island, I befriended a group who “worked in fashion”.  By then, with a solid advertising career, drawing storyboards for TV commercials pretty much daily, the fun I experienced in Milan in the early years had worn off and I was completely burned out. I became completely intrigued with the people at the shared house, a fashion photographer, a hairstylist, and an art director for Bloomingdales. They seemed to work together often, and they seemed happy doing it. They knew ALL THE MODELS and my tedious job as an illustrator, left  me basically working alone and trying to meet strict deadlines hence my career now seemed to look drab and sad. 

The Fire Island “chapter” was the push I needed to make me stop drawing. The time had come to start my career as a photographer. I began a whole new life at 31, but it’s what I was meant to do.  I could finally work in fashion and it was the best moment and my least regrettable decision. With trial and error, I embarked on a new career and began working with model agencies, and slowly built my portfolio. I learned how to negotiate with magazines and 6 years later, I got to a point where my sole source of income was photography.

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JF: When you started, did you have any “style” icons or mentors that have influenced your work during your career and why did you select them?

Roberto Ligresti: Honestly, I never chose anything in life. Everything in my journey seemed to have appeared in front of me by chance, my only merit being to take on every challenge presented to me thinking I might miss out on a golden opportunity.

My good luck brought me to Raymond Gfeller, a wonderful, generous soul who I owe everything to for giving me my first full time job, and who taught me so much about proportions (big picture has to go next small picture) and graphics.

Several years on, I was fortunate enough to work alongside Francis Ing, a great, technically proficient fashion photographer who was a frequent collaborator of Andy Warhol at Interview Magazine in the early 80’s. He taught me everything about studio lighting which remains my strong suit to this day.

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JF: Care to discuss your best and worst experiences while working on a shoot? …. Model?  Client? Stylist? Location? Control? Wardrobe? Creative director?

Roberto Ligresti: The “bad” experiences I may have had, were caused by my inexperience in handling certain working situations. As a photographer, you need to have the patience of a saint, care about everyone else’s needs, from the cranky assistant to the client who may be in a bad mood, to the ego driven hair and makeup people … You have to be the captain of a ship that’s going to stay afloat no matter what! Most professional photographers (in their growing years) have experience assisting other photographers where you would witness all kinds of situations and you learn what NOT TO DO…But I never assisted, I learned everything on my own.

Now, of course I pride myself on being an expert captain, I’m not always perfect, but I certainly try!

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JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?

Roberto Ligresti: Nick Knight because I love his integrity as an image creator; he’s not afraid of trying new techniques and media, and truly respect what he creates on his SHOWSTUDIO platform.

George Hoyningen-Huene for his contribution to fashion photography.  Like me, he was an illustrator before starting photography, and late in his life worked in the movie industry, as I may want to do one day. Donald Wexler as I am a big fan of his work, I’m fascinated by mid-century architecture. Massimo Vignelli because I know I would enjoy talking design with him. My dear friend the hairstylist Garren because he has great stories about photo shoots and always makes me laugh and in case one of the five couldn’t make it, the next person I would invite is Eileen Ford as an alternate!

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 JF: Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room … the internet and social media; can you speak to the pros and cons and if you could, how you would change the posting requirements or content requirements for being “REAL” models and photographers?

Roberto Ligresti: At the present stage of my life what I value about social media is provides a platform for professionals to communicate and reach people within the industry on an international level. I've had several opportunities come my way via social media… Including this fun interview with you!

I love that social media makes everyone with a telephone a photographer, everyone believes they can be a model or an  influencer. “Modeling” is no longer about natural beauties (Karen Graham and Lauren Hutton), society, fashion, its audience and the standards of beauty have changed and so it’s the new way “spread the word.”  It’s progress and the beginning of true democracy in media. It can’t be changed; I’m just enjoying the ride!

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Jeffrey thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity!


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Allow me to introduce you to Jonzu Jones

 I know I have said this a bazillion times but I can never stop praising the internet for allowing me to expand my web, pun intended, of “friends” to include some of the most prestigious, gracious, intelligent, talented, beautiful and creative people in the world.

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 My latest addition, complements of Instagram, is Jonzu Jones! You might say ... who?  You might say what is a Jonzu?  But, all of your questions will be answered by reading this very articulately written interview.

