Victoria Bartlett

"Styling should be about self-expression and independence."
Introduction by Kate Bell 
Part I by Hannelore Knuts
Part II by Johnny Misheff

Margaret at John's House, 2009. Underwear: VPL. Photo: Jack Pierson

I feel that you enjoy the fact that you can give a platform to those people who need it.
It’s the give and take that’s so nice. I also know the people, so there’s a personal dialogue. That’s why I never understood the idea of hiring people you don’t know. Things like Bauhaus or the Beat Generation fascinated me because it was groups of people who grew together. It’s a family unit and from within it you grow better ideas. The idea of me, which happens a lot in design, I find boring. I think there’s a bigger thing in sharing ideas with people and sharing experience and experimentation that’s more exciting. I hate the concept of people trying to own their things because it’s such a self indulgent thing. The most creative times in history are really about people getting together and sharing.
You keep finding young kids. You always have a young family.
I don't believe in generational things. That's the beauty of staying slightly young in mind - you stay open.
You’re not afraid of a young name. You have a good eye and you trust your eye.
And I’m a Peter Pan.
And you’re a Peter Pan.
I’m eternally young.
I hope this thing is taping all this.
What fascinated me about you is that we're similar. We’re not similar, but you’re someone who’s very independent, however you're not a loner. You’re not reliant, you’re very strong and you’re someone who likes to collaborate. You have a genuine sensibility. You imbue a mix of all these elements; you’re not a one trick pony. You do many things because creatively you think in that way. I think it’s a really modern way to be.

Part II: by Johnny Misheff

Sister Dimension & Billy Beyond, Interview Magazine, 1994. Styling: Victoria Bartlett, Photo: Steven Klein

I'd like to talk about this period in the 90s when stylists were really coming into their own, the beginning of the era of the celebrity stylist.
There were probably only a handful of stylists at the time. Ray Petrie started it in London. There was Joe McKenna and Laurie Goldstein. We were a new brigade. There were all these articles about Camilla Nickerson and Andrew Dosmuk. Our group was more wacky and avant garde. It was more about independent style and just styling to make a point.
Is that what the magazines wanted?
Advertisers didn’t have the rights to tell you what you needed to do. You would dictate to them. You could do whatever you wanted with the clothes to create a look. 
What magazines were the most fun to work with? 
They all were back then. Even doing Elle in England at the time was so different from what it is now. We would do spreads of all the trannies for a lot of magazines that don’t exist anymore. It was an almost trannified world in a funny way. Things were extreme. Lady Gaga could’ve been created then. But she isn’t a natural transformation of how it was. People lived that and did it. They weren’t produced into it.
This must have given you all an immense feeling of power? 
There were no rules or restrictions; it was an open field to do what you wanted. Music was also big, so I was working with all the singers and musicians in the beginning.
Like who?
Like Deee-Lite. I did “Groove Is in the Heart.”
You did that one?
I did it for $800. The whole thing- 20 people. We were all in it. I’m in it ... I’ve got a wig on. We’re all dolled up. 

Deee-Lite, Groove Is in the Heart, 1990. Styling: Victoria Bartlett

How did that come about?
I used to do parties with Kierin and Dmitri, who were both in Deee-Lite. Dmitri was my DJ and Lady Miss K was my go-go dancer. Miss K needed to do this video, so it was all our friends getting together, doing it on a minimum budget, and asking every favor in the book to get clothes from people. Deee-Lite was known in an underground way, but then it exploded. I remember Pat Fields was huge then. Everyone wanted her clothes. Her store was incredible. Half the stuff in the video came from there. 
I forget the name of your band. Cheap Something...
I was in a band that never played called Cheap Date. We rehearsed and did recordings, but never performed live because there was only one real musician in the group. But we did press.
Without ever playing out?
Yes, because we dressed extravagantly. We would wear these ridiculous outfits, like German Frauleins.
Where are those recordings now and why have you never played them for me? 
I probably have one of my tapes somewhere, but I don’t have a tape player ... go figure. 
I get the sense that everyone was helping everyone back then.  Who did you work with most, if anyone in particular? 
I did a lot with Jeffrey Costello before we became partners and he came on board for VPL. We did the Madonna video together.

Björk, Vespertine Promo Shoot, 2001. Styling: Victoria Bartlett, Photo: Warren du Preez & Nick Thornton-Jones

Which one?
“Fever.” We intended to use all Gaultier clothes. That was what the whole concept. Then I got a phone call from Madonna saying, “I opened the box of clothes and I don’t like them.” It was 7 PM the night before. I called everyone I knew. I was begging people, “you gotta let me come by!!!” I called my friend at Vivienne Westwood and he flew in to do it, but then we ended up using one of my own Westwood pieces, the gold one with the wings and mini skirt that looked like a gladiator outfit. 
You styled Trent Reznor too, right?
Trent Reznor was actually a client of mine for a year. He asked me to do all the clothing for Nine Inch Nails. He wanted deconstructed and distressed clothes. Jeffrey would make them and I would be on my roof oiling them, fucking them up, wearing them down, aging them. 
What year was that? 
It would be in the mid '90s. 
Downward Spiral Era. 
None of them drank. It was this hardcore band and they’d have fruit shakes. I really liked Trent. He was great. I don’t know who was responsible, probably his record company, but I got ripped off and never got paid for a lot of stuff.  
That's on the record! What about Björk?
She was incredible, such a character. She knows what she wants, but is very open to you being creative. The thing that’s great about her is that she’s excited about you performing as an artist as well. 
What happened to the styling world?  It doesn't feel as fun as what you're describing. 
The industry changed. Now you’ve got a list of advertisers and that’s what you use. It’s made stylists lazy. It’s all about picking a product. Styling should be about self-expression and independence. People loved Gaultier and Montana, but it would be mixed in. It was about integrating personal style, mixing, and matching. 

VPL, FW 2009. Photo: David Armstrong

Is that why you wanted to branch off and do your own line? 
Yeah. It was like my hands were tied, it was quite crippling.  There was also no real gratification. You become the schlepper, the one who’s responsible for anything that goes wrong. I found it unsatisfying because you never really owned what you did. I trained in design, so I wanted to go back into it, but in a different way.
It's 10 years later and people are loving it.
They better. In the future I hope that VPL becomes the biggest phenomenon. 
It's become an institution. I love the shows in particular.  
Tenfold from what it started as. There are always the best looking crowds at the shows.
Best looking crowds. Everyone knows each other. Everyone loves each other. You create an environment within this business structure that you have.
You can’t sell out to the industry. You have to love it for the reasons you love it. The reason I love fashion is the theatrics of it. Obviously, I have to do the commercial side, which is challenging, but it's interesting to break those boundaries.
I hope people start getting re-inspired again, thinking out of the box.
It takes individuals. I think we have a couple of those running around.
There definitely are.
They just need to be given the platform. We need to raise them up.


From Sex Magazine #1 Fall 2012
Labelled Fashion