Town & Country's Newest Icon, Nicoletta Santoro
(NEW YORK) Another NYFW hit we simply couldn’t let you miss amid the madness of runway shows, darlings! When Town & Country’s fashion approach needed a chic-over, they called in stylist extraordinaire Nicoletta Santoro, an Italian genius who’s spent the past decade sprucing up spreads for Vogue China and other top Condé international titles. Can she whip this Hearst glossy into shape? Consider us intrigued.
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
How did you land at Town & Country?
Well, I’m very close friends with [creative director] Alex Gonzalez, and he approached me about the opportunity. I got very fascinated by the idea of not working for a magazine that’s simply focused on fashion, as I’ve been doing for the past 30 years. I’m drawn to challenges. I want to bring a deeper kind of fashion sensibility to the magazine.
How long have you and Alex been pals?
We’ve known each other for almost 20 years now. We were at Italian Condé Nast together. I admire him professionally, and he’s also a very dear friend. It’s a privilege to work with him.
How’s it been working out with Jay [Fielden]?
Alex might have approached me, but Jay is the reason why I accepted. The magazine has become so much more interesting and contemporary with Jay here.
You just finished up four years at Vogue China. What was that like?
I was fashion director-at-large there, and it was extremely challenging. Their sensibilities are much different than Europe and America. [Chinese fashion] still has to mature. I went to China regularly, but I was based in New York, where I’ve lived for 16 years.
How was the office culture out East?
The Chinese system is based on obeying. American magazines are very much about collaboration and team work, which I love. I’m a team player.
What’s your styling M.O.?
I have a very spontaneous and natural way of styling, which is based on confidence. It’s about a conviction to be the way you are.
Veteran stylists like yourself and Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele are having a bit of a moment. Why?
The business needs experience. That’s what gives shoots a unique richness!
How do you feel about the younger generation of stylists?
They need to learn, and they need to fall in love with the business. A lot of the young ones don’t really feel that love.
What sort of boss are you?
Demanding, because I am very demanding of myself. But I’m also extremely generous.
You’re known for making models feel extremely comfortable on shoots. What’s your secret?
I always keep a very human dimension in everything I do. The photographer needs to be supported, and the subject in front of the camera needs to feel understood. You need to explain to the model what you’re creating, and make them part of it.
What kinds of models do you like working with?
I love intelligent models. They’re able to understand, and they’re excited to give. Instead of being passive in front of the camera, there’s an exchange. It’s something magical. Linda Evangelista, for example, is such an intelligent person. She participates in creating the image, and adds to it.
Should models be on more glossy covers?
I regret that fashion magazines have been losing the focus and pride of being represented by beautiful models. Now celebrities are all over the place. It becomes too confusing. You can’t keep track of them.
Will we be seeing more models in T&C?
I honestly don’t think a model is the right subject for Town & Country, unless she represents a woman of interest, or is connected with the content of the magazine.
You’ve worked with a hit list of photogs. Let’s start with Richard Avedon…
As a photographer, he was very cold, strict, demanding, and tough on set. The pressure to get a good result made him very nervous, snappy, and hard towards the assistants. It was motivation for perfection, though, so it’s easy to justify after the fact. At the end of every shoot he was always apologizing. But Dick was extremely generous with me. He taught me so, so much.
What about Helmut Newton?
Ooh! Helmut was always kind of a surprise. His pictures came out of his own very personal dramas and obsessions, so to understand what he wanted was always a lesson. He looked at things in a very unique way that you couldn’t anticipate.
And Annie Leibovitz?
A wonderful woman. Again, extremely demanding. But the fact that some photographers are considered difficult is a misjudgment. They’re difficult because they’re looking for an exceptional result. You don’t get those results being easy. It’s like an extreme effort to win a game. Good results don’t come cheap!
Will print ever die?
Never. Even if the web is becoming little by little more important than print, the value of print is irreplaceable. You collect magazines forever! You cannot collect an image on a screen.
What are your favorite glossies?
I read books, not magazines.
You don’t have any subscriptions?
I have all the subscriptions because it’s my responsibility to be informed. When I want to cultivate myself, I read books, look at exhibitions, and I’m also very passionate about cinema. You need to feed yourself with different things. You can’t only look at fashion, fashion, fashion.
How do American and Italian mags differ?
Let me tell you, Italian magazines are becoming more American. They’re more formal. Nowadays, you have to deliver a result. If the way you’re working is too friendly, it isn’t successful anymore. At the same time, a certain kind of rigor and executive imposition on people doesn’t really bring the best out.
Do Italian editrices have more lavish lunches?
Sadly, those long lunch breaks don’t exist anymore, even in Italy!
And the dress code?
You can divide the fashionistas and the non-fashionistas anywhere. It doesn’t matter what’s on your passport. In Europe everyone cares more about how they look. Ordinary people, too.
Are you a fashionista?
No. I love to be myself. I don’t want to wear a costume. I only wear what I feel like, even if it’s extreme.
Are things more elegant across the pond?
It’s very much in your cultural background. There are so many beautiful things around you in Europe that you develop an aesthetic growing up in a kind of organic way. It’s a little bit more difficult in America. Life is very functional.
You started out as an editorial assistant at Vogue Italia. Did you consider the writer’s life?
I used to love writing. Now, I can’t write French, I can’t write Italian, I can’t write English—I can only use my hands to style. Styling is something in my blood. It’s irresistible! I could even fix you!
We’ll think it over, thanks. When you’re off-duty, do you style your friends?
No, but I style other things. I love cooking, gardening, decorating my house, and I love ironing.
Si! I love the result. I enjoy making things more beautiful.
How do you feel when you’re really excited about a project?
It’s almost physical. If I’m not on set for a long time, I crave. I start asking, ‘When are we going to shoot?!’
After working with Condé for so many years, did you intentionally hop to Hearst?
Did I mean to go to another family? No. I go to where I want to go. I never compare. If I’m in love with the project, I go.
What are your styling stints with designers like?
It’s a completely different setting, and you’re involved with the product—the garment, and then the presentation or packaging, which is the show.
What was it like working with Carolina Herrera?
Very clear in her vision, very determined with what she wants.
Another wonderful woman. She’s intelligent, and much more airy in the way she thinks.
Which designer’s aesthetic jives most with your own?
I respect Miuccia Prada. We have a lot in common, and we are obviously both Italians. I assisted Manuela Pavesi at Prada, so I grew my taste and sensibility with someone who’s very connected with [Prada].
Your husband, Max Vadukul, is a photographer. Do you two talk shop?
It’s nice to have an understanding, a common ground, but when I work with him it’s my worst experience.
I get so involved! I’m a passionate person and when I work with someone who’s very connected with me, it becomes very intense, but always with great results.