Simon Foxton's exhibition opening at the Photographer's Gallery this evening has been a long time coming for the extensive fan base he has amassed since setting the styling world alight in the 80's (literally with the 86 shoot "Scorched"). Simon very kindly agreed to an interview for the blog so I thought I would share this opportunity by opening it up to the board for others to find out their own burning questions. As expected the response was expertly enthusiastic. Equipped with an onslaught of interrogation ammunition, I met up with Simon to delve into the depths of the allotment dweller dandy.
With a unanimous decision to converse over a coffee in Soho, it was a blissful time spent sitting in the sun. Simon confessed that I had caught him at quite possibly the busiest week (4 consecutive shoots in addition to the exhibit) so I feel enormously honoured & grateful to have been granted his precious time. It transpired to be a very special experience as Simon adeptly lept into the flow of a stream of consciousness and it turned into a fascinating glimpse into his life story. As the pace of the patter turned into more of a conversation rather than a regular interview, I will try to write this in an equally fluid way.
So where do we begin? From the words of Bowie and title of Penny Martin's exhibit "When You're A Boy"..........how was Simon as a child? ..................
He went to boarding school in Edinburgh which he enjoyed "tremendously". He loved the comradery with his cohorts and thrived in the structure of the set up. He modestly professes to having been "popular". An ironic statement in that he has to justify this fact with "not wishing to be big headed"........I think it is Simon's integral self-effacing nature that makes him endearing and well...........popular! The thing he most revelled in during this era was sports and outdoor activities for which the boys had to wear shorts. School uniform was shorts Monday to Saturday and a kilt on Sunday..........which explains his signature penchant for relentlessly sporting shorts. This answers Mark Bailey's question "Does he wear shorts in the snow?" Guess what? The answer is an instant and affirmative YES.
From the weekend, Jason Evans
So how did the boy in shorts become the fashion editor in shorts? The one definitive moment of inspiration for him to start making imagery, came at college when he discovered Jean Paul Goude's shoot "Four Ethnic Groups" capturing the energy and essence of 70's NYC subculture. As fate would unfold, Foxton would go on to work with his hero which brings us to a question which repeatedly cropped up "What has been the biggest nightmare job?". Simon just about raises some chuckles whilst recounting this anecdote, but I can sense that only time has given grace to look back with light-hearted humour. In 1988 he was given charge of dressing the British contingent for the Bicentennial Parade in Paris which was art-directed by Goude. Simon excitedly rose to the challenge by sourcing a complimentary colourful 'De La Soul' derived collection of costumes.......only to be crushed by JPG's last minute instruction for all black. However, that headache was surpassed by actual hypothermia...........the dancers were sprayed with "English Weather" rain via a fire engine pumping water onto the procession from hoses. A little while into the proceedings the performers started to drop from exposure, collapsing under the freezing spray. Nightmare. Simon missed the whole parade as he fell asleep on the double decker bus from his own exhaustion!
But lets not dwell on this and now switch to more satisfying and soul-enhancing experiences. Christopher Shannon wanted to know "Which image from his back-catalogue still makes him proud/tingle?". Apparently Simon cannot pin-point one .........but once I had him firmly in a persuasive head-lock........he professed to being proud of "Strictly", his 1991 i-D shoot with Jason Evans. He likes the way that it has stood the test of time and is still relevant today. Too true!
So where does the initial intuition for these concepts come from? Steve Salter asked "Ive read that you keep a box under your bed for inspiration containing tear outs from magazines. How do you formulate your ideas from these scraps?" I can now confirm that this is the case. Simon doesn't believe in stacking up smelly old back issues and prefers to make a more considered and concise reference bank. If an image resonates with him, it winds up ripped out and glued in. These scrapbooks are a personal vehicle to consolidate his own vision, affirming his taste and form a reminder of ideas and direction. Curator Penny Martin got involved from trawling this primary starting point, all the way through to ordering the space at The Photographer's Gallery. The two of them rooted through the archive boxes and Penny assertively assisted Simon to weed out the cream of the crop for this first show. According to Simon there is a great more to be exhibited but it could not be accommodated this time.
He also discussed apprehension of putting the sketchbooks open for inspection in the context of an exhibit. They are an accumulation of sources, pieced together for his own personal use without intention of going on public display. But he needn't give this another thought as I know this is the element eagerly anticipated. Particularly Polaroids from street casting which was picked up on by Amy Gwatkin....."Has he ever walked by someone so beautiful, and not asked for their number and regretted it?" This is a daily occurrence as Simon spots talent in many different places. A combination of shyness and acknowledgment of not wanting to appear to be picking them up, he regularly misses the boat on propositioning potential beauties.
Another daily occurrence is "constant embarrassment".............which answers Jenny Dyson's query of a note-worthy memory of something embarrassing? ............. There is no stand-out moment in particular, as his whole life is an embarrassment with every day unfolding a new dia dilemma. Why? .........Simon believes he has a condition or predisposition to being devoid of face-recognition. Yep, you heard it here first folks, Simon can't place a face. I love this revelation. Its hilarious. I had a good old giggle when he told me that he actively avoids social encounters for fear of offending a friend. It is for this reason that he skips the Menswear shows, because its a minefield of names he has worked with but wont be able to acknowledge. (What a relief he found me at the cafe then!) Simon seems to think that everyone knows who he is because he's big and bald (only one of which is true) but I think it may have something more to do with his legendary status?! That, and his unique uniform of polo-shirt, Ralph Lauren shorts and Redwing Boots.
There were quite a few Sartorial questions from which I have found out the following......his favourite colour for a gingham shirt is green, also true for a DM boot if he had to choose.......the 10 hole model. He wishes more men would wear tighter fitted trousers. He likes to see a properly cut pair of pants and the way they compliment a "nice bum". Similarly he hates baggy, unflattering skater jeans and is irked by an affected hat. A jaunty trilby is a definite no-no.
So having covered his clothing inclinations, lets finish up on his particular preferences on culinary queries as Richard Sloan believes this can reveal alot about a personality. Sloan wanted exact details for how Simon would prepare his perfect bacon sandwich. Pens at the ready.............it goes something like this............rindless unsmoked bacon - grilled, on hand cut white bread with a little bit of butter and a dash of tomato sauce - not brown.
And to drink? NOKI wanted to know Simon's favourite flavour of Nutriment drink? Sorry JJ, Simon doesn't opt for this beverage of choice anymore, but when he did .....it was vanilla.
He may not be buying sickly sweet syrupy shakes these days but something I discovered is that he buys the round. Impeccably patient and well mannered, Simon not only gave up an hour to answer absurdities (e.g "How do you afford to run the fleet of ubiquitous Foxton Minis that are such an iconic feature on the streets of London and how do you manage to style the fashionable young drivers so well?")....but he also picked up the bill! The perfect gent. The perfect afternoon. I could have stayed chatting with this heavenly creature for the rest of the day but his next meeting was with Jonathan Kaye who was involved in the end of our interview helping Simon remember "what's the strangest item he's ever bought in a Convenience Store?"..............
We never did get to the bottom of that one and there are many, many other things I have had to edit out to keep the content cohesive................there was a terrifying tale of a plane being struck by lightening and a story of a seaside stroll when he was 18 with wet cliffs reflecting orange sun rays .............
Thanks so much to all my question contributors: