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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Master at work: Albert Watson

Esteemed photographer Albert Watson unveiled his collaboration with the Macallan whisky company last night. The portrait and fashion photographer spoke to Amelia’s Magazine about his favourite type of work, and parted with his recipe for success for our artist readers.

Written by Jessica Furseth

At the top of Marylebone High Street lurks a lingerie shop with attitude. Surrounded by fashion-favourite names and organic cafés, adiposity it’s both niche-market neighbour and rebellious relative. Meet Apartment C, treat ‘a fashion retailer that just happens to sell lingerie’. And a lot more besides.

Invited to join Apartment C’s owner Kenya Cretegny for a teacup of G&T, I arrive  feeling excited, curious and thrilled to escape London’s relentless chills. While my eyes dart around the dramatic window-display, the door opens and I’m cocooned by an intense warmth that’s almost hypnotic. Falling further under Apartment C’s ‘spell’, I recline on a cherry-coloured chaise longue while Kenya explains her design-inspiration: “the home of Serge Gainsbourg” meets “the apartment of Coco Chanel at the Ritz”. Forget white-washed minimalism à la nearby boutiques. Here, it’s black walls, wax candles, red-tinted photographs and “a bit of taxidermy”, creating a boudoir-showcase for lacy, racy and eye-catching lingerie. Yet this is no ordinary ‘boudoir’; it’s grown-up and fashion conscious. No red-light-seediness or clichéd kitsch. Escapist? Definitely. And, deliciously naughty. But it’s also a place where you “feel free to stay and visit for a while”. Boys are welcome too.

A Central Saint Martins graduate, Kenya always envisaged Apartment C as a concept store, designing interiors herself, “right down to creating foam board models of the space”. First stop from the high street is the “Lounge”, where lingerie displays are instantly different, adorned with dramatic jewels and paper eyelashes. Walk through to the “Library” and discover a treasure-trove of accessories, swimwear, fashion books, trashy romance novels and G&T’s served from a retro 1930’s bar (an enviable eBay purchase). Furniture, generally, is a cool blend of Art Deco and 1960’s pieces, which seemingly never belonged anywhere else. I sense that the “Library” is Kenya’s favourite part; almost the inner workings of her imagination, to which you are granted access. Play along and purchasing possibilities are endless; who’s thinking about the rain, or recession now? With soft carpet underfoot and French perfumes spritzing the air, I’m soon agreeing with Kenya’s friendly team that I could happily move into this stylish apartment, I mean, shop.

So, which lingerie labels are seducing the Apartment C woman (or her G&T-fuelled lover on the chaise longue)? While “primary focus” is upcoming talent, Kenya and her team stocks “fashion-forward lingerie brands that [they] consider innovators”. A diverse selection, including Princesse Tam Tam, Stella McCartney, Lascivious, Fleur of England and Marlies Dekkers, appeals to many forms of femininity. Kenya shares insightfully: “women are multi-faceted and sometimes we want lingerie that is romantic, sometimes it’s fashion-focused and sometimes it’s sexy…and sometimes we just want to sit in something lovely and comfortable and have a cup of tea.” Save for a few ‘dominatrix’-style pieces, there’s nothing too intimidating about Apartment C, nothing too outrageously sexy. Even the mannequin ‘posing’ provocatively on the bar, appears refreshingly innocent. Particularly so, considering other, more overt versions of sexuality, which reinforce the psychology that women only wear lingerie for someone else. Kenya longs to change such attitudes. Wearing good underwear for yourself? “It’s like saying I love me. We all need a bit of that!”

Kenya has become a self-made ambassador for emerging lingerie designers, but  her finely-crafted backdrop to the bras and bodices has likely led to equal recognition (namely, “Vogue’s favourite lingerie boutique”). Where did the concept for Apartment C originate? Copenhagen. “We heard the most glorious party… the tinkling of glasses, music playing softly in the background, the quiet rumble of voices and then deep, throaty laughter….the whole experience felt so decadent and wonderful and alive.” Ah, the mysterious ‘C’ refers to Copenhagen? Or, Cretegna? Neither. It’s based on Kenya’s discovery that people living in ‘Apartment C’ always seem to host the best parties! Kenya’s passion for her business is tangible, from meticulously arranged costume jewellery, to spacious changing rooms, to her personal style: “…dependent on my mood, and what kind of conversation I would like to have with the world on that particular day.” Well today, Kenya’s skinny leather trousers worn with A/W 2010 aplomb are pitch-perfect ‘Apartment C’. Feminine, but strong. Sexy, but not too much. Fashion-forward and charismatic, despite  extraordinary surroundings. A fashion retailer that just happens to sell lingerie? I couldn’t agree more.
albert watson by rachel green
Illustration by Rachel Green

