ABOVE: STEPHANIE SEYMOUR IN NEW YORK, JULY 2013. STYLING: KARL TEMPLER.
INTERVIEW: For you, what kinds of people make the best collaborators?
STEPHANIE SEYMOUR: Well, I always had difficulty as a model just being myself. I can be very shy, and I used to have a lot of anxiety about working on set. But it was really after I worked with Avedon extensively that I learned how to deal with it better. Dick was both a great collaborator and a great director. He taught me a technique where I had to come up with a character each time I was on set. We would work on it together, and he would go to the extent of showing you pictures of your character and playing certain kinds of music. He would say things like, "What would your character be doing? Are you hailing a bus? Are you fainting?" So we would come up with these characters and these situations, and that changed everything for me. Suddenly, it opened up a lot of possibilities.
INTERVIEW: When did you first work with Avedon?
SEYMOUR: I did my first Vogue cover with Dick when I was 18. But I really got to know him when I did a class for him. He was teaching a class about the fashion end of photography, and he had asked Christy Turlington to be his model for it, but she couldn't do it. So then he asked Linda [Evangelista] ... I was his third choice. [laughs] But I was like, "Yes! Yes!" And that's where that picture of me lifting up my dress comes from. There were actually 12 or 15 students watching as we took that picture. Before every picture, there was this intense excitement from Dick, where he has these ideas. I know a lot of girls maybe thought that his ideas were a little crazy sometimes, but I would just go there with him. I loved working with him. When you work with someone like that over a period of time, I think you give each other something. Without that other, deeper kind of collaborative experience, I could not have kept going this long.
INTERVIEW: So much of fashion photography—especially today—is about the image, the end product. But what, for you, is the most enjoyable part of it? Is it seeing that iconic picture? Is it the process?
SEYMOUR: Oh, it's always the process. I know that there is so much more that they can do now with computers, so making images has become a different process. But without the process, I don't believe that you can have that product of a photograph that is memorable. But in terms of retouching and postproduction, Dick was doing all of that stuff, too, swapping heads out and things—and way before computers. I did this photograph with him with these monkeys. It was a double-page and I was looking at the monkey and the monkey was looking at me. We had these two baby monkeys, which were on my arm, but they couldn't be separated from their mother and they were all screaming. So we did the picture where I'm screaming at the monkey, but we couldn't get the shot where I'm screaming at the monkey and the monkey is screaming back at me and we're both facing each other. So Dick shot the monkey separately with the mother where I was, and then he just put it together to create the image.
INTERVIEW: Monkeys sound difficult to work with.
SEYMOUR: But working with animals is exciting.
INTERVIEW: Have you worked with a lot of animals?
SEYMOUR: Oh, yeah. I've worked with Dobermans biting my arm. A bull. An ostrich. Boa constrictors. Snakes are really fascinating. But to relax and be able to have whatever expression you want to have on your face while you're naked and a boa constrictor is draped over your body is not an easy thing to do.
INTERVIEW: What, for you, makes an image iconic?
SEYMOUR: It's when something is memorable, but in a searing way—an image that becomes burned instantly into a person's memory and also brings back all kinds of personal memories for them at the same time. It's something that has that kind of effect on a large number of people.
INTERVIEW: Do you remember your first professional modeling job?
SEYMOUR: How could I forget? It was for Cosmo. I don't know if Cosmo still does this, but they used to do a thing called "Cosmo Tells All" where there were three or four pictures on a spread. They would take a picture of a girl and then write something like "How do you have the best orgasm?" or "How do you get your hair as big as you want it?" I was the picture of a girl with big hair. I was 14, and I remember going to the grocery store before school to get it when it came out. I was so excited ... Those pictures are pretty great.
INTERVIEW: Your mother was very into fashion when you were a kid. Were you into it, too?
SEYMOUR: I wanted to connect with it—and I definitely did connect with it—but in a very local-girl kind of way. I didn't have very sophisticated taste, but I was definitely really into it. When Flashdance  came out, I cut up all my clothes. Everything.
INTERVIEW: Did you have a favorite outfit or piece of clothing when you were a kid?
SEYMOUR: Yeah, I had a couple: my red and black Norma Kamali cowboy boots, and my red mini skirt.
INTERVIEW: Did you wear them together?
SEYMOUR: Of course, I did. [laughs]
INTERVIEW: You've now got this tremendous collection of couture, clothes, and jewelry. When did you start collecting? What have you learned from it?
