Born in 1961, Simon Foxton is considered one of the most influential, visionary stylists and creative minds on the international scene. After graduating in 1983 from Central Saint Martins in fashion design and launching his brand Bazooka, Foxton began working for i-D magazine, where he later began a long-term collaboration with Nick Knight that eventually led Simon to become the magazine’s art director. Foxton has succeeded in mixing together and bridging sportswear, tailoring, streetwear and fetish styles in an experimental way. His aesthetic sense helped define the new image of modern menswear. On the occasion of the book release in collaboration with Stone Island, we interviewed Simon about his career path and his thoughts the past and future of fashion.
Tell us about your time studying and when you discovered your passion for photography and fashion.
I was at Central Saint Martins School of Art between 1979 and 1983 and I had a fantastic time there. That was such a wonderful time to be young, attending art school, and especially living in London! I don’t think I was a particularly hard-working student, but I made a lot of great friends there, many of whom are still close to me even today. There was a lot of dressing up and going out to clubs and parties. It was pretty amazing. I had always enjoyed consuming magazines and loved imagery but never considered actually creating any of my own. It wasn’t until after I left college and started designing in the real world that I realised how difficult and also time-consuming it was to design. Caryn Franklin, a friend of mine back then who was Fashion Director at i-D at the time, asked me if I’d be interested in doing some styling for the magazine. I gave it a go and quickly realised that it felt right for me. I liked its immediacy. You had an idea, found the clothes, shot them, and there was the final result. No more ordering fabrics, dealing with outworkers, delivering to shops etc. That was such a drag. I’ve always favoured the path of least resistance.
You are considered a leading image-maker of men’s fashion. What changes do you see in the industry during these last years?
I’m not sure if I ever really created “fashion looks.” I have been an image-maker for quite a while now, but that’s just because I’ve been around a long time and haven’t died yet. I’m often asked this question and I’m never too certain how to answer it. I guess the most fundamental change is the size and scope of the fashion industry. Now, there is so much of it, and such enormous wealth invested in it that it has become a much more high-risk environment to work in. When I was starting out things were much more relaxed. When shooting for magazines, credits were more of a suggestion than a necessity. We were very much left alone to create what we wanted, with no art directors or commercial departments interfering. It’s only more recently that I’ve realised how fortunate we were to grow up shooting in that sort of culture. Of course, not everything was great, and some of the work was self-indulgent, but the great thing was that we could experiment, and also fail. Failure is a crucial part of the creative process. Sadly, that is not allowed now in the high-budget, tense, corporate world that fashion has become.
You started with i-D magazine in 1984. Tell us some crazy stories about your work at that time and how this experience shaped your professional and private life.
I don’t think I have any crazy stories. I’m not a particularly crazy or dramatic person, I think the most obvious impact on both my personal and professional life comes from the people I have met through work. From meeting and working with Nick Knight at the very start, to asking Edward Enninful to model for me and then having him become my assistant. Likewise, street-casting Steve McQueen for an i-D shoot and us becoming very close friends. Or meeting the photographer Jason Evans who was interning with Nick Knight; we began working together back in 1990 and have done so ever since. Also, all the other wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years, like Jonathan Kaye (now at The Gentlewoman) or Elgar Johnson (at GQ Style), or Nick Griffiths with whom I have an ongoing creative consultancy, &SON. Or working with the wonderful Penny Martin at SHOWstudio, who is now the editor of The Gentlewoman. They are all still very dear friends and extremely important people in my life.
Can you please choose 5 photos from your Instagram feed that are meaningful or important for you and explain why?
Very memorable shoot . We shot this at night in the streets around some old warehouses next to Tower Bridge .Back then it was deserted and derelict . These days it has been made into flats and work spaces that cost millions .The fire in front of the boys is actually me walking past with a big metal rake that we wrapped in paper and set alight.
This was from a story that Jason and I shot called ’Strictly’ . We shot it all around the streets near my house in Ealing , very suburban .Edward was assisting me at the time and he helped a lot with the casting .It was a fun shoot to do and was well received .
I’ve always loved this shot I did with Ben of the stunning model Dominique Hollington .Very simple and graphic .
