As the great photographer’s exhibition hits London, we take a look at seven of our most loved Meisel images.

He’s one of the only famous fashion photographers without a book dedicated to his work. He’s an intensely private man, giving only a handful of interviews throughout his lifetime. Supermodels owe their careers to him; Vogue Italia can thank him for the past 25 years of covers – most importantly, the controversial ones. He’s shot every Prada campaign since 2004 and was the mastermind behind that YSL Opium ad and let’s not forget the recent latex-filled Pirelli calendar.

Steven Meisel has been changing the face of fashion since the 80s. His pictures do more than just show off expensive clothes. They tell a story, often focusing on political and social topics that most other photographers tend to shy away from. Racism, terrorism and domestic violence have all played a part in his work, causing a flurry of media storms worldwide. Meisel’s photography makes you think. And we mean really think.

Of course, it’s about time Steven Meisel had an exhibition spanning his entire career. Cue: Role Play. Coming to the London HQ of auction house Phillips on December 16, it will feature 25 photographs handpicked by the man himself. With so many thought-provoking images to choose from, picking our top seven was a tough job. Here’s the ones that sum up his dynamic style along with his gift of transforming famous faces.

Grunge (Vogue, December 1992)


Steven Meisel is credited with introducing grunge to the mainstream. This timeless Vogue image could have been taken yesterday let alone in 1992. But the androgyny was too much for Anna Wintour who refused to publish the photo series. Luckily, the then Editorial Director of Condé Nast, Alexander Liberman, called it the most important fashion story of the decade and Anna’s decision was reversed.

Supermodels (Vogue Italia, 1989)


It’s safe to say there’s a special relationship between Stephen and the supers. Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kristen McMenamy, Karen Elson… He elevated each and every one of their careers. Here, Naomi and Christy are showcased in a behind-the-scenes yet still utterly glamorous shot of them checking their teeth for lipstick stains.

Gender (W, 2004)

asexual revolution series

Steven’s played around with gender for a long time. His Asexual Revolution series was the first time he’d worked for W. Posing male models in female roles, gender-bending at its best. He tapped into the cultural zeitgeist – as always – giving the people of America a view they’d only ever seen in small independent magazines.

Covers (Vogue Italia, 2011)


The man has produced some of the most stimulating covers out there. This one, featuring Stella Tennant, was all about the discipline of fashion. Stella’s waist was corseted so much it became almost non-existent. A radical demonstration of the pain some go through in the name of fashion.

Satire (W, 2011)

tantrum ad

Ironic and iconic: that pretty much sums up the series of fake adverts Meisel photographed for W. Fabulous Fakes was a humorous take on everything from hair products to fragrance promotions. Karen Elson starred in the kinkiest one, of course. Turning the traditional lingerie shoot on its head, nude spanked men were submissively bent over with fiery Elson as the dominant figure.

Controversy (Vogue Italia, 2011)

kristen steven meisel

From creating a black-only issue of Vogue Italia tackling racism to photographing terrified, corpse-like women for the domestic violence cause, Steven Meisel loves to stir up controversy. But he always does it for a reason. This gruesome shot of a choking Kristen McMenamy raised awareness of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Debate soon ensued over whether fashion should discuss these kinds of issues. Meisel’s answer was and still is an undeniable yes and we couldn’t agree more.

Madonna (Sex, 1992)


Another of Meisel’s favourite photographs – and perhaps the most iconic of all – is this naked shot of Madonna for her book, Sex. Madonna possesses a sultry confidence captured brilliantly. The pair have been friends for years; the trust between them obvious here. In 2012, the photo sold for an astonishing $23,750 – a testament to Steven Meisel’s talent.

Words: Lauren Sharkey


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