Nicola x Oliviero
"You have to believe that behind the corner, there is something to discover"
For our fall '16 campaign, Nicopanda joined forces with Nicola Formichetti's "childhood hero:" world-famous photographer and creative director Oliviero Toscani. Renowned for his controversial ad campaigns, Oliviero is one of the most groundbreaking communicators in the past 30 years.
Taking inspiration from his iconic eye, this collaboration aims to highlight and elevate our diverse Nicopanda Nation—one packed with energy and united by inclusivity. The resulting images capture the essence of our latest collection, while also informing a new generation about Oliviero’s cultural contributions over decades.
On set, Nicola sat down with the prolific image-maker to talk about finding freedom, embracing provocation and celebrating our differences.
Nicola Formichetti: How did you get your start?
Oliviero Toscani: I was born a photographer. I didn’t choose. My father was a news photographer and I went to art school. I’m a son of the '60s—the same age as Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, so I went through all that they did. I always tried to do things the way I like to. There’s freedom in that, and to be free, you have to struggle, so today I really enjoy people who look for freedom—the real talent is right there. Few people are like that. To get their freedom, they'd chain themselves to the project. Few people have the energy to try.
NF: Who was someone like that for you growing up?
OT: Warhol was like that—he couldn’t do anything but himself, so if you really want to be unique, you have to be yourself. That’s your only chance—your only power. If you follow work other people do, you’re just a follower. You might be good, but you’re not interesting. The question is not to be good, it’s to be unique.
NF: That’s the hardest thing for people to do—be themselves.
OT: No one can look at something the way you do, so you have to go after that, and that is what is called 'the soul.' Fashion can be fake—it’s surface, an attitude, a way to try and look better than what you are. That's not what I’m after. I'm after freedom—the freedom to blush. But even if someone blushes, it’s a sign they’re embarrassed to be free. There aren’t many people who're okay with being themselves. It’s always easier to conform.
NF: I’m a child of the '80s and grew up with magazines, posters and billboards. I always looked at your Benetton ads, which were so shocking, but I always felt like an immigrant, so seeing someone like me in your visuals opened up so much for me.
OT: There is nothing shocking. A picture is just a document of something surrounding us. Any time you do something people aren’t accustomed to, it’s considered 'shocking.' I personally like to be provoked because to provoke is to take a step toward understanding new beauty—new love. When I read a book. I want to be provoked; when I see a movie, I want to be provoked. The word 'provocation' now has a negative sense, but if it’s provocative it’s good. All art is provocative, otherwise it’s not art. If it’s not provocative, it’s nothing.
NF: Growing up, I was different from everyone else and always felt like I saw a new world in your work.
OT: You’re an Italian boy, and Italian boys don’t look like you, so you were different; you were unique. And when you are unique, you cause trouble to yourself and others. Immediately you are spotted, so you have to be strong. But it’s very lucky to be different because difference is what makes love and life. As a boy, nobody probably told you how lucky you are—they probably insulted you.
NF: That’s why we’ve always focused on celebrating differences. Do you have any thoughts on American politics?
OT: We’re living in an incredible moment, right now, because crisis is an opportunity. We're in a crisis because we deliver our lives to the economy and finance people. That’s a big mistake. We should give our lives to, I don’t know, Broadway dancers. They’d make a better world. Wall Street shouldn’t be the political center—Broadway should because they’re talented and Wall Street cheats. They’re just after money.
NF: The fashion industry, especially, from what I hear, is completely different from the '80s and '90s. Now, it’s completely controlled by sales.
OT: Marketing is killing fashion. If you want success, listen to what marketing people say and do the opposite. If they say, 'All black,' you do all colorful.
NF: Do you think your magazine, COLORS, was anti-fashion in a way?
OT: I’m not anti anything. I think everything is interesting—everything is as an opportunity. I wanted to make a magazine with no news and no celebrity. Every magazine has news or celebrities—every single one. What were magazines missing? No news and no celebrities, so I decided to make my own. That all started in 1990, where pictures were mixed with type and stories in a way that nobody thought of doing at the time.
NF: What do you think about today’s digital magazine world?
OT: I think we’re all connected, but we don’t communicate. I don’t use social media because for me, it’s a waste of time, and I don’t have much time anymore. Time to me is very precious. I know that when I close my laptop, the only thing I can rely on is my imagination. And today, especially young people, waste a lot of time by not relying on their imagination. They rely on what they see, so they know everything in two seconds.
NF: But nothing inside.
OT: No imagination. When I was 20 in the '60s, we used to say, 'Don’t trust anybody over 30.' Now I say, 'Don't trust anybody under 70.' The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, Pink Floyd—altogether they make almost 1,000 years. When you count The Rolling Stones, the average age is, maybe, 73? So what’s happening to the young people? I don’t want to go into the car and listen to the Beatles—fuck the Beatles, I want to hear the new beatles.
NF: They're probably out there, we just have so much more information to deal with, now.
OT: And we’re sophisticated—more educated. But young people are too gentle. We were a pain in the ass. I remember in school, I was trouble. My first fashion shoot was in 1965. One of my first stories was couture. I wanted a young model, but she had a baby and went shopping; she had some bread in a basket and ran around. She jumped off the tramway. I was so proud of my 12 black-and-white pictures, and here came the editor of the magazine. She was about 50 years old and I was 23. I had a red suit with a pink shirt and an orange tie—long hair. She had fur on and another fur under her arm because she was going away for the weekend. She looked at my pictures and said, 'Toscani, elegant women don’t behave like that.' I said, 'In one year, you will be out of this business.' Six months later, she was fired. So you have to be free. We were a pain in the ass.
NF: It’s exactly the same situation, now. There are older generations who’re controlled by the financial people who're pressured to sell magazines, so they live in fear and play it safe. They've created this idea of what sells, but when you think about that, it’s already too late.
OT: If you try to be creative, you’re never creative. Creativity is simply a consequence of doing things in a different way than other people. If you’ve really got talent, you don’t look for ideas. You’re looking for something, but you’re looking behind the corner because you’re curious. It’s a different attitude. People who have no ideas look for ideas all the time. You just have to be curious. Personally, I’m a situationist. You have to believe in the situation surrounding you, and out of that we can make an incredible movie. You have to believe that behind the corner, there is something to discover.
NF: Many people consider you rebellious, but I don’t think you’re trying to be a rebel.
OT: If you remember in school, there were always the different ones. Those people change the world—that’s it. The ones who say, 'Oh, he’s different'—they don’t change anything. Most people are afraid to be who they are, but you cannot be better than what you are. All the effort you do to be better than what you are is negative energy.