Behind The Camera For Dior's Family Photo
Family photo albums are about more than sentimentality. They're archives, too: a history lesson of sorts, in which the key builders of each generation are documented for the next to pore over. Kim Jones, just a year into his premiership as Dior men's creative director, has swiftly become one such relative in the storied house's family lore. That's why he's being immortalized in a brand new photo album: The Dior Sessions.
As a portraiture project depicting a raft of Dior's nearest and dearest over 180 pages, The Dior Sessions was shot by someone in the family circle too: Nikolai von Bismarck. Trained under Annie Liebowitz, and a long-time supporter of Dior, the photographer was approached by Jones in late 2017 to collaborate.
"So we had an idea, Kim and I, and we sat down right at the beginning and had a list of people," says von Bismarck over the phone, his accent of the well-spoken, but approachable, West London variety. "People we both knew, but also people Dior has collaborated with in the past." After writing to various names, the pair confirmed a nearly-final list of around 30 that included the likes of Kate Moss, Demi Moore, Robert Pattinson, A$AP Rocky, and Eddie Redmayne, among others.
A star-studded roster of Dior relatives, then. But von Bismarck saw the book as an opportunity to extend the family circle. "I thought it was important to have a lot of creatives, for instance Lee Scratch Perry. I saw he was playing a concert for one night only at The Jazz Cafe in London, and I knew my brother was doing a documentary on a school in Jamaica called The Alpha Boys," says the 32-year-old. "He'd met Lee's wife, and he gave me her number, and after much persuading, they said yes. It was that sort of level of communication to get people onboard."
In just nine short months, von Bismarck was then tasked with documenting each subject, on film, across the world. The roster soon grew, and a research-heavy tutelage under Liebowitz paid dividends: "When I was 20, I had an education that involved compiling all the different angles of a particular face, of looking at all these different people, and then putting it all together ahead of a shoot," says von Bismarck. "I'd collect images that were taken from left to the right, from above and below, and work out whether a certain angle was better, whether there was a receding hairline, and it'd all be recorded in a dossier that was about three inches thick."
Nikolai von Bismarck, far left, at the AW19 Dior show
And the lesson fed well into The Dior Sessions' execution, as von Bismarck spent days scouring flea markets, prop houses and even the maison's own ateliers to ornament each shot. Difficult, especially when other renowned photographers were thrown into the mix. "David Bailey was incredibly intimidating. He came in, and was very nice, but was asking so many questions: What camera is that, what lens is that, what light is that, and he looked out the window and said, 'what tree is that?'" he laughs. "I mean, it was the only one I didn't know the answer to."
As part of the family, von Bismarck couldn't escape his own photo either. Don McCullin and Paolo Roversi were two more photographers that signed on to The Dior Sessions and, unsurprisingly, it was inevitable that one would take charge on-set. "Paolo was great. It was in Paris and we didn't have much time. Then he turned the camera on me, and I loathe the camera, and that's the photo right at the end of the book: me looking down. I don't like being in the public eye very much."
Like all good families, The Dior Sessions clearly has its extroverts, and those found on the fringes of the group photo. And like all good family albums, there's a sense of history among the relatives inside. "We just wanted something timelessness, to create something to document Kim's first year with people that admire what Dior is."
Jones is to touch upon his sense of history, of the maison, of menswear, and an eye that's forever "looking into the archives and the references" at our Esquire Townhouse Q&A with the designer. But the best way to remember all that? "On film, in black and white, and with something that goes hand-in-hand with the couturier and the atelier at Dior." A lot like your family photo album, then. Though perhaps a little better-dressed.
The Dior Sessions: Portraits by Nikolai von Bismarck and Tailored by Kim Jones is available online at Rizzoli, priced £95, with proceeds donated to support the Teenage Cancer Trust.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.