 I am one of those weird people who use Instagram not only for visual stimulation but also as a search engine since I have this peculiar habit of actually reading the hashtags, following them and it is that little idiosyncrasy which leads me to people like Jonzu. Needless to say, the first thing that caught my eye was his incredible physicality and then via countless conversations…. I have to come to learn there is way more to this young man that just his outward appearance. He is a hive of talents and aspirations.

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That old adage about not judging a book   by its cover is particularly apt here as this man is so much more than just skin-deep beauty and yes, I am occasionally taken in by that beauty but this time I feel confident that I have made a friend who deserves attention both as model and stylist as you will see in his images.

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 So, now that I have gushed about him, he is going to tell you about his life, some of which is hard to believe, and then … well you’ll have to read all of it to find out more… and believe it or not ... this know it all namely,  ME, … actually learned something from what he had to say ….

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 Jeffrey Felner: Let’s talk about your career path... was this the plan? How did you arrive at your present working situation?

Jonzu Jones: I feel like my career is always taking twists and turns. I had a vague idea from young of what I wanted to do and it has always been in the realm of art and fashion. I am still learning and growing, figuring things out along the way and to be honest just winging it. I will say I had a distinct vision of the man I wanted to be and more and more I became this idealized version of myself that the 12-year-old drew up. Currently I am a freelance fashion stylist, which I’ve been doing for around 7 years and I’ve been lucky to work with some truly incredible artists during that time. Styling came about as a kind of extension of me wanting to be a designer. I studied fashion design in high school and college and for so long I truly believed that was my true innate calling. I may revisit design in the future but styling has really been my big passion. While studying design, I was assisting fashion editors and stylists for school credit and to mold my approach to design. After doing that for a bit and loving it, I branched off as a freelance stylist and the rest is history.

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My second career which is fairly new is being a model. I by no stretch of the imagination believed this could be me as an angsty teen. I was the weird kid most of my life and still in a lot of ways am that same kid. I grew up hating my body, uncomfortable in my skin, shy and awkward as fuck. I was content aiming to be unseen and more behind the scenes but still having a name. Being on set more and more as a stylist and dressing in my outlandish garb, I would on occasion get snapped by the photographer. These unexpected instances unlocked something in me and I guess deep within me was a craving to be in front of the camera more. This was short lived and after a 2 ½ year stint playing house wife, gaining 80 pounds, and losing a lot of confidence, I needed a reboot. After leaving my marriage at 24, I did a full visual reset, getting tatted, ripped from home using Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) app Center, and jumping full on into modeling. Side note…  at this point I binge watched Top Model and was also religiously studying the model greats of the 80s to present times. While on set as a stylist I found myself studying models more than usual as well as photographers’ notes on poses. I am still figuring shit out as a model for sure but I’ve definitely learned a few tricks of the trade that have come in handy. The path continues and not sure where exactly it’s going to lead but I’m sure as hell having fun on this journey.

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JF: Do you or did you have any style or any type of mentors or those who continue to inspire or inspired you as you have matured and why them?

JJ: One of my biggest stylist inspirations is Patti Wilson**. She truly knows how to do avant-garde but also make it sexy, dark, and accessible.

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 JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner, who would they be and why?

JJ: Lady Gaga for sure. She’s a fellow Aires and I think we’d connect on weird and obscure references.Daphne Guinness because she is a major style icon for me and I need any excuse to roam her probably never-ending closet.Cody Fern because he’s a cutie and his personal style is pretty damn amazing.

If she were still alive, Edie Sedgwick because she really inspired me as a kid as being my glamour girl. It wasn’t Marilyn or Judy; it was Edie with the sickening Smokey eye. Someone not here anymore but David Bowie. Still a huge inspiration to me, visually and aesthetically.

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 JF: If you could choose any collaboration or situation, what would it be and why? would it be as model or stylist and why?

JJ: I would say to work with Steven Klein. His work is a huge inspiration to me and I pretty much reference at least 1 of his images in every shoot I do. In an ideal world I’d model for him with Patti Wilson styling me. She’s the one stylist whose decisions I’d never question.

