If you remember Mark Wahlberg’s original Calvin Klein underwear campaign in the 90’s, Kate Moss’s scandalous nude Obsession perfume campaign, or Kim Kardashian’s recent controversy dressing as Jacqueline Kennedy for Interview magazine, you have one man to thank: Fabien Baron
For the past 30 years, he’s been the creative helm behind some of the most famous campaigns for top brands like Calvin Klein, Burberry, Giorgio Armani and Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Coach. Over that period he has also revamped five magazines, including Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Interview — where he is currently editorial director. He works across all artistic mediums, including film, photography, music, advertising, magazines and more. He has also designed his own line of furniture for Cappellini and Bernhardt.
For a man who says he prefers a minimalism, he knows how to pile on the workload.
Born in Paris, Baron became a New York transplant in 1982, bringing with him a European classicism while discovering an American minimalism. He has won 25 FiFi awards for design and advertising from the Fragrance Foundation, a CFDA special award for influence in art direction from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, two Time Magazine top ten covers of the year and countless other awards. Forbes caught up with him to discuss his career, his aesthetic, that Kim Kardashian cover, and what’s next for Interview magazine.
Emma Sandler: How did you get into this business? What would you say was the beginning?
Sandler: How would you say your role as an art director has changed over the last couple of years?
Baron: I think art direction when I started, was more about graphic design and how to do layouts and do elements on the printed page. Now it’s more about strategy and more business than ever…and I like that. I am very curious, so I learn things quickly and I like to learn things. How do you do that? How do you make that work? So I have learned a lot about business, and numbers, strategy, marketing and brand positioning.
Sandler: How would you define your personal aesthetic?
Baron: I like things that are more simple. Like more of a very direct…but quite graphic and simple. And very well finished — a bit polished. It’s similar to minimalism in a certain way [and] post-minimalism…I like the minimalist movement that’s happening and artists like Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd. I like all the minimalist arts very much and all the painters from that time. I’m very intrigued by that, and I really like the architecture as well…I’m very interested in taking away and leaving the essential in front of you.
Sandler: You were responsible for the Kim Kardashian September cover where she was dressed as Jacqueline Kennedy, and it was controversial. Was that the intent?
Baron: Let’s be honest here: me putting Kim Kardashian isn’t going to change her fame. I’m not going to make or break Kim Kardashian by putting her on the cover. So why I put her on the cover is obviously not to make her famous, it’s more to make a point. Like, Kim Kardashian is a person created by Americans. She’s an American product…And politically what’s going on in America with Donald Trump, I feel that is also something that is an American product. He’s an American product made by America, and American people voted for Donald Trump to be president…And to me the cover [was] a bit of a satire of what America stands for…Kanye has said he wants to be president which would make [Kim Kardashian] the First Lady. And she’s seen by so many people as the First Lady of pop-culture. And I’m surprised people didn’t get that. I adore Jackie O and don’t want to make her turn in her grave because Kim Kardashian was wearing Jackie O things and looking like her. The point is, this is a product of America, and Trump is a product of America as well. And you know, people should think about that. She’s not there for no reason, and he’s not there for no reason.
Sandler: I wonder if the controversy was because people have so much reverence for Jackie O.
Baron: But people gave so much shit to Jackie O when she remarried Onassis. You know, okay? It’s not like the lady was considered. And [I] won’t go into detail, because there’s so much to say there, in a way, like that could be a whole thing. But, my point is that I have a lot of reverence for Jackie O, and it was not meant to hurt Jackie O. It was a reflection of what America stands for today in politics and the entertainment business.
Sandler: Do you expect, moving forward, that Interview magazine that there will be more of this kind of stuff considering our current political and artistic climate?
Baron: I think so, because of where America stands today. If you really look at it, it’s really — it’s not like the 70’s or 80’s, it’s a really weird moment.