It’s only around the time I’ve finished asking my questions that Albert Watson seems to start warming to me. I was only given ten minutes with the photographic legend, ed author of over 250 cover shots for Vogue, page Rolling Stone and Time magazines, endless fashion and advertising shoots, and iconic film posters such as ‘Kill Bill‘ and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha‘. But when the Scotsman starts talking there is no stopping him, even though people are circling around for his attention. He motions me over to the photos on the wall, telling me how he chose it all – the printing techniques, the paper, the frames, everything. ‘Platinum prints are forever,’ explains Watson, ‘they don’t age, they don’t fade.’


Ruente Monte

Albert Watson likes to be in control of the artistic process, and he was given more opportunity to do this than usual with his commission for the Macallan, the exclusive Scottish single-malt whisky. Last night the beautiful black and white images were shown in the stunning Pimlico auction house Phillips de Pury. It’s only a shame the public won’t get the chance to see them – the works leave on a four month world tour today.

Albert Watson by Avril Kelly
Illustration by Avril Kelly

With such a wide range of work under his belt, I ask Watson what is his favourite kind of project. But he won’t be made to choose: ‘I like all of it. If I were doing celebrities every day I would hate it, and if I were doing landscapes every day I would hate it. I like the mix of things. The main thing I did for years was fashion.’ He pauses. ‘In the end I wasn’t so interested in the fashion and the celebrities, it was about the pictures.’


Gonzalez Byass Bodegas

In September Watson was awarded the prestigious Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal, a lifetime achievement award. A shy but proud smile spreads across his face when I bring this up. Watson is responsible for some truly iconic celebrity shots, such as Mick Jagger as a leopard and Alfred Hitchcock with a goose, but many people don’t necessarily know him by name. Is this a good or a bad thing?

‘Ah, I don’t care!’ laughs Watson. ‘I care if you like the pictures!’ We get sidetracked talking about something else, but Watson comes back to this point later, unprompted: ‘Sometimes people might not know my name, but those I’d like to know me, they do.’ So it’s deliberate, this low profile then, I ask? ‘No!’ Watson exclaims, before adding: ‘But I’m not that interesting. I just work a lot.’

Watson is notoriously hard working, set to go to Marrakesh the day after the Macallan show, then it’s Paris, then Moscow, all before taking what he says is an unusually long Christmas break in two weeks’ time. ‘On a usual day I may work till 9pm, then I go home and have a meal and go to bed, so I can get up in the morning and work till 9pm the next day. I concentrate on the work.’


Teodoro Fernandez Montes – Elder Statesman, Forestal Peninsular SL Cantabria

I ask Watson what advice he would give to budding artist readers of Amelia’s Magazine. He answers with certainty: ‘You have to be working every single day, at what you want to do. If you work six days and have a day off, then you need to do something – think about your work, do a sketch, go to an exhibition – something, on that day too. You need to be on.’

Albert Watson by Werner Fismer
Illustration by Werner Fismer

Watson’s images for Macallan show a young couple’s journey from Spain, where the oaks that make the barrels for the whisky are grown, up to Scotland and the distillery. All black and white, the images are a mixture of wide-sweeping landscape shots, intriguing close-up details, and some incredible portraits of veterans of the whisky trade. Those of more generous means can buy the prints alongside special edition bottles of the whisky, including a limited range of customised bottles from 1946. This is the year Watson met his wife Elizabeth, when they were both four years old.


Easter Elchies House, The Macallan Estate

This is the second time Macallan has employed a photographer to illustrate its product, starting with Rankin in 2008. ‘We gave Albert complete creative freedom to represent the brand. He has created this art noir roadtrip, showing the process from beginning to end,’ says Ken Grier, director of malts at the Edrington Group, which encompasses Macallan. ‘We wanted to create something treasured and beautiful to look at.’ Grier says he has already prepared next year’s project. He won’t say what it is, but promises: ‘It will again be completely different.’

Grier hands me a glass of neat, ten year old whisky, and not being a massive whisky fan I sip it tentatively. But there is no need to worry – the drink is excellent. Smooth, deep and soulful, just like the photographs surrounding us on the walls.

See more of Albert Watson’s work here. Two new books of Watson’s have just been published: ‘Strip Search’, photos from Las Vegas, and ‘UFO: Unified Fashion Objects’, a selection of fashion photos. You can have your own work judged by Watson by entering the Macallan Masterclass.

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One Response to “Master at work: Albert Watson”

  1. [...] Published in Amelia’s Magazine on 2 December 2010. Original article here. [...]

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