Nobody ever told me Scott Schuman was a small man. Not that size matters, but when I hear people talking about somebody in reverential tones I always imagine them to be… I don’t know, big. Tall, powerful, all those things that go along with your typical, everyday successful-male-stereotypes. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw him in real life for the first time, outside the Rick Owens show in Paris in January, running about taking photos of the weird, the wacky and the wonderful, all… five foot nothing of him? But here was a case where stature did not equate to status. Wherever he walked people stiffened, attempting to look inconspicuously conspicuous in the hope that his well trained eye would notice some nuance of their appearance (that coat, those shoes). He’s a fashionista’s cryptonite – with a single glance he removes every trace of painstakingly cultivated nonchalance – it all sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but in a world where image is everything, what greater validation exists than landing on the front page of The Sartorialist?
My encounters with the man have been brief and sporadic; he photographed me that day outside Rick Owens (it appeared on men.style.com, but sadly not The Sartorialist), I spoke to him and took his photo on the first day of Australian Fashion Week in April and then again at Milan Fashion Week in June. Both times I attempted – and failed – to engage him in conversation. Although polite, he exudes a cool professionalism; when he’s working, he’s working and that’s serious business.
And it is a serious business. Since beginning in September 2005, the blog has grown to a point where it’s read by over 100,000 people every day of the week. Then there’s the relationship with style.com – Schuman shoots street style for Conde Nast’s online fashion juggernaut at all the major fashion weeks. Oh yes and that Time Magazine accolade – The Sartorialist was selected as one of their Top 100 Design Influencers. Not to mention the editorials for GQ and Vogue Paris, campaign shoots for DKNY and Burberry and now The Sartorialist the book.
I managed to track Scott Schuman down by phone at 2:30am (New Zealand time) one cold winter’s morning. Here’s what he had to say for himself.
So what prompted the move from fashion sales and marketing to self employed street style photographer?
Blogs don’t really cost any money to start so I just sort of did it on a whim, taking pictures of people I thought looked cool all around New York. As opportunities came I just expanded it to new places, I got the chance to go to other cities and I just kept expanding. I started off pretty much with men but my background was with women so it didn’t take me long to start adding women to it. It seems like a slow progression but I guess it went pretty fast.
How did the book come about?
Different companies had approached me at various times. After the first year or so I started getting offers so it was really just working out which company I felt most comfortable with, which offer was going to give me the chance to do the book – or books actually – that I wanted. One of the reasons I went with Penguin was because they agreed to do a soft cover and a hard cover for the book and that was important for me because I wanted to have a paper back version. A lot of people print pictures from the website and put them up on their walls or inspiration boards and doing a paperback that’s not incredibly expensive, I could see people ripping their copies up or using them like that. I wanted to do a limited edition hard cover so that hopefully there was some precious element to it – at least a little more precious than the paperback.
The book is dedicated to your late father. How much did he have to do with you getting into photography?
Not much really, he was more of a human inspiration. He did a lot of writing, producing and directing things when I was a kid. If anything it kept me away from it because I would see him working and I thought it looked so boring. He worked in a studio and he worked much differently than I do so if anything it probably kept me out of it longer because I thought that was the only way that you did it – I didn’t know that you could shoot outside, or do it really fast – all of his shots always took forever. So his inspiration was more a human inspiration.
I’ve seen your photographs show up on the inspiration boards for plenty of designers (most recently Lanvin Homme’s courtesy of The Selby blog). What’s it like being in a position where you’re inspiring the most inspirational designers on the planet?
I love it. I’ve always said since I started shooting it was in the way that I knew designers looked at things – always looking for something that was perfect. I didn’t really care if it was ontrend, I was just shooting what caught my eye. I don’t really care what the label is, I don’t really care how expensive it is, and those two photographs [on the Lanvin wall] are perfect examples – those are just two characters. It’s not about how perfect their clothes are, it’s about the spirit of who they are. So I love that. It’s kinda the eye that I set out to shoot it with but you never know if that’s the way it’s going to be taken. I keep hearing from people ‘your pictures are on this board or that’ but I never believe it until I see it with my own two eyes. So I was very happy. I know Lucas, I’ve interviewed him before, I’ve shot him a couple of times, he’s such a nice guy and Lanvin menswear just looks great so I’m happy that some of my images might have a little bit of… I don’t know if influence, but inspiration.
Do you and (girlfriend and fellow street style photographer) Garance ever argue over who gets to shoot which person?
We both take the pictures of the person if we want to then we’ll battle out who gets to do what with the photos later. We figure all that stuff out later. So far it hasn’t created a problem… so far.
You’ve been all around the world, including Australia, any plans to come to New Zealand?
No plans yet to come to New Zealand but I’d love to. I’m still young so I’m trying to save a couple of great places for the next couple of years but I would love to go there. I was very happy when I went to Australia so that’ll make me more adventurous with the places I go. Luckily the success I’ve had brings in a certain amount of money which gives me a certain amount of ability to send myself to places that maybe other people wouldn’t send me. So more trips to Australia, New Zealand, places like that are definitely on the horizon.
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