This fall, Fabien Baron: Works 1983–2019 offers the ﬁrst career retrospective of the legendary Art Director. We look back at his time spent redeﬁning BAZAAR in the 1990s.
By the early 1990s, Fabien Baron had all but given up on magazines. After cutting his teeth at Vogue Italia and Interview, the French Art Director didn’t believe true originality existed in print. Through his agency, Baron & Baron, he became the branding wizard behind practically every brilliant campaign, from the grunge-inflected Calvin Klein Obsession ads starring a fresh face named Kate Moss, to the glossy heights of Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Giò spots featuring Diane Kruger in St Barts. “An interviewer asked me, ‘Is there another magazine out there that you would really love to do?’”he recalls. “I said, ‘Well, definitely not Vogue US—it’s too commercial. The only one that could be worth doing is Harper’s BAZAAR.’”
Three days later, Baron got a call from BAZAAR’s then brand-new British Editor-in-Chief, Elizabeth Tilberis. “The timing was uncanny,” he says. “You have to remember this was pre-Internet, so it’s not like anyone had seen my interview yet.” Tilberis summoned Baron for a lunch meeting uptown and the two immediately hit it off. “We talked about my kids, we talked about her kids,” Baron says. “We talked about England, we talked about France, we talked about the countryside. We talked about everything but the magazine, and then at one point, she says, ‘And BAZAAR?’ ’ I replied, ‘If you’re interested in doing the best magazine in the world, I’m interested.’ And that was it—I was hired.”
Over the next seven years, until Tilberis’s untimely passing in 1999, she and Baron worked to, as he explains it, “awaken the sleeping beauty”. They ushered in a new era of elegance that harkened back to BAZAAR’s mid-century glory days under Carmel Snow and Alexey Brodovitch. Their strategy was “photographers, photographers, photographers, photographers, photographers,” Baron says. “That’s all.” Peter Lindbergh, Mario Sorrenti, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Mario Testino, Steven Klein and Raymond Meier all came on board. But of course, it wasn’t just about the photographers: Baron also experimented with a radically modern new approach to typography. “I turned the type into an image as well,” he says, describing what became his signature type treatment, with airy text pages facing fashion, such as the round, energetic letters “g” and “o” playing off Kate Moss’s chunky jewellery, or a supersize “a” mirroring a pregnant belly. Besides scale and proportion, Baron played with colour, creating vibrant multi-hued typography. “I tried to build a magazine like a movie,” he says. “An action ‘scene’ should be followed by something more quiet, and there’s always strong dialogue.” ■
Fabien Baron: Works 1983-2019 by Fabien Baron and Adam Gopnik, about $263, is available at t uk.phaidon.com
Clockwise from top: Kate Moss, photographed by David Sims, September 1997. Patrick Demarchelier, March 1999. Raymond Meier, March 1998. Craig McDean, January 1996. Clockwise from top: Kate Moss, photographed by David Sims, September 1997. Linda Evangelista, photographed by Peter Lindbergh, October 1993. Meier, March 1994. Sims, July 1997 OPPOSITE: Fabien Baron’s ﬁrst cover for BAZAAR, featuring Linda Evangelista, photographed by Demarchelier for the September 1992 issue