SEYMOUR: That started for me when I met Peter, my husband. It was his idea. We were in Paris for the weekend and I hated wearing anything that was in style. I always had to do the opposite of what was in style, so I would make up all these things and go out and put things together. I was really anti-fashion, I guess. So he goes, "We're in Paris. Let's go to all the vintage clothing dealers here." The most fashionable women lived in Paris, for the most part, and at that time, I really loved '50s dresses, so we started going around Paris and hunting this stuff down. It became like this treasure hunt. From then on, I felt like a pirate every time I left Paris. I could barely close the luggage with all these dresses I'd stuffed in there with the crinoline and the bodices. But I really learned a lot from collecting because I got to go back into the history of fashion and fashion photography and jewelry. It changed how I felt about fashion and about what I did forever because I used to look a little bit down on myself for it. I never would admit it because you don't bash what you do, but I don't think I understood fashion in the way that Linda Evangelista always understood it. Linda knew the history of fashion. We lived in the same hotel when we first started modeling, and she had pictures of all the great models and the great fashion photographs pinned all over her wall. I always remembered that, but it went over my head at the time. Later, though, when I'd discovered it on my own, I was like, "Wow, now I get Linda."
INTERVIEW: What was the hotel that you and Linda both lived at?
SEYMOUR: The Hotel La Louisiane in Paris.
INTERVIEW: Was that the first place that you lived on your own?
SEYMOUR: Yeah, it was. Christy, Linda, and I all lived there at the same time. Christy's mother came with her, so she used to have to hide in our room if she got drunk. [laughs]
INTERVIEW: Obviously, the modeling business has changed a lot over the course of your career. How do you feel about the atmosphere in fashion for the girls who are coming up right now?
SEYMOUR: Well, I would like to see fewer actors modeling—or if they're going to model to the extent that they are modeling, then I think that models should be actors. [laughs] Nowadays, if you want to be a model, then you should probably become an actor. That's the only way to get hired to do the great advertising campaigns that are really interesting or the magazine covers, and it's hard to build a name for yourself as a model without those things. Even though it is done, it's not done to the extent that it was done during the time when I was coming up, and that bothers me. Believe me, I love film and I love acting and I respect it enormously—I just feel sad for that part of our business. What are the girls left with? They do all the grunt work. They do all the shows and the fittings and all of the really tough, grueling work, but most of them don't get to reap the same benefits. There is also not as much money in it for a decent amount of girls, and the consequence of that is that it's going to shorten the careers of models, and there are going to be a lot more one-hit wonders. So that is something that has changed. I hope it changes again.
INTERVIEW: What about fashion right now do you find exciting?
SEYMOUR: Well, I love all of these new products that are coming out—you know, things like headphones with cute, catchy names. There is also so much going on now with the marketing of fashion. And then, I still love the classic stuff, like great dresses and wonderful photography. That still exists. You know what else is coming back? Couture. I just bought a dress from Balenciaga. They're doing a couple of classic Cristóbal Balenciaga pieces in each season. I walked right up to one of these pieces and I was like, "I know this piece. I know this sleeve." I didn't even have to try it on, but I did, and it would look like nothing on the hanger, because for great couture that's a typical facet of it. But you put it on and it's just unbelievable. They got it right, with all buttons on the inside, the grosgrain ribbon around the waist. It's just beautiful. So I love that they're doing that. I think it's a really great sign that these young designers are putting some effort into things that won't necessarily make them money or won't make the brands money, but will keep them elevated. I think they must really enjoy it, too. You get to see their talents much more.
INTERVIEW: What's the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
SEYMOUR: There are two things that have really stayed with me. This photographer named Les Goldberg once told me to always hang up my dresses, so I always hang up my own dresses. It was a good lesson in appreciation and in always remembering that you're part of a team—not outside of the team, but with the team and on the team. And then probably the most important piece of advice that I've ever gotten is to develop your mind. I left school very young and I always regretted it. I could never stop talking about it—"I'm going to go back to school, I'm going to go back to school ..." I did everything young—I was always in a hurry to do everything. I had kids young and I worked young and I didn't have time to go back to school because I wasn't willing to give up anything that I had. But I educated myself, and it made me feel good. I went to museums. I read books. I did all the things, pretty much, that you would do in school. I would never want my kids to leave school, though—I'm really for education. But education always continues. We all know that beauty fades, but what stays is a person's personality, their sense of humor, their wit, what they're interested in. That's what really shines.
INTERVIEW: Finally, is it true that Naomi Campbell has an amazing memory and that she never forgets anything?
SEYMOUR: Never. It's unbelievable.
For more from our Model Issue, click here.
o talk about Stephanie is like talking about my family. I met her when she was 14 and from right then, she was a part of my life. She is a rare mix—beauty as a whole—with a gentleness, simplicity, and generosity. —Azzedine Alaia