Nick Knight on Working With Kanye, Björk, and McQueen

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"Anybody who’s doing anything interesting." That is Nick Knight's stated criterion for finding SHOWstudio contributors. Over the site's 15-year history, its ranks have swelled to include music superstars, models, editors, and all manner of fashion creatives. His most exciting recent discovery is filmmaker and artist Rei Nadal, whom he discovered on Tumblr. Knight talked to the Cut about some of his favorite collaborators over the years.

Kanye West

"Kanye was staying 300 yards away from the SHOWstudio offices, and so he’d come here all day long [during the period when Knight shot the "New Slaves" video]. Just having him as part of the environment, it’s exhilarating."

Alexander McQueen

"I’d normally get a phone call saying, ‘I’ve got a fantastic idea,’ then I’d go see him and we’d talk about it. He wanted to do things that were very daring. We did a whole issue of Dazed and Confused using people that had very different body shapes. So people who were missing limbs, or people who had very pronounced curvature of the spine, people with disabilities. We wanted to call it 'Fashion-Able.' I wanted these people [as models], because why aren’t these people photographed? They’re never [the people] that are always shown on the front of magazines and in advertising campaigns. We knew the world was more beautiful and larger than that.

"Lee and I wanted to do things that excited us. He would ask me to do things that nobody else was asking me, incredibly audacious things. And I’d have to find ways of doing them — because his vision was actually quite dark and a little bit inaccessible in some ways."

Daphne Guinness

"She comes out with incredible, very revolutionary notions she wants to try in a completely new way, and doesn’t hold at all to tradition in that way, wants to actually experiment very profoundly. And she’s super-bright, so she knows what she’s talking about. She’s one of these rare but very brave visions in fashion."

Björk

"She’s a bit like Daphne, and a bit like Kanye. These are people who are incredibly brave, because it takes a certain amount of bravery to say, ‘I’m going to do it the way I think it should be done, and not the way everyone else thinks it should be done.’ Most of my work with Björk was when Lee McQueen was still alive, so prior to SHOWstudio. I think [the music video] 'Pagan Poetry' was just at the beginning. Björk said to me, ‘I’m in love with this man, I want to do a song about my love for this man. I will go through any amount of pain because I love him so much. Can you make a video about that love?’ It was a love scene between Björk and her man, because that is what the song was about. But then, of course, we had to abstract them so nobody could see what they were."

Ruth Hogben

"Ruth was my assistant for five years. I normally take my assistants for about three years, but Ruth was a particularly good assistant. We started trying to invent fashion film together. She has an incredible affinity for fashion. A lot of filmmakers are incredibly good at filmmaking, but just don’t understand fashion at all. And also she has a very fine sense of movement and of timing, which made her a perfect fashion film editor. A regular film editor cannot do it because they don’t understand fashion. So she could film with me, but she could also edit it with me. We spent hours, days, nights, just trying to work out how to edit a fashion film, how you get that same beauty but in film, and that same power."

For her part, Hogben tells the Cut, "With all projects, Nick always pushes me to go a step further.  Developing fashion film together was a really exciting time for us both. His vision is extremely inspiring and continues to inspire me — I mean, he’s a fucking genius!"

Gareth Pugh

"Gareth started doing his casting for his shows on SHOWstudio when we first started. He put out a notice saying, ‘I need boys for my shows, I need girls for my shows,’ or people to work in his atelier. We did a project with him called 'Fash-Off'; Gareth transformed himself into different sorts of guises. I remember one day he just sat in front of a two-way makeup mirror with a camera behind it, and I just made him come up with a clown, made himself up as another creation and another one and another one and another one, and this went on throughout the day, but you know he’s putting a lot of heavy makeup on and then taking it back off again and starting it — it’s endurance. This is what the fashion world’s about.

"Gareth wanted to show his clothes in a different way, which he couldn’t show to some girls walking up and down. So we invited everybody to come and see his [fall 2009] show in Paris and didn’t tell anybody it was going to be a film presentation, which was a clever move. Everybody came down and sat down in front of the screen and watched the film. Because Ruth was such a talented fashion filmmaker, she could hold people’s interest with that film, and it was 15 minutes long. She could show his fashion moving in ways that you just couldn’t see on the catwalk. He was a really early adopter of that."

Pugh tells the Cut, "Nick has a seemingly unquenchable thirst for the new, and an enthusiasm and energy that touches everyone around him. This incessant need for discovery is something that most definitely characterizes SHOWstudio — where it feels things are pushed further than you thought possible, revealing and revering the creative process and democratizing access to a fascinating and rarely glimpsed world."