Vinoodh Matadin and Inez van Lamsweerde
Dutch photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin fell in love instantly. It was 1985 and they were students at the Amsterdam Fashion Academy. Both in other relationships at the time, they collaborated for six years before their professional and personal lives came together. They've been inseparable ever since. As some of the first photographers to experiment with digital manipulation in the early '90s, the couple made a name for themselves with hyper-stylized, technology-driven images in fashion publications like The Face and Visionaire. Their work flows seamlessly from gallery walls (they joined Gagosian Gallery in 2012) to fashion editorials to advertising campaigns for powerhouse brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein and Miu Miu, successfully straddling the polarizing planets of cult cool and commercial viability. Now they are looking beyond the frame and into the marketplace with their own products, including a fragrance (1996) and a fine jewelry line launched last fall. As the couple enter a new phase of their career, we talk to Van Lamsweerde about translating their creative vision into a lifestyle brand and how their relationship influences everything they do.
MD: Why did you see this as the right time to start developing a brand beyond your photography?
IVL: It wasn't as calculated as it may look -- or was made to look. It's a natural progression. There isn't a pre-calculated idea behind any of our projects. Even when people say, "Oh they want to be a brand," it's people needing a label, but for us, whether it's a photograph or a lamp or a candle or a piece of pottery, it's still us. The world is like that now. It's about being interested in all different facets of design and film and music. We have so many ideas constantly that "Why not?" was always the question.
MD: Why did you decide to start with jewelry and a fragrance?
IVL: A big motivation behind it all is the people we've worked with and learned from during our career. We met the jewelers Ten Thousand Things and over the last three years they taught us how to make jewelry and about all the metals and stones. At some point Vinoodh asked them to create a necklace for me because our son Charles Star turned 10 last year and Vinoodh wanted to make me a special present. When I started wearing the necklace, a lot of people asked, "Where did you get that?" and "How did you make it?" So from then on we thought, "Maybe we should make a series of necklaces?" From there it just became a huge collection. The same thing happened with the fragrance. We met Ben Gorham [founder of Byredo Parfums] through friends and he asked us to do a special project with him that would be a Christmas present for our friends. Once everyone got it, they were incredibly excited and wanted more bottles so we decided to put it out there as a real product.
MD: You never envisioned yourselves as designers?
IVL: No, no, it just grew in that way. I think it's a sign of the times. People seem to be more open to the idea of anyone expressing themselves in any way that is exciting to them. When we started as photographers in the late '80s it wasn't like that. Everything was divided into categories and you wouldn't step out of your field. The way the world is now, there is no limit, which is extremely exciting to us.
MD: What do you think it means to be a photographer in 2014?
IVL: It's a great moment for photography because so many people are touched by it now. I'm obsessed with Instagram. I love the democraticness. Technically everyone is a photographer now. Everyone has found a way to connect through visuals, and I think that's such a liberating and inspiring thing. It makes you look at the world differently. I get inspired looking at Instagram. But it's a very different thing to work as a photographer the way we do. Demands are really, really high and you have to deliver at least 10 incredible photographs for a brand in a day. It takes time and experience to learn to cope with the pressure. You have to want to communicate and be in touch with everyone. We enjoy that part very much, but you need a certain personality to handle all of it.
MD: How would you describe your vision as photographers?
IVL: Bottom line, we're photographing human beings, and for us, the connection we have with the person we are photographing is the most important. It is a big thing to be photographed. You have to give up certain boundaries and quickly establish a sense of trust. The connection between the photographer and subject, whether it's a model, actor or friend, is really about an instant relationship, which is what makes it so beautiful because it is very intense in a short period of time. Then we always look for the one thing in our subject that is the most exciting for us visually and heighten it. There is always a sense of the ultimate version of that person. For us it's exciting to see someone walk off your set feeling 10 times better about themselves than when they walked in. That is a satisfying feeling.
MD: Does that creative bottom line translate to your other projects?
IVL: It does. Everything has a very personal focus, and I think it all starts with the photographs. Anything we do in the future will have found inspiration in our pictures. From there it could become something for your home or that you wear, but that side of things will be more about creating something that we've longed for and haven't been able to find. It would be extremely basic; not necessarily labeled a fashion item. I wouldn't see it as seasonal, but something you would want to keep forever -- furniture, fashion, any of that.
MD: You're after the ultimate version of everything.
IVL: Yes, and we're always looking for the essence of things. We are very interested in the baroque, grotesque and ornate elements, but in the end we are always coming down to the essence. Everything we do begins with us stripping everything down and finding what's left over that's really important or needed or really says it all, and then as we go along we might add things on to make it more ornate, but that's how we build everything -- the photos, the jewelry, the fragrance. Everything starts with finding what it is really about.
MD: What is your jewelry really about?
IVL: The basic elements to the jewelry line are two interlocking wedding rings and then there is a tiny star pendant that started it all, which represents our son Charles, whose middle name is Star. So it's really about a connection between people -- whether in love, in work or in family. I've noticed when people come to see the jewelry, they really feel the love between the three of us. They immediately pick up the necklace with the stone drop hanging from the two rings because it reminds them of someone they love.
Inez and Vinoodh's son, Charles Star with his friend Stella Hannert
MD: As a working couple, love must play a big role in your work. Is everything intertwined?
IVL: Yes. We are together 24/7. My husband and I have never been away from each other longer than maybe three hours? It's the same with our son. We've never been apart for a night in his life. We always say, "Why wouldn't you want to spend all your time with the person you love?" We feed off each other idea-wise and complement each other in a way that feels natural. It isn't even anything we think about; it just goes. It's been 27 years; by now we know what it's about.
MD: How would you describe your working dynamic?
IVL: I am usually the one who directs the model or whoever we are photographing. So my photographs are more of the aware kind of pictures because the person is generally looking into the lens and Vinoodh walks around and has a wider view on the whole thing, which is ideal because we'll have the exact same moment, but with a very different feeling attached to it. Some shoots require a much more aware photograph while others want a softer, quieter moment, so we always know we have it.
MD: A lot of people in the public eye try to keep their private lives under wraps. Does it make you nervous to put it all out there and ultimately sell it?
IVL: It doesn't feel like it's selling it. It's more like inviting everyone into it. The big thing is to inspire, and I feel it is just too great to be able to spend your life together, work together and experience the same things. I wish everyone could have that. I have a lot of people say to me, "Oh my god, I could never work with my husband. I love him but I couldn't work with him." And obviously to each their own, but with me and Vinoodh it couldn't be any other way. For us, shooting is about that teamwork as well. From the stylist to makeup and hair to the models, there is a collaborative aspect that is the base of our relationship. Vinoodh and I started a work relationship before we had a love relationship. Even though we knew we loved each other from the moment we met, it took six years to align our love lives, to give in to it. It doesn't even feel like we are exposing ourselves or putting ourselves out in a vulnerable way because it is so natural.
MD: And promoting love isn't a bad thing.
IVL: I think every person that has a voice in the public arena should use it to spread love in whichever way. I am hoping that our culture will shift from the obsession with the self to obsession with the other and giving love.
Hair by James Pecis / Makeup by Jeanine Lobell
All jewelry by Inez & Vinoodh