This is a composite from a movie that Nick and I made for Walter van Beirendock’s retrospective exhibition in Antwerp .I had access to Walter’s total archive and he allowed me to mix up his collections to create wild looks . It was really great fun .
This was a kind of backstage shot that I took on the set of a shoot that Nick Knight and I did called Frillaz !I dressed these tough looking guys in some incredibly frilly frocks that I found online from an adult baby fetish site .I had pre-warned them before the shoot of what I intended to do but still felt a bit nervous about how they would reactbut they were all great about it . The whole shoot was a joy
You worked with truly creative mind like Nick Knight. Who are the photographers/creative people more inspiring for you?
Nick Knight inspiring. He is constantly creative and a very exciting person to work with; you always feel you’re in safe hands working with Nick. In a different way, Jason Evans is an extremely inspiring photographer because he questions things and makes you question yourself. Not in an undermining way, but more as a method of creating something totally new. I’ve also always admired the work of Jean-Paul Goude. I love his creations.
How was working at the exhibition When You’re a Boy?
Well, that was Penny Martin’s idea. She curated it and did all the hard work of putting the show together. It was very exciting to have an exhibition dedicated solely to my work at The Photographer’s Gallery. I didn’t enjoy being the centre of attention on the opening night etc. I’m pretty useless at all that stuff and prefer to stay more in the background. But once the show was up and running, I did enjoy viewing it dispassionately, almost as if I was looking at someone else’s work.
How has your work changed during this global pandemic?
I continue to work with Stone Island, but since I am considered to be in a “high risk” category I have been fairly strictly self-isolating so have been doing my consulting via Zoom, which has been a godsend. I gave up shooting editorials and my teaching work last year.
What kind of relationship do you have with social networks?
I’m on Facebook quite a lot just seeing what friends are doing or watching mindless videos. It seems that Facebook is now just used by old codgers like me; I don’t think anyone young uses it anymore. Instagram is fun, but again pretty mindless. I enjoy posting pictures that I take when I see something noteworthy or beautiful, otherwise I don’t bother. All those pictures of food, or children, give me a break! I used Tumblr for years and absolutely loved it but then they spoiled it with their puritanical anti-porn stance that edited out anything even vaguely salacious. I closed down my account and haven’t used it since. I transferred a few images to my Instagram account @foxtonscrapbooks, but it’s not the same, to be honest. Twitter, I use for news that’s it. I don’t Tweet- never got to grips with it, really. Any of the others I just assume are for kids and don’t bother with them.
What was the process of working on the Stone Island book? And what was the biggest challenge in creating the book?
Myself and my business partner Nick Griffiths have worked with Stone Island for the last 12 or 13 years. We art direct, cast and shoot all the campaigns and photo-based imagery. Nick makes a lot of the moving image pieces for their online platforms. We also consult with the design team there to give input on the collections, and we are involved in many other facets of the brand. Sabina Rivetti from Stone Island approached me a couple of years ago with the idea of doing a book. I think she already had the editor Eugene Rabkin in place at that time, as well as Rizzoli as the publisher. My role as Art Director was really to steer the ship and make sure that it remained true to Stone Island’s “language,” i.e. it must be modern, factual and almost industrial in feel. Nothing too flashy or over designed. I chose Rory McCartney as designer for the book as we had worked with him on the last one, Stone Island, Archivio and therefore he understood the aesthetic well. We spent a long time trawling through masses of imagery looking for photos that were hopefully interesting and informative but that also hadn’t already been used in other publications. For this, we had the assistance from a wonderful image researcher, Sarah Cleaver, who did an amazing job. I think the main challenge was retaining the clean, dispassionate visual language of the brand but still producing a book that was interesting to see. Hopefully we succeeded.
What are some of your future plans…do you still enjoy working in fashion?
At the moment with the way the world is, I haven’t made any major plans. I take each day as it comes. I still very much enjoy working with Stone Island, they are a fantastic company to work for. But to be honest, I’ve rather fallen out of love with fashion and magazines. I have stopped shooting fashion editorials as I find that the parameters magazines set and the adherence to credits that they impose are too stifling. Perhaps I am just getting too old for all of that. We’ll see what happens!