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JF: Can you tell what was your most amazing experience doing what you do and what was the worst experience you encountered and why?

JJ: I think my most amazing experience so far was shooting with Robin Lord Taylor a few years ago. I’ve worked with quite a few celebs and high-profile people but I’m pretty much a comic geek and mega fan of Gotham. Robin’s character Penguin was one of my top 3 favorite characters on the show and having the opportunity randomly to work with him was so amazing. He also really rocked it on set!

Worst experience was working with a specific photographer whose name I shall not mention out of respect but that whole day ended up being a nightmare. His first words to the team was “I usually have a better team I work with normally” so that kind of set the bar for the shit show of that shoot. There’s was a moment where he chucked a pair of shoes because they were not Prada or luxury enough. Besides the fuckery of that day and being that it was a non-paying TFP shoot for a known NY magazine, he actually tried to sue me and a couple other team members from that day for copyright since we posted the final images in our portfolio. Twas messy indeed and in retrospect, I should have probably handled things differently at the time like packing up and getting the heck outta there. New, evolved, and candid me probably would have ripped him to shreds but I was younger and a lot nicer…. still nice but don’t take as much shit as I used to.                                                                      click image to enlarge

 **Patti Wilson has worked with Steven Klein, Steven Miesel, Peter Lindeberg, Terry Richardson, and David LaChapelle to name a few. Styling for Italian Vogue, I-D, Numero, and L'Uomo Vogue all of which have had an important impact on the fashion world over the past decade. Patti continues to collaborate with the most influential designers and is recognized worldwide for her eclectic taste and continuous capacity to provide her clients such as Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Christian Lacroix, Valentino.

Friday, November 20, 2020


 Alessandro Michele wanted to associate his latest Gucci collection to eschatology, the doctrine that explores the ultimate destiny of humans and the universe. In fact, the word was printed on what is likely destined to become the lineup’s ultimate bestseller — an oversized T-shirt available in multiple colors also decorated with the numbers 1921 and 25, Gucci’s foundation year and Michele’s favorite number, respectively.

Fashion and eschatology: what a weird combination. Is it nonsensical or does it express a desire to define a new concept of fashion whereby, along with the different major arts, it becomes a tool to interpret our passage through life?


So now that you have read this arcane esoteric inspiration and explanation for what Gucci is calling a collection, I ask you …. WTF is this but a souk of clothes that look like they were pulled from a dumpster behind a Goodwill!

It’s a wise moment that so many heritage brands are returning to their original eponymous logos as otherwise how would anyone know what brand is which and in this case it’s all about SOME of the accessories and certainly not about ANY of the clothes and whether or not anyone believes it the Asian market is all about conspicuous consumption.

It’s laughable and preposterous to think that any trendster is going to pay thousands to buy cutoff jeans or oversized football jerseys because the very high (as in drug induced) and faux intellectual Signori Michele found some ephemera to hitch his wagon to. Do you think the clothes will come with hangtags explaining this dope, as in drug,  induced fantasy? It is not my opinion that even the Asian market will want those clothes to wear where? And at what price?

Let the media regurgitate and fawn all in the quest of ad dollars but it is in fact what is making printed media less and less important given the lack of gravitas and honest assessment of collections that don’t belong on fashion magazine pages but rather as crumpled up pages of catalogs found in trash cans!


PS..anyone who can translate the first 2 paragraphs [has a pair of denim cutoffs waiting for them as well as a PhD!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Proenza Schouler spring 2021

 Well here is a collection of generic clothes that both  Nicole and Bridget can ooze over.  Every season these two have found some other iteration that is supposedly defining their definitive  direction and/or making  a statement… one season it’s tight, one loose, one upcycled, one denim, one working  girls and the list  goes on  ad nauseum and in the end it is always  the same ….. a regurgitation of a press release or as Clara Peller once famously asked in a Wendy’s hamburger commercial… where’s the beef? 

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Yada, yada, yada and yes there are some clothes that are pretty but nonetheless they make no statement and barely pass as generic .. so my question is who is the sugar daddy that keeps pouring money into these two who haven’t “brought home the bacon or the beef” in years?

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Just another bunch of  clothes where by accident  a few pieces look like they come from one